Monday, May 23, 2011

Henry Wilbraham, the Forgotten Englishman

Reading about this gent makes me wonder how many other great accomplishments are hidden in offices and university libraries waiting to be discovered. 

Henry Wilbraham (July 25, 1825 – February 13, 1883) was an obscure English mathematician. His only noteworthy accomplishment was discovering and explaining the Gibbs phenomenon nearly fifty years before J. Willard Gibbs did. Gibbs and Maxime Bôcher, as well as nearly everyone else, were unaware of Wilbraham's work on the Gibbs phenomenon.


Henry Wilbraham was born to George and Lady Anne Wilbraham. His family was privileged, with his father a parliamentarian and his mother the daughter of the Earl Fortescue. He attended Harrow School before being admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge at the age of 16. He received a BA in 1846 and an MA in 1849 from Cambridge.[1] At the age of 22 he published his paper on the Gibbs phenomenon. He remained at Trinity as a Fellow until 1856. In 1864 he married Mary Jane Marriott, and together they had seven children. In the last years of his life, he was the District Registrar of the Chancery Court at Manchester.


  • Paul J. Nahin, Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula, Princeton University Press, 2006. Ch. 4, Sect. 4.
  • Henry Wilbraham, "On a Certain Periodic Function," Cambridge and Dublin Mathematical Journal 3, 1848, pp. 198–201.
  • Edwin Hewitt, Robert E. Hewitt, "The Gibbs-Wilbraham phenomenon: An episode in fourier analysis," Archive for History of Exact Sciences, Volume 21, Issue 2, Jun 1979, Pages 129 - 160, DOI 10.1007/BF00330404, URL
  1. ^ Wilbraham, Henry in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni CantabrigiensesCambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.


Steven Colyer said...

Our hearts and prayers and hope go out to the residents of Joplin, Missouri, was suffered greatly yesterday from a terrible tornado.

Aoife said...

It's funny how so many discoveries are accredited to those who are not the original discoverers. Makes you think about how many unsung heroes there are, and not only in the world of Maths and Physics.