John von Neumann, a Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, inventor, computer scientist, and polymath, made significant contributions to various fields throughout his life. Born in Budapest into a Jewish family, he relocated to the USA to escape the growing power of the Nazis. Initially struggling as a professor at Princeton University due to his exceptional speed, he found his true success when he joined the Institute of Advanced Study. Von Neumann’s interests shifted from pure mathematics to applied mathematics, and during World War II, he utilized his knowledge to aid in war efforts. With over 150 published papers, including works in pure mathematics, applied mathematics, physics, and miscellaneous subjects, von Neumann was a prolific writer. Even from his hospital bed, he continued to share his insights, with his final book, “The Computer and the Brain,” being published posthumously.

## Quick Facts

- Died At Age: 53
- Family: Spouse/Ex-: Klara Danfather: Neumann Miksamother: Kann Margitchildren: Marina von Neumann WhitmanBorn Country: Hungary
- Quotes By John Von Neumann
- Inventors
- Died on: February 8, 1957
- Ancestry: Hungarian American
- Notable Alumni: Pázmány Péter University, ETH Zurich
- Grouping of People: Jewish Mathematician
- City: Budapest, Hungary
- More Facts
- Education: University Of Göttingen, ETH Zurich, Pázmány Péter University
- Awards: 1956 – Enrico Fermi Award 1938 – Bôcher Memorial Prize

## Childhood & Early Life

John von Neumann was born as Neumann János Lajos on December 28, 1903 into an affluent family in Budapest. His father, Miksa Neumann, was a banker, and his mother, Kann Margit, came from a prosperous merchant family. He had two younger brothers, Michael and Nicholas.

Born a child prodigy, von Neumann displayed exceptional mathematical abilities from a young age. By the age of six, he could mentally divide and multiply multi-digit numbers, and by the age of eight, he was familiar with differential and integral calculus. He also received lessons in multiple languages while studying at home under a governess.

In 1911, von Neumann was admitted to Fasori Evangélikus Gimnázium, where his mathematical talent was quickly recognized by his teacher. Despite his father’s insistence that he study in grades appropriate to his age, additional special tuitions were arranged to train him in subjects in which he showed aptitude.

Von Neumann completed his education at the gymnasium in 1921. Although he wanted to study mathematics, his father convinced him to study chemical engineering for better career prospects. He enrolled at the University of Berlin in 1921 for a two-year course in chemistry. Simultaneously, he also enrolled at the University of Budapest for mathematics, but did not attend classes there. During this time, he published two major mathematical papers, one of which provided the definition of ordinal numbers still in use today.

In 1923, von Neumann entered Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich to study chemical engineering. He also graduated from the University of Budapest with excellent results. He then started his doctoral work in mathematics at Pázmány Péter University in Budapest and graduated from ETH Zurich in 1926. His dissertation focused on the axiomatization of Cantor’s set theory.

Von Neumann then joined the University of Göttingen to study mathematics under David Hilbert. He completed his habilitation in 1927 and had already published twelve major papers in mathematics.

## Early Career in Europe

In 1928, von Neumann began his career as a privatdozent at the University of Berlin. He published an important paper on game theory titled “Zur Theorie der Gesellschaftsspiele” (On the Theory of Parlor Games) in the same year. He continued to work with Hilbert and eventually published his first major book, “The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics,” in 1932.

In 1929, von Neumann moved to the University of Hamburg as a privatdozent to pursue better opportunities for becoming a tenured professor. However, he did not stay there for long. In October 1929, he was invited to lecture on quantum theory at Princeton University in the United States. He accepted the offer and moved to the US with his wife after completing their wedding ceremony in Budapest.

At Princeton University, von Neumann became a visiting lecturer in 1930. He started working on the theory of rings of operators, which led to the development of von Neumann algebras. He made foundational contributions to quasi ergodic theory and was known for his ability to convey complicated ideas in physics to his students.

In 1933, the Institute of Advanced Study was established at Princeton, and von Neumann became one of the six original Professors in Mathematics at the institute. He also became co-editor of the “Annals of Mathematics” in the same year. With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, von Neumann decided to resign from his academic position there and permanently shifted to Princeton.

## At Princeton University, USA

Von Neumann continued his work at Princeton University, focusing on various mathematical theories and publishing numerous articles. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1937 and anglicized his name to John von Neumann.

During World War II, von Neumann’s expertise in explosions and shaped charges led him to work as a consultant on military projects. In late 1943, he joined the Manhattan Project and played a significant role in the development of the nuclear bomb. He worked on explosive lenses and contributed to the design of the “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He also served on the committee that chose the target cities for the bombings.

After the war, von Neumann worked as a consultant to the government and the industry. He contributed to the development of the ENIAC computer and supported the building of hydrogen bombs. He served on the Atomic Energy Commission and worked on developing nuclear deterrence policies.

## Post War Period

In the post-war period, von Neumann continued his consulting work and made important contributions to various fields. He co-authored the book “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” with economist Oskar Morgenstern, which created the interdisciplinary research field of game theory. He also worked on the Lattice Theory and founded the field of continuous geometry.

Von Neumann received several awards and honors for his contributions to mathematics and science. He was elected a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and served in that capacity until 1956. Despite being diagnosed with cancer in 1955, he continued to work and defend applied mathematics.

Von Neumann passed away on February 8, 1957, at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC. His legacy lives on through numerous mathematical formulas named after him and the awards and lectures instituted in his honor.