George William Hill

George William Hill


Date of Birth
March 3, 1838
Date of Death
April 16, 1914

After earning a B.A. at Rutgers, G.W. Hill joined the staff of the Nautical Almanac Office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1861. Shortly afterward he withdrew to his family’s farm in West Nyack, New York, where he preferred to work alone. Hill was one of the most respected mathematical astronomers of all time. He computed the orbit of the moon while making original contributions to the three body problem. He introduced infinite determinants, a concept which later found application in many fields of mathematics and physics. When Simon Newcomb took over the Nautical Almanac in 1877 and began a complete recomputation of all solar system motions, Hill was assigned the difficult problem of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. He reluctantly moved to Washington, where the Almanac Office was now located, completed the enormous labor in ten years, then returned to the farm, where he continued his research in celestial mechanics. He accepted a lectureship at Columbia University established especially for him (with a gift from Catherine W. Bruce), but soon resigned and returned his salary when few students enrolled in his course.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Burckhalter, Charles, PASP 21, 51-60 (1909).

Other awards

Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1887, presented by J.W.L. Glaisher, MNRAS 47, 203-220 (1887). See also Observatory 10, 114 (1906).
Royal Society, Copley Medal, 1909.

Some offices held

American Mathematical Society, President, 1895-96.

Biographical materials

Archibald, Raymond Clare, Semicentennial History of the American Mathematical Society, 1888&-1938 (American Mathematical Society, 1938), 117-24 [includes complete list of Hill’s publications].
Brown, E.W.Biographical Memoirs, National Academy of Sciences 8, 275-309 (1916).
Dick, Steven J. & Jordan D. Marché II, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 506-07.
Eisele, Carolyn, Dictionary of Scientific Biography 6, 398-400.The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive
Moulton, Forrest Ray, “George William Hill,” Popular Astronomy 49, 305-11 (1941).
Rutgers University Hall of Distinguished Alumni
Schlesinger, Frank, “Recollections of George William Hill,” PASP 49, 4-12 (1937).
Schlesinger, Frank, “The Almost Forgotten Genius. Recollections of George William Hill ’59,” Rutgers Alumni Monthly 17, 3 (1938).
Tenn, Joseph S., “George W. Hill: The Eighth Bruce Medalist,” Mercury 20, 2, 52 (1991).


Brown, E.W.Proc. Royal Society of London A 91, 42-51 (1915).
Jackson, J., Observatory 37, 257-60 (1914).
Jeans, James, MNRAS 75, 258-64 (1915).
Moulton, Forrest Ray, Popular Astronomy 22, 391-400 (1914).
Woodward, R.S., Astronomical Journal 28, 161-62 (1914).
More obituaries


Mary Lea Shane Archives of Lick Observatory, 1909 photo
U.S. Naval Observatory Library: painting by Beverly Stautz

Named after him

Lunar crater Hill
Minor Planet #1642 Hill
Hill Center for Mathematical Sciences, Rutgers University
George William Hill Professorship of Mathematics and Physics, Rutgers University


Papers, etc.

Hill left his library and papers to Columbia University. Some correspondence is at the U.S. Naval Observatory Library.

Other References: Historical

Barrow-Green, June. Poincaré and the Three Body Problem (American Mathematical Society, Providence, RI, 1997).

Gutzwiller, Martin C., “Moon-Earth-Sun: The Oldest Three-Body Problem,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 70, 589–639 (1998).

Hill, G.W., “Remarks on the Progress of Celestial Mechanics since the Middle of the Last Century: Presidential address delivered before the American Mathematical Society, December 27, 1895,” Bull. Am. Math. Soc. 2, 125-136 (1896). Also in Observatory 19, 323-26, 355-58, 392-94(1896).

O’Connor, J.J. & E.F. Robertson, “Orbits and Gravitation”

O’Connor, J.J. & E.F. Robertson, “George William Hill’s New Theory of Jupiter and Saturn”

Rutgers University, “A History of Mathematics at Rutgers”

U.S. Naval Observatory, “History of the Astronomical Almanac”

Wilson, Curtis, “The Nub of the Lunar Problem: From Euler to G.W. Hill,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 39, 453-68 (2008).

Wilson, Curtis, The Hill-Brown Theory of the Moon’s Motion: Its Coming-to-be and Short-lived Ascendancy (1877-1984) (Springer, NY, 2010).

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Other References: Scientific

Hill, George William,The Collected Mathematical works of George William Hill, vols. 1-4, with an introduction by H. Poincaré (Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, DC, 1905-07). [Available online at Cornell University: vol. 1234] [Also available in the Internet Archive.]

Hill, G.W., “On the Conformation of the Earth,” Mathematical Monthly 3, 6, 166-82 (1861) [First Prize Essay].

Hill, G.W., “New Elements and Ephemeris of the Great Comet of 1858,” Astronomische Nachrichten 64, 181-90 (1865).

Hill, G.W., Tables of Venus, Prepared for the Use of the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac. (Bureu of Navigation, Washington, D.C., 1872).

Hill, G.W., “A Method of Computing Absolute Perturbations,” Astr. Nach. 83, 209-26 (1874).

Hill, G.W., “On a Long Period Inequality in the Motion of Hestia arising from the action of the Earth,” Astr. Nach. 85, 41-44 (1874).

Hill, G.W., “Mr. Hill’s Researches on the Lunar Theory,” MNRAS 39, 258-60 (1879).

Hill, G.W., “Mr. G.W. Hill on the Lunar Inequalities due to the Ellipticity of the Earth,” MNRAS 46, 231-34 (1886).

Hill, G.W., “The Motion of Hyperion and the Mass of Titan,” Astronomical Journal 8, 57-62 (1888).

Hill, G.W., A New Theory of Jupiter and Saturn (United States. Nautical Almanac Office, Washington, DC, 1890).

Hill, G.W., “The Periodic Solution as a First Approximation in the Lunar Theory,” Astronomical Journal 15, 137-43 (1895).

Hill, G.W., “Note on the Mass of Mercury,” Astronomical Journal 19, 157-58 (1898) and 19, 167 (1899).

Hill, G.W., “Observations on Professor Newcomb’s Determination of the Principal Element of Precession,” Astronomical Journal 18, 153-56 (1898).

Hill, G.W., “Extension of Delaunay’s Method in the Lunar Theory to the General Problem of Planetary Motion,” Trans. Amer. Math Soc. 1, 205-42 (1900).

Hill, G.W., “Ptolemy’s problem,” Astronomical Journal 21, 153-56 (1900).

Hill, G.W., “The Theorems of Lagrange and Poisson on the Invariability of the Greater Axes in an Ordinary Planetary System,” Astronomical Journal 24, 27-29 (1904)

Hill, G.W., “Illustrations of Periodic Solutions in the Problem of Three Bodies,” Astronomical Journal 22, 93-97 (1902) and 117-21.

Hill, G.W., “Comparison of the New Tables of Jupiter and Saturn with the Greenwich Observations of 1889-1900,” Astronomical Journal 24, 60-61 (1904).

Hill, G.W., “Development of Functions in Power Series from Special Values,” Astronomical Journal 24, 123-28 (1904).

Hill, G.W., “Integrals of Planetary Motion Suitable for an Indefinite Length of Time,” Astronomical Journal 25, 1-12 (1905).

Hill, G.W., “Motion of a System of Material Points under the Action of Gravitation,” Astronomical Journal 27, 171-182 (1913).

Hill, G.W., “The Secular Perturbations of the Four Outer Planets,” Astronomical Journal 28, 59-71 (1913).

Hill, G.W., “Hypergeometric Series and Walker’s Tables of the LeVerrier Coefficients,” Astronomical Journal 28, 93-100 (1913).

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Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Hill, George William, “Biographical Memoir of Asaph Hall, 1829-1907,” with a bibliography by William Denis Horigan, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 6, 241-309 (1908).

Hill, G.W., “Professor Simon Newcomb as an Astronomer,” Science 30, 353-57 (1909).