Section 2.6 Profile: Albert Arnold Bennett (1888-1971)
A. A. Bennett must have been one of the most colorful personalities in the history of EPADEL, and the author wishes he had known him. Although Bennett lived in our area on two separate occasions totaling only eight years he made notable contributions to the Philadelphia Section, the most important being its founding in 1926.
Albert Arnold Bennett was born on June 2, 1888, in Yokohama, Japan. His parents, Albert Arnold and Mela Isabelle (Barrows), were missionaries in Japan at the time. The younger Albert Bennett returned to Providence in 1902 to live with relatives so he could complete his high-school education and prepare for college. He excelled in school, earning two degrees from Brown University, an A.B. in 1910 and an Sc. M. in 1911 (based primarily on a thesis he had written the preceding year).
Bennett entered the graduate program in mathematics at Princeton University in 1910. Just a few months earlier Howard Mitchell, one of the other two founders of the Philadelphia Section, received his Ph.D. from Princeton and was in transit to a position at Yale, so it appears that the two future founders of EPADEL missed each other on the first part of Bennett’s initial residence in the Philadelphia area. Bennett earned his second masters degree, an A.M., at Princeton the following year.
Bennett completed his doctoral dissertation in 1915 at Princeton under Oswald Veblen, who had been Howard Mitchell’s dissertation supervisor as well. (If Bennett and Mitchell are called the fathers of EPADEL, then Veblen must be the Section’s grandfather.) Later in life Bennett undertook advanced training in mathematics at the University of Chicago and at three of the most prestigious centers in Europe: Paris, Göttingen, and Bologna.
Dealing with algebra and projective geometry, Bennett’s dissertation appeared in the prestigious Annals of Mathematics the same year as his degree under the title, “An algebraic treatment of the theorem of closure”. While only 21 pages long, it accounted for over 10% of the 196 pages in that volume of the journal for the years 1914-1915. Moreover, he published a paper in three of the four issues of the next volume, all on topics in analysis. Overall his three papers and one note in the volume for 1916-1917 account for 47 of the 217 pages.
Clearly Bennett’s star was rising. He had begun his professional career by remaining at Princeton as an instructor from 1914 to 1916. However, he left the east in the fall of 1916 to accept a position as adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin, where he remained for nine years. Although 26 years old when he moved to Texas, patriotism compelled him to enroll in the country’s first Officer’s Training College. As a result he was sent to Leon Springs, Texas, and later to Fort Monroe, Virginia. On August 15, 1917, he was commissioned as a Captain in C.A.R.C. but it appears that throughout World War I he remained stationed in the States. The following June, Bennett was transferred to the Ordnance Corps, where he served in Oswald Veblen’s ballistics research staff at Aberdeen Proving Ground with Gilbert Bliss and Norbert Wiener.
Bennett was honorably discharged on January 15, 1919. Nonetheless, while continuing to teach at the University of Texas, he served as a civilian “mathematician and dynamics expert” with the Ordnance Corps from June 1919 to September 1921. During this time he wrote two books based on his experiences, Introduction to Ballistics in 1921 and Tables for Interior Ballistics in 1922.
The time Bennett spent in World War I undoubtedly accounts for the three- year gap in his publication record between 1917 and 1920. However, like many mathematicians caught up in war, Bennett did not let combat duty entirely interfere with his studies. The author of the 1918 paper is listed as Captain Albert A. Bennett, C.A.R.C. To emphasize his position, and the isolation of his outpost, the concluding paragraph of the paper reads, “This treatment is believed to be original, but the literature available for examination by the author is that customary to an army post, ‘somewhere on the Gulf of Mexico,’ - nil.”
In 1921, his war duties completed, Bennett was ready to resume a professional career, and Texas rewarded him with a promotion to associate professor. The renowned topologist and educator R. L. Moore had moved from Penn to Texas the previous year. While in Texas, Bennett met Velma McAfee Ely, who hailed from nearby Corsicana. The couple wed on June 17, 1922. They had one child, Betsy Bennett Miller.
In Texas Bennett became active in the nascent Mathematical Association of America, which had been founded only in December 1915. In 1921 he was elected a member of the Council (Board of Governors). The following year he was elected a trustee of the MAA 1 and appointed to the Association’s Committee on Publications, and the year after that he assumed the position of editor-in-chief of the MAA 2 ’s official journal, the American Mathematical Monthly. In 1925 Bennett was elected Vice-President of the MAA 3 while at the same time serving as chair of the Texas Section of the MAA 4 .
Bennett had to forego his chairmanship of the Texas Section when he moved to Bethlehem, PA, later that year to accept the position of Professor and Head of the Department of Mathematics at Lehigh University. This marked Bennett’s second stay in the Philadelphia area. He held the Lehigh post for only two years before moving to his alma mater, Brown University.
Bennett was an inveterate problem solver and problem poser. Many of his contributions were published in the Monthly, beginning with problem #246 in the June 1916 issue, when he was an instructor at Princeton. J. B. Reynolds published the solution to Bennett’s problem #513 in the February 1917 issue of the Monthly. Could it be mere coincidence that Reynolds taught at Lehigh? Or that fewer than ten years later the two would combine with H. H. Mitchell to found the Philadelphia Section?
Bennett’s solution to problem #2720 in the September 1918 issue lists his address as C.A.R.C., Galveston, thus defining his whereabouts “somewhere on the Gulf of Mexico”. Curiously, Bennett lists the address for his solution to problem #2900 in the June/July 1921 issue of the Monthly as the University of Saskatchewan, which suggests that he was a visiting professor there for the summer.
Although in his 50s, the patriotic Bennett volunteered for the Army during World War II, serving as a Major with the Ordnance Corps at Aberdeen once again from 1942 to 1946 and achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Once again he served under Oswald Veblen. One of the more illustrious young mathematicians to work under Bennett at the Ballistic Research Laboratory was Herman Goldstine, who wrote of his superior, “From time to time I was very impatient of Albert Bennett, who was a nice old gentleman—but he was a very precise, methodical, plodding person who drove me up the wall.”