David Hilbert Biography

David Hilbert, a renowned German mathematician, made significant contributions to modern mathematical research in the 20th century. He was a pioneer in distinguishing between mathematics and metamathematics and was regarded as one of the finest mathematicians of his time. Hilbert’s vast knowledge spanned various divisions of mathematics, including number systems, geometry, and mathematical physics. His work on integral equations laid the foundation for research in functional analysis. Throughout his career, Hilbert collaborated with fellow mathematicians and taught at prestigious universities such as the University of Königsberg and the University of Göttingen. His impact on the field is evident through the numerous mathematical terms and theorems named after him. At the Paris International Congress of Mathematicians in 1900, Hilbert presented 23 important questions that continue to intrigue mathematicians to this day. Despite witnessing the rise of Nazism and the expulsion of Jewish faculty members from the University of Göttingen, Hilbert remained hopeful that future mathematicians would find solutions to these problems.

Quick Facts

  • German Celebrities Born In January Died At Age: 81
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Käthe Jerosch
    • Father: Otto Hilbert
    • Mother: Maria Therese Erdtmann
  • Quotes By David Hilbert
  • Mathematicians
  • Died on: February 14, 1943
  • Place of death: Germany
  • City: Königsberg, Germany
  • More Facts
  • Education:
    • University of Königsberg (1880 – 1885)
    • Wilhelm Gymnasium (1879 – 1880)
    • Friedrichskolleg Gymnasium (1872 – 1879)

Childhood & Early Life

David Hilbert was born on 23 January 1862 to Otto Hilbert and Maria Therese Hilbert. He was born either in Königsberg or Wehlau, Province of Prussia (today Znamensk, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia). His father Otto was a reputable city judge and his mother Maria was interested in philosophy and astronomy. Right from his childhood, he excelled in mathematics and showed interest in language.

In 1872, he joined Friedrichskolleg Gymnasium. Later in 1879, he moved to, and eventually graduated from the Wilhelm Gymnasium. After graduation, he decided to stay close to home. In autumn 1880, he enrolled at the University of Königsberg to study mathematics. Two years later, he befriended a younger talented Polish-German mathematician Hermann Minkowski at the university.


In 1884, David Hilbert and Minkowski were joined by another German mathematician, Adolf Hurwitz who had arrived from Göttingen as an Associate Professor. The trio began a powerful and productive collaboration that greatly influenced their mathematical careers.

Hilbert received his doctorate degree in 1885. His dissertation titled ‘On the invariant properties of special binary forms, in particular the spherical harmonic functions’ was completed under the guidance of Ferdinand von Lindemann. After finishing his Ph.D. he spent the winter at the University of Leipzig and then Paris.

He continued at the University of Königsberg as a Senior Lecturer of Mathematics from 1886 – 1895. Thereafter in 1895, he became Professor of Mathematics at the University of Göttingen. The University of Göttingen was the 20th century global hub of renowned mathematicians. It was here that he enjoyed the company of notable mathematicians like Emmy Noether and Alonzo Church. Some of his prominent students were Hermann Weyl and Ernst Zermelo.

He supervised the doctoral studies of 69 Ph.D. students at Göttingen, many of whom like Otto Blumenthal, Felix Bernstein, Richard Courant, Erich Hecke, Hugo Steinhaus, and Wilhelm Ackermann later became celebrated mathematicians themselves.

In 1900, he listed 23 unsolved mathematical problems at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris. The concise list set the stage for the mathematical works of the 20th Century.

In 1902, he became the co-editor of the world’s leading mathematical journal, ‘Mathematische Annalen’. He continued in the position till 1939. He retired from the University of Göttingen in 1930, aged 68.

In the build-up to the World War II, the Nazis removed many of the well-known Jewish faculty members from University of Göttingen including Hermann Weyl, Emmy Noether and Edmund Landau.

He co-authored an important book ‘Grundlagen der Mathematik’ which was published in two volumes in 1934 and 1939. The book was intended as a follow-up to Hilbert-Ackermann book ‘Principles of Mathematical Logic’ (1928).

Major Works

In 1899, he published a book ‘The Foundations of Geometry’ in which he illustrated a set of axioms that removed the errors from Euclidean geometry. He also aimed to axiomatize mathematics.

In 1900, he delivered a lecture titled ‘Mathematical Problems’ before the Paris International Congress of Mathematicians. He listed 23 mathematical problems whose solutions were to be found by the 20th century mathematicians. These problems are now referred to as Hilbert’s problems and many of them remain unsolved even to this day.

David Hilbert excelled in various fields of mathematics such as axiomatic theory, algebraic number theory, invariant theory, class field theory and functional analysis. He invented ‘Hilbert space’, one of the most important concepts of functional analysis and modern mathematical physics.

He discovered mathematical fields such as modern logic and met mathematics. ‘Satz 90’, a theorem built on relative cyclic fields was another important contribution of his work.

Awards & Achievements

In 1905, Hilbert received a special citation at the first award ceremony of the Wolfgang Bolyai prize of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Personal Life & Legacy

David Hilbert was baptized and brought up according to the Reformed Protestant Church. Later on however, he became a nonbeliever. He argued that mathematical truth was independent of the existence of God. In 1892, he married Käthe Jerosch. While at Königsberg, the couple had a son named Franz Hilbert (1893–1969). All through his life, Franz suffered from an undiagnosed psychological illness which caused terrible disappointment to his mathematician father.

By the time he died on 14 February 1943, the Nazis had already re-staffed almost the whole university, replacing all the Jews. His funeral was attended by very few people and the news of his death came to light months after he died.


He considered famous fellow mathematician, Hermann Minkowski to be his “best and truest friend”.

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