Math

Happy Pi Day! How Pi Was Almost Legally Changed To 3.2

The value of pi is, always has been, and always will be 3.14... ad infinitum. But that didn't stop a man named Edward Goodwin from trying to legally redefine it as 3.2.

Why we're covering this:

  • Because it's March 14 — Pi Day!
  • We all know Pi is an irrational number, but the government battle to change the mathematical constant is a curious story of truth being stranger than fiction.

Easy As Pi

Edward Goodwin was either an extremely successful prankster, or an amateur mathematician who truly believed he had made a breakthrough. Either way, the insane tale is true: In 1897, Goodwin believed he had found a new and correct value of pi, and tried to put this finding into law in Indiana. Thankfully, it never happened, because the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter will always be pi and pi will always be 3.14...

The bill never became law, due to the intervention of Professor C. A. Waldo of Purdue University, who happened to be present in the legislature on the day it went up for a vote.

It's Totally Irrational

Goodwin actually gave two values for pi (neither are correct) in this proposed bill, according Professor C.A. Waldo, a well-respected mathematician at the time: "At the outset it gave 4 as the true value . . . while towards the end it gave 3.2..." Goodwin somehow persuaded Indiana State Representative Taylor I. Record to introduce this bill on January 18, 1897, and Record did. The bill passed in the House with no resistance. However, the bill was stopped when it reached the Senate. Close call.

How Pi Was Nearly Changed To 3.2

A close call for Indiana.

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Written By
Curiosity Staff
September 30, 2016