Leonard Euler was born in Basle on April 15, 1707. His father, Pastor Paul Euler, was instructed in mathematics by James Bernoulli. At a young age, he instilled in Euler a strong foundation in mathematics.
When young Euler was old enough, he was sent to the University of Basle, where he stayed at his grandmother’s house. His father had hopes that he would choose to study ministry, to follow in his and his older brother’s footsteps.
Euler remained a devout Christian his entire life, but Euler’s love was in math, and he took every opportunity to study it. It was not long until he was worthy to receive lessons from John Bernoulli. However short lived his lessons, due to the wishes of his father, Euler began the study of theology. Later, his father realized Euler’s strong attachment to mathematics. He eventually allowed his son to pursue his own dreams.
By 1726, Euler had an article in print, on isochronous curves in a resisting medium. In 1727 he published an article on reciprocal trajectories and submitted an entry for the 1727 Grand Prize of the Paris Academy on the best arrangement of masts on a ship. He received second place.
Euler was offered a post at St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Russia, which would involve him in teaching applications of mathematics and mechanics to physiology. Euler was a little hesitant, until he learned that he would not be appointed to the chair of physics at Basle. He then accepted the offer. Euler left Basel on April 5, 1727. He traveled by boat down the Rhine, crossed the German St Petersburg on May 17, 1727.
Euler served as a medical lieutenant in the Russian navy from 1727 to 1730. While in St. Petersburg he lived with Daniel Bernoulli, son of John Bernoulli. Unhappy in Russia, Daniel would ask Euler to bring him tea, coffee, brandy, and other delicacies from Switzerland.
Euler became professor of physics at the academy in 1730. Since this allowed him to become a full member of the Academy, he was able to give up his Russian navy post. Daniel left St Petersburg to return to Basel in 1733, and Euler was appointed to take his place as senior chair of mathematics. Now with a higher income, in the same year Euler married Gesell from Switzerland, a daughter of a successful painter.
In 1735, due to high stress Euler was thrown into a life threatening fever. He had symptoms of eyestrain, which may have brought on the fever. In the end, the fever left Euler blind in one eye.
After eight years, in response to the King of Prussia, Euler quit St. Petersburg and went to Berlin, 1741. He was presented to the queen mother, a princess who enjoyed associating with illustrious men. However, she was never able to draw him into any substantial conversation. In frustration, she asked way he would not converse with her. He replied, “Madam, it is because I have just came from a country where every person who speaks is hanged.”
In 1744, Euler obtained the prize for the best work on the theory of magnetism at the Academy of Sciences, Paris. The same year he was appointed Director of the Mathematical Classes of the academy.
In 1760, a Russian army marched through Brandenburg, and among other things, they pillaged a farm. The Russian general was shocked to find that the farm had belonged to Euler. He immediately repaired the damage and gave Euler a large reimbursement. The Empress Elizabeth also gave him four thousand florins.
Impressed with the sympathy that Russia gave him, and due to a sense of loyalty, Euler went back to St. Petersburg where he remained the rest of his life. However, he was forced to leave his son behind, who was devoted in helping his father with his work and publications.
In 1771, a fire broke out in St. Petersburg, which reached Euler’s house. Peter Grimm, a friend, knowing the danger that his friend was in; ran into the house and brought Euler out on his shoulder. In the end, Euler lost most of his furniture and his library.
Shortly after the fire Euler had a cataract operation, restored his sight for a few days. However, Euler seemed to have failed to take necessary care of himself, and he became totally blind on July 17. With the help of his family and pupils, he was able to dictate all of his calculations and memories. This made it possible for him to publish his works, despite his misfortunes.
In 1783, while enjoying the company of one of his grandchildren, Euler died of a stroke. He was 79.
- “Archimedes,” January 26, 2002, http://www.historychannel.com/
- Kahaner, D., Moler, C., Nash, S., Numerical Methods and Software. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1989. pp. 212-214.
- Forbes, G.E. The Euler-Mayer Correspondence (1751-1755). New York: E.G. Forbes, 1971.
- Connor, O’, Robertson, J.J, “Leonard Euler”, January 18, 2002,