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The Indiana Pi Law

by Vincent Mallette
Copyright © 1999 Inwit Publishing, Inc.

585 Words of Egregious NONSENSE!
26 Days That Shook Science!

This is true ... someone made an incorrect entry into the myth and hoax page.

In 1897 a bill was proposed in the Indiana Legislature that would have legally established the value of pi. This value would then have been copyrighted and used in state math textbooks. Other states would have to pay to use this value.

Frequently Asked Questions

• Did the bill ever become law?

No. It was passed (unanimously) in the Indiana House, but the Senate tabled it, after much public ridicule.

• What value of pi would the bill have established?

The wording is so murky that several conclusions are possible. Experts have argued for 3; 3.2; 4; and even 9.2376....The Guinness Book of Records opts for 4.

• Why is the Indiana bill in the Guinness Book of Records?

"Most inaccurate version of pi."

• How many decimals of pi were available in 1897?

Even leaving aside the tainted Shanks result, 440 correct places were available from the work of Rutherford in 1853. In any case 100 places had been available since 1706.

• Who was the author of this benighted bill?

The bill was written and pushed by Dr. Edwin Goodwin, a physician. He claims — in the text of the bill itself (lines 27-28) — to have trisected the angle, duplicated the cube, and squared the circle; and that his solutions had already been accepted by the American Mathematical Monthly (they hadn’t).

• Anything else to which you would like to call my attention?

Yes, notice how Dr. Goodwin congratulates himself (lines 30-31) on having solved problems that "had been long since given up by scientific bodies as insolvable mysteries and above man’s ability to comprehend."

• What was the motive, aside from deifying Dr. Goodwin?

Purely financial. "The case is perfectly simple. If we pass this bill which establishes a new and correct value of p, the author offers our state without cost the use of this discovery and its free publication in our school textbooks, while everyone else must pay him a royalty," opined one of the legislators. See the link [].

• Where can I find out more about pi?

Read Vincent Mallette’s article, "History and Oddities of the Number Pi"


A Bill for an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the Legislature of 1897.

Section -1- Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana: It has been found that a circular area is to the square on a line equal to the quadrant of the circumference, as the area of an equilateral rectangle is to the square on one side. The diameter employed as the linear unit according to the present rule in computing the circle's area is entirely wrong, as it represents the circle's area one and one-fifth times the area of a square whose perimeter is equal to the circumference of the circle. This is because onefifth [sic] of the diameter fails to be represented four times in the circle's circumference. For example: if we multiply the perimeter of a square by one-fourth of any line one-fifth greater than one side, we can in like manner make the square's area to appear one-fifth greater than the fact, as is done by taking the diameter for the linear unit instead of the quadrant of the circle's circumference.

Section -2- It is impossible to compute the area of a circle on the diameter as the linear unit without trespassing upon the area outside of the circle to the extent of including one-fifth more area than is contained within the circle's circumference, because the square on the diameter produces the side of a square which equals nine when the arc of ninety degrees equals eight. By taking the quadrant of the circle's circumference for the linear unit, we fulfill the requirements of both quadrature and rectification of the circle's circumference. Furthermore, it has revealed the ratio of the chord and arc of ninety degrees, which is as seven to eight, and also the ratio of the diagonal and one side of a square which is as ten to seven, disclosing the fourth important fact, that the ratio of the diameter and circumference is as five-fourths to four; and because of these facts and the further fact that the rule in present use fails to work both ways mathematically, it should be discarded as wholly wanting and misleading in its practical applications.

Section -3- In further proof of the value of the author's proposed contribution to education and offered as a gift to the State of Indiana, is the fact of his solutions of the trisection of the angle, duplication of the cube and quadrature of the circle having been already accepted as contributions to science by the American Mathematical Monthly, the leading exponent of mathematical thought in this country. And be it remembered that these noted problems had been long since given up by scientific bodies as insolvable mysteries and above man's ability to comprehend.


Read first time Jany. 18th, 1897

Referred to Committee on Canals - rep. and referred to Com. on Education Jany. 19th, 1897

Reported back Feby. 2d, 1897

Read second time Feby. 5th, 1897

Ordered engrossed Feby. 5th, 1897

Read third time Feby. 5th, 1897

Passed February 5th, 1897 — Ayes - 67 - Noes -0-

Introduced by Record


Read first time and referred to com. on Temperence [sic], 2/11/97 - Reported favorable 2/12/97

Read second time and indefinitely postponed 2/12/97

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Updated Wed 25 Aug 2004