MacMahon, Percy Alexander (1854–1929)

Percy MacMahon

Percy MacMahon was a British mathematician, physicist, and naval officer, born into a military family, whose leanings were evident early on when as a young child he showed a fascination with the way artillery was stacked. MacMahon later did work on missile trajectories, taking resistance into account, and on symmetric functions in the field of combinatorics, building on the results of James Sylvester and Arthur Cayley.


His studies in symmetry led him to investigate partitions and to become a world authority on Latin squares. He wrote a two-volume treatise Combinatory Analysis (1915-16), which became a classic, and a book on mathematical recreations called New Mathematical Pastimes (1921).1 The latter shows another of the topics that intrigued MacMahon: the construction of patterns that can be repeated to fill the plane. However, much to his regret, as he wrote in the Preface, "It has not been found possible to produce the book in colour."



1. MacMahon, Alexander. New Mathematical Pastimes. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1921.