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John F. Riordan papers, Rockefeller University Faculty (FA191)

Biographical/Historical Note

John F. Riordan, 1903-1988. Mathematician and engineer.

Born in Ansonia, Connecticut, Riordan was orphaned when he was six years old. He went on to become his high school's valedictorian and attended Yale University. After graduating in 1923 with a B.S., Riordan worked for the United Electric Light and Power Company (now Consolidated Edison Company) and American Telephone and Telegraph Company until 1934. He then joined the staff of Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York where he revived the branch of mathematics known as combinatorial theory. For a number of years Riordan concentrated on studies of the distribution of currents in railway networks and tracks and in the ground, and the effects of these currents on telephone circuits. His other mathematical interests included Boolean algebra in switching, number theory in cable splicing, and probability studies of telephone traffic. Riordan also served as a consultant to various government agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Because of his blindness in one eye caused by a detached retina when he was seven years old, Riordan was unable to serve in World War II but worked as a consultant instead for the Atomic Energy Commission.

After his retirement from Bell Laboratories in 1968, Riordan was appointed an affiliate of The Rockefeller University, where he worked with Mark Kac. In 1979, he received the appointment of adjunct faculty member, a post he held until 1985.

In 1929, Riordan published a collection of his own short stories, "On the Make." He was also a critic for the Saturday Review and edited The Salient, the literary magazine for the New School of Social Research. In 1958, he published "An Introduction to Combinatorial Analysis, "which was translated into Russian in 1962 and considered to be a definitive work in the field. Riordan published "Scholastic Service Systems" in 1962 and "Combinatorial Identities" in 1968. He also authored over 60 articles in professional journals.

Riordan died August 27, 1988.

Notes: Riordan was a member of the following: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Mathematical Society, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and the Mathematical Association of America.

On his 75th birthday, the Journal of Combinatorial Theory dedicated a "Festschrift," or commemorative composition, in his honor.

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