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Not to be confused with Pennsylvania State University or Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Latin: Universitas Pennsylvaniensis
MottoLeges sine moribus vanae (Latin)

Motto in English

Laws without morals are useless
Established1740 (1740)[note 1]

Academic affiliations

568 Group
Endowment$12.2 billion (2017)[1]
Budget$7.74 billion (FY 2016)[2]
PresidentAmy Gutmann
ProvostWendell Pritchett

Academic staff

4,645 faculty members[2]

Administrative staff

Students21,563 (fall 2015)[2]
Undergraduates10,406 (fall 2015)[2]
Postgraduates11,157 (fall 2015)[2]
LocationPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
CampusUrban, 1,094 acres (443 ha) total: 302 acres (122 ha), University City campus; 700 acres (280 ha), New Bolton Center; 92 acres (37 ha), Morris Arboretum
ColorsRed and Blue[3]

Sporting affiliations

NCAA Division I – Ivy League
Philadelphia Big 5
City 6

The University of Pennsylvania (commonly known as Penn or UPenn) is a privateIvy Leagueresearch university located in the University City section of Philadelphia. Incorporated as The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn is one of 14 founding members of the Association of American Universities and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution.[4]

Benjamin Franklin, Penn's founder, advocated an educational program that focused as much on practical education for commerce and public service as on the classics and theology, though his proposed curriculum was never adopted. The university coat of arms features a dolphin on the red chief, adopted directly from the Franklin family's own coat of arms.[5] Penn was one of the first academic institutions to follow a multidisciplinary model pioneered by several European universities, concentrating multiple "faculties" (e.g., theology, classics, medicine) into one institution.[6] It was also home to many other educational innovations. The first school of medicine in North America (Perelman School of Medicine, 1765), the first collegiate business school (Wharton School, 1881) and the first "student union" building and organization (Houston Hall, 1896)[7] were founded at Penn. With an endowment of $12.21 billion (2017), Penn had the seventh largest endowment of all colleges in the United States.[8] All of Penn's schools exhibit very high research activity.[9] In fiscal year 2015, Penn's academic research budget was $851 million, involving more than 4,300 faculty, 1,100 postdoctoral fellows and 5,500 support staff/graduate assistants.[2]

Over its history, the university has also produced many distinguished alumni. These include 14 heads of state (including two U.S. Presidents); 25 billionaires – the most of any university in the world at the undergraduate level; three United States Supreme Court justices; over 33 United States Senators, 42 United States Governors and 158 members of the U.S. House of Representatives; 8 signers of the United States Declaration of Independence; and 12 signers of the United States Constitution.[10][11][12] In addition, some 30 Nobel laureates, 169 Guggenheim Fellows and 80 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences have been affiliated with Penn.[13] In addition, Penn has produced a significant number of Fortune 500 CEOs, in third place worldwide after Harvard and Stanford.[14][15]


The University considers itself the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,[note 2] as well as the first university in the United States with both undergraduate and graduate studies.

In 1740, a group of Philadelphians joined together to erect a great preaching hall for the traveling evangelistGeorge Whitefield, who toured the American colonies delivering open air sermons. The building was designed and built by Edmund Woolley and was the largest building in the city at the time, drawing thousands of people the first time it was preached in.[17]:26 It was initially planned to serve as a charity school as well, but a lack of funds forced plans for the chapel and school to be suspended. According to Franklin's autobiography, it was in 1743 when he first had the idea to establish an academy, "thinking the Rev. Richard Peters a fit person to superintend such an institution". However, Peters declined a casual inquiry from Franklin and nothing further was done for another six years.[17]:30 In the fall of 1749, now more eager to create a school to educate future generations, Benjamin Franklin circulated a pamphlet titled "Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania", his vision for what he called a "Public Academy of Philadelphia".[18] Unlike the other Colonial colleges that existed in 1749—Harvard, William & Mary, Yale and Princeton—Franklin's new school would not focus merely on education for the clergy. He advocated an innovative concept of higher education, one which would teach both the ornamental knowledge of the arts and the practical skills necessary for making a living and doing public service. The proposed program of study could have become the nation's first modern liberal arts curriculum, although it was never implemented because William Smith (1727-1803), an Anglican priest who became the first provost and other trustees strongly preferred the traditional curriculum.[19][20]

Franklin assembled a board of trustees from among the leading citizens of Philadelphia, the first such non-sectarian board in America. At the first meeting of the 24 members of the Board of Trustees (November 13, 1749), the issue of where to locate the school was a prime concern. Although a lot across Sixth Street from the old Pennsylvania State House (later renamed and famously known since 1776 as "Independence Hall"), was offered without cost by James Logan, its owner, the Trustees realized that the building erected in 1740, which was still vacant, would be an even better site. The original sponsors of the dormant building still owed considerable construction debts and asked Franklin's group to assume their debts and, accordingly, their inactive trusts. On February 1, 1750, the new board took over the building and trusts of the old board. On August 13, 1751, the "Academy of Philadelphia", using the great hall at 4th and Arch Streets, took in its first secondary students. A charity school also was chartered July 13, 1753[21]:12 in accordance with the intentions of the original "New Building" donors, although it lasted only a few years. On June 16, 1755, the "College of Philadelphia" was chartered, paving the way for the addition of undergraduate instruction.[21]:13 All three schools shared the same Board of Trustees and were considered to be part of the same institution.[22] The first commencement exercises were held on May 17, 1757.[21]:14

The institution of higher learning was known as the College of Philadelphia from 1755 to 1779. In 1779, not trusting then-provost the Reverend William Smith's"Loyalist" tendencies, the revolutionary State Legislature created a University of the State of Pennsylvania.[22] The result was a schism, with Smith continuing to operate an attenuated version of the College of Philadelphia. In 1791, the Legislature issued a new charter, merging the two institutions into a new University of Pennsylvania with twelve men from each institution on the new Board of Trustees.[22]

Penn has three claims to being the first university in the United States, according to university archives director Mark Frazier Lloyd: the 1765 founding of the first medical school in America[23] made Penn the first institution to offer both "undergraduate" and professional education; the 1779 charter made it the first American institution of higher learning to take the name of "University"; and existing colleges were established as seminaries (although, as detailed earlier, Penn adopted a traditional seminary curriculum as well).[24]

After being located in downtown Philadelphia for more than a century, the campus was moved across the Schuylkill River to property purchased from the Blockley Almshouse in West Philadelphia in 1872, where it has since remained in an area now known as University City. Although Penn began operating as an academy or secondary school in 1751 and obtained its collegiate charter in 1755, it initially designated 1750 as its founding date; this is the year which appears on the first iteration of the university seal. Sometime later in its early history, Penn began to consider 1749 as its founding date and this year was referenced for over a century, including at the centennial celebration in 1849.[25] In 1899, the board of trustees voted to adjust the founding date earlier again, this time to 1740, the date of "the creation of the earliest of the many educational trusts the University has taken upon itself".[26] The board of trustees voted in response to a three-year campaign by Penn's General Alumni Society to retroactively revise the university's founding date to appear older than Princeton University, which had been chartered in 1746.[27]

Early campuses[edit]

The Academy of Philadelphia, a secondary school for boys, began operations in 1751 in an unused church building at 4th and Arch Streets which had sat unfinished and dormant for over a decade. Upon receiving a collegiate charter in 1755, the first classes for the College of Philadelphia were taught in the same building, in many cases to the same boys who had already graduated from The Academy of Philadelphia. In 1801, the University moved to the unused Presidential Mansion at 9th and Market Streets, a building that both George Washington and John Adams had declined to occupy while Philadelphia was the temporary national capital.[21] Classes were held in the mansion until 1829, when it was demolished. Architect William Strickland designed twin buildings on the same site, College Hall and Medical Hall (both 1829–1830), which formed the core of the Ninth Street Campus until Penn's move to West Philadelphia in the 1870s.

Evolution from commuter school to research university[edit]

As recently as the 1950s, the University of Pennsylvania was considered a "commuter school".[28] The Pennsylvania Urban Redevelopment Act of 1954 enabled the university to expand and build facilities better suited to a residential university. At first, when the Ivy League was being organized, the athletic directors of the other seven schools protested, fearing Penn's football prowess and arguing that its students' relatively weaker academic credentials would give it an unfair advantage in recruiting athletes.[29]

Gradually, over the second half of the 20th century, the school raised its profile, became more selective and dramatically increased its endowment. Between 1995 and 2005, the university spent over a billion dollars on campus improvements to attract top students and faculty.[30]

Educational innovations[edit]

Penn's educational innovations include: the nation's first medical school in 1765; the first university teaching hospital in 1874; the Wharton School, the world's first collegiate business school, in 1881; the first American student union building, Houston Hall, in 1896;[31] the country's second school of veterinary medicine; and the home of ENIAC, the world's first electronic, large-scale, general-purpose digital computer in 1946. Penn is also home to the oldest continuously functioning psychology department in North America and is where the American Medical Association was founded.[32][33] In 1921, Penn was also the first university to award a PhD to an African-American woman, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander (in economics).[34]


Penn's motto is based on a line from Horace's III.24 (Book 3, Ode 24), quid leges sine moribus vanae proficiunt? ("of what avail empty laws without [good] morals?"). From 1756 to 1898, the motto read Sine Moribus Vanae. When it was pointed out that the motto could be translated as "Loose women without morals", the university quickly changed the motto to literae sine moribus vanae ("Letters without morals [are] useless"). In 1932, all elements of the seal were revised and as part of the redesign it was decided that the new motto "mutilated" Horace and it was changed to its present wording, Leges Sine Moribus Vanae ("Laws without morals [are] useless").[35]


The official seal of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania serves as the signature and symbol of authenticity on documents issued by the corporation.[36] A request for one was first recorded in a meeting of the trustees in 1753 during which some of the Trustees "desired to get a Common Seal engraved for the Use of [the] Corporation". However, it was not until a meeting in 1756 that "a public Seal for the College with a proper device and Motto" was requested to be engraved in silver.[37] The most recent design, a modified version of the original seal, was approved in 1932, adopted a year later and is still used for much of the same purposes as the original.[36]

The outer ring of the current seal is inscribed with "Universitas Pennsylvaniensis", the Latin name of the University of Pennsylvania. The inside contains seven stacked books on a desk with the titles of subjects of the trivium and a modified quadrivium, components of a classical education: Theolog[ia], Astronom[ia], Philosoph[ia], Mathemat[ica], Logica, Rhetorica and Grammatica. Between the books and the outer ring is the Latin motto of the University, "Leges Sine Moribus Vanae".[36]


Much of Penn's architecture was designed by the Cope & Stewardson firm, whose principal architects combined the Gothic architecture of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge with the local landscape to establish the Collegiate Gothic style. The present core campus covers over 279 acres (113 ha) in a contiguous area of West Philadelphia's University City section, whereas the older heart of the campus comprises the University of Pennsylvania Campus Historic District. All of Penn's schools and most of its research institutes are located on this campus. The surrounding neighborhood includes several restaurants and pubs, a large upscale grocery store and a movie theater on the western edge of campus.

The campus has several notable art installations. The "Covenant", better known to the student body as "The Tampons",[38] is a large red structure located on Locust Walk between the high rise residences. It was installed in 1975 and is made of rolled sheets of milled steel. A larger-than-life white button, known as "The Button", is another popular sculpture. It sits at the south entrance of Van Pelt Library and has button holes large enough to stand in. Penn also has a replica of the "Love" sculpture, part of a series created by Robert Indiana. It is a painted aluminum sculpture and was installed in 1998.

The Module 6 Utility Plant and Garage at Penn was designed by BLT Architects and completed in 1995. Module 6 is located at 38th and Walnut and includes spaces for 627 vehicles, 9,000 sq ft (840 m2) of storefront retail operations, a 9,500-ton chiller module and corresponding extension of the campus chilled water loop and a 4,000-ton ice storage facility.[39]

In 2007, Penn acquired about 35 acres (14 ha) between the campus and the Schuylkill River (the former site of the Philadelphia Civic Center and a nearby 24-acre (9.7 ha) site owned by the United States Postal Service). Dubbed the Postal Lands, the site extends from Market Street on the north to Penn's Bower Field on the south, including the former main regional U.S. Postal Building at 30th and Market Streets, now the regional office for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Over the next decade, the site will become the home to educational, research, biomedical, and mixed-use facilities. The first phase, comprising a park and athletic facilities, opened in the fall of 2011. Penn also plans new connections between the campus and the city, including a pedestrian bridge. In 2010, in its first significant expansion across the Schuylkill River, Penn purchased 23 acres at the northwest corner of 34th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue from DuPont for storage and office space.

In September 2011, Penn completed the construction of the $46.5 million 24-acre (97,000 m2) Penn Park, which features passive and active recreation and athletic components framed and subdivided by canopy trees, lawns, and meadows. It is located east of the Highline Green and stretches from Walnut Street to South Streets. The University also owns the 92-acre (37 ha) Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill in northwestern Philadelphia, the official arboretum of the state of Pennsylvania. Penn also owns the 687-acre (278 ha) New Bolton Center, the research and large-animal health care center of its Veterinary School. Located near Kennett Square, New Bolton Center received nationwide media attention when Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro underwent surgery at its Widener Hospital for injuries suffered while running in the Preakness Stakes.

Penn borders Drexel University and is near the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. The renowned cancer research center Wistar Institute is also located on campus. In 2014, a new 7-story glass and steel building was completed next to the Institute's historic 117-year-old brick building further expanding collaboration between the university and the Wistar Institute.[40]


Penn's library began in 1750 with a donation of books from cartographer Lewis Evans. Twelve years later, then-provost William Smith sailed to England to raise additional funds to increase the collection size. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Libraries' earliest donors and, as a Trustee, saw to it that funds were allocated for the purchase of texts from London, many of which are still part of the collection, more than 250 years later. It has grown into a system of 15 libraries (13 are on the contiguous campus) with 400 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees and a total operating budget of more than $48 million. The library system has 6.19 million book and serial volumes as well as 4.23 million microform items and 1.11 million e-books.[2] It subscribes to over 68,000 print serials and e-journals.[41]

Penn's Libraries, with associated school or subject area: Annenberg (School of Communications), located in the Annenberg School; Biddle (Law), located in the Law School; Biomedical, located adjacent to the Robert Wood Johnson Pavilion of the Medical School; Chemistry, located in the 1973 Wing of the Chemistry Building; Dental Medicine; Engineering, located on the second floor of the Towne Building in the Engineering School; Fine Arts, located within the Fisher Fine Arts Library, designed by Frank Furness; Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, located on Walnut Street at Washington Square; Lea Library, located within the Van Pelt Library; Lippincott (Wharton School), located on the second floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center; Math/Physics/Astronomy, located on the third floor of David Rittenhouse Laboratory; Museum (Archaeology); Rare Books and Manuscripts; Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center (Humanities and Social Sciences) – location of Weigle Information Commons; Veterinary Medicine, located in Penn Campus and New Bolton Center; and High Density Storage.

The Penn Libraries are strong in Area Studies,[42] with bibliographers for Africa, East Asia, Judaica, Latin America, Middle East, Russia and Slavic and South Asia. As a result, the Penn Libraries have extensive collections in several hundred languages.

The University Museum[edit]

Main article: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Since the University museum was founded in 1887, it has taken part in 400 research projects worldwide.[43] The museum's first project was an excavation of Nippur, a location in current day Iraq.[44] The museum has three gallery floors with artifacts from Egypt, the Middle East, Mesoamerica, Asia, the Mediterranean, Africa and indigenous artifacts of the Americas.[43] Its most famous object is the goat rearing into the branches of a rosette-leafed plant, from the royal tombs of Ur. The Museum's excavations and collections foster a strong research base for graduate students in the Graduate Group in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. Features of the Beaux-Arts building include a rotunda and gardens that include Egyptian papyrus. The Institute of Contemporary Art, which is based on Penn's campus, showcases various art exhibitions throughout the year.


Main article: University of Pennsylvania College Houses

Every College House at the University of Pennsylvania has at least four members of faculty in the roles of House Dean, Faculty Master and College House Fellows.[45] Within the College Houses, Penn has nearly 40 themed residential programs for students with shared interests such as world cinema or science and technology. Many of the nearby homes and apartments in the area surrounding the campus are often rented by undergraduate students moving off campus after their first year, as well as by graduate and professional students.

The College Houses include W.E.B. Du Bois, Fisher Hassenfeld, Gregory, Harnwell, Harrison, Hill, Kings Court English, New College House, Riepe, Rodin, Stouffer and Ware.[46] Fisher Hassenfeld, Ware and Riepe together make up one building called "The Quad".

Campus police[edit]

The University of Pennsylvania Police Department (UPPD) is the largest private police department in Pennsylvania, with 117 members. All officers are sworn municipal police officers and retain general law enforcement authority while on the campus.[47]

In 2016, a UPPD explosives detection dog named "Zzisa" took fifth place in a national competition.[48]


The College of Arts and Sciences is the undergraduate division of the School of Arts and Sciences. The School of Arts and Sciences also contains the Graduate Division and the College of Liberal and Professional Studies, which is home to the Fels Institute of Government, the master's programs in Organizational Dynamics, and the Environmental Studies (MES) program. Wharton is the business school of the University of Pennsylvania. Other schools with undergraduate programs include the School of Nursing and the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).

Penn has a strong focus on interdisciplinary learning and research. It offers double degree programs, unique majors, and academic flexibility. Penn's "One University" policy allows undergraduates access to courses at all of Penn's undergraduate and graduate schools, except the medical, veterinary and dental schools. Undergraduates at Penn may also take courses at Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore, under a reciprocal agreement known as the Quaker Consortium.

Coordinated dual-degree and interdisciplinary programs[edit]

Penn offers specialized coordinated dual-degree (CDD) programs, which award candidates degrees from multiple schools at the University upon completion of graduation criteria of both schools. Undergraduate programs include:

Dual-degree programs which lead to the same multiple degrees without participation in the specific above programs are also available. Unlike CDD programs, "dual degree" students fulfill requirements of both programs independently without involvement of another program. Specialized dual-degree programs include Liberal Studies and Technology as well as an Artificial Intelligence: Computer and Cognitive Science Program. Both programs award a degree from the College of Arts and Sciences and a degree from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. In addition, the Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences allows its students to either double major in the sciences or submatriculate and earn both a B.A. and a M.S. in four years. The most recent Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER) will be first offered for the class of 2016. A joint program of Penn's School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, VIPER leads to dual Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Engineering degrees by combining majors from each school.

For graduate programs, Penn offers many formalized double degree graduate degrees such as a joint J.D./MBA, and maintains a list of interdisciplinary institutions, such as the Institute for Medicine and Engineering, the Joseph H. Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies, and the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science.

Academic medical center and biomedical research complex[edit]

Penn's health-related programs—including the Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, Nursing, and Veterinary Medicine, and programs in bioengineering (School of Engineering), biology (School of Arts and Sciences), and health management (the Wharton School)—are among the university's strongest academic components.

However, the size of Penn's biomedical research organization adds a very capital intensive component to the university's operations and introduces revenue instability due to changing government regulations, reduced federal funding for research and Medicaid/Medicare program changes. This is a primary reason highlighted in bond rating agencies' views on Penn's overall financial rating, which ranks one notch below its academic peers. Penn has worked to address these issues by pooling its schools (as well as several hospitals and clinical practices) into the University of Pennsylvania Health System, thereby pooling resources for greater efficiencies and research impact.

Admissions selectivity[edit]

The Princeton Review ranks Penn as the 6th most selective school in the United States.[59] For the Class of 2018, entering in the fall of 2014, the University received a record of 35,868 applications and admitted 9.9 percent of the applicants (7% in the regular decision cycle), marking Penn's most selective admissions cycle in the history of the University.[60]The Atlantic also ranked Penn among the 10 most selective schools in the country. At the graduate level, based on admission statistics from U.S. News & World Report, Penn's most selective programs include its law school, the health care schools (medicine, dental medicine, nursing, Social Work and veterinary) and its business school.

Research, innovations and discoveries[edit]

Penn is considered a "very high research activity" university.[61] Its economic impact on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 2015 amounted to $14.3 billion.[62] In fiscal year 2015, Penn's research budget was $851 million. In line with its well-known interdisciplinary tradition, Penn's research centers often span two or more disciplines. In the 2010–2011 academic year alone, five interdisciplinary research centers were created or substantially expanded; these include the Center for Health-care Financing,[63] the Center for Global Women's Health at the Nursing School,[64] the $13 million Morris Arboretum's Horticulture Center,[65] the $15 million Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at Wharton[66] and the $13 million Translational Research Center at Penn Medicine.[67] With these additions, Penn now counts 165 research centers hosting a research community of over 4,300 faculty and over 1,100 postdoctoral fellows, 5,500 academic support staff and graduate student trainees.[2] To further assist the advancement of interdisciplinary research President Amy Gutmann established the "Penn Integrates Knowledge" title awarded to selected Penn professors "whose research and teaching exemplify the integration of knowledge".[68] These professors hold endowed professorships and joint appointments between Penn's schools. The most recent of the 22 PIK professors is George Demiris, who started at Penn in January 2018 with a joint appointment at the School of Nursing and the Perelman School of Medicine.[68]

As a powerful research-oriented institution Penn is also among the most prolific and high-quality producers of doctoral students. With 487 PhDs awarded in 2009, Penn ranks third in the Ivy League, only behind Columbia and Cornell (Harvard did not report data).[69] It also has one of the highest numbers of post-doctoral appointees (933 in number for 2004–2007), ranking third in the Ivy League (behind Harvard and Yale) and tenth nationally.[70] In most disciplines Penn professors' productivity is among the highest in the nation and first in the fields of Epidemiology, Business, Communication Studies, Comparative Literature, Languages, Information Science, Criminal Justice and Criminology, Social Sciences and Sociology.[71] According to the National Research Council nearly three-quarters of Penn's 41 assessed programs were placed in ranges including the top 10 rankings in their fields, with more than half of these in ranges including the top 5 rankings in these fields.[72]

Penn's research tradition has historically been complemented by innovations that shaped higher education. In addition to establishing the first medical school, the first university teaching hospital, the first business school and the first student union, Penn was also the cradle of other significant developments. In 1852, Penn Law was the first law school in the nation to publish a law journal still in existence (then called The American Law Register, now the Penn Law Review, one of the most cited law journals in the world).[73] Under the deanship of William Draper Lewis, the law school was also one of the first schools to emphasize legal teaching by full-time professors instead of practitioners, a system that is still followed today.[74] The Wharton School was home to several pioneering developments in business education. It established the first research center in a business school in 1921 and the first center for entrepreneurship center in 1973[75] and it regularly introduced novel curricula for which BusinessWeek wrote, "Wharton is on the crest of a wave of reinvention and change in management education".[76][77]

Several major scientific discoveries have also taken place at Penn. The university is probably best known as the place where the first general-purpose electronic computer (ENIAC) was born in 1946 at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering.[78] It was here also where the world's first spelling and grammar checkers were created, as well as the popular COBOL programming language.[78] Penn can also boast some of the most important discoveries in the field of medicine. The dialysis machine used as an artificial replacement for lost kidney function was conceived and devised out of a pressure cooker by William Inouye while he was still a student at Penn Med;[79] the Rubella and Hepatitis B vaccines were developed at Penn;[79][80] the discovery of cancer's link with genes, cognitive therapy, Retin-A (the cream used to treat acne), Resistin, the Philadelphia gene (linked to chronic myelogenous leukemia) and the technology behind PET Scans were all discovered by Penn Med researchers.[79] More recent gene research has led to the discovery of the genes for fragile X syndrome, the most common form of inherited mental retardation; spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy, a disorder marked by progressive muscle wasting; and Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the hands, feet and limbs.[79]Conductive polymer was also developed at Penn by Alan J. Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa, an invention that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. On faculty since 1965, Ralph L. Brinster developed the scientific basis for in vitro fertilization and the transgenic mouse at Penn. The theory of superconductivity was also partly developed at Penn, by then faculty member John Robert Schrieffer (along with John Bardeen and Leon Cooper). The university has also contributed major advancements in the fields of economics and management. Among the many discoveries are conjoint analysis, widely used as a predictive tool especially in market research, Simon Kuznets's method of measuring Gross National Product,[81] the Penn effect (the observation that consumer price levels in richer countries are systematically higher than in poorer ones) and the "Wharton Model"[82] developed by Nobel-laureate Lawrence Klein to measure and forecast economic activity. The idea behind Health Maintenance Organizations also belonged to Penn professor Robert Eilers, who put it into practice during then President Nixon's health reform in the 1970s.[81]


Academy and College of Philadelphia (c. 1780), 4th and Arch Streets, Philadelphia, home of what became the University from 1751 to 1801
"House intended for the President of the United States" from "Birch's Views of Philadelphia" (1800), home of the College of Philadelphia/University of Pennsylvania from 1801 to 1829
Ninth Street Campus (above Chestnut Street): Medical Hall (left) and College Hall (right), both built 1829–1830
1755 Charter creating the College of Philadelphia
"The Quad" in the Fall, from Fisher-Hassenfeld College House, facing Ware College House
College Hall and then Logan Hall viewed from Woodland Ave, c. 1892
Statue of the Reverend George Whitefield at the University of Pennsylvania
1757 Seal of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania
Overlooking Lower Quad from Upper Quad
University Museum and Warden Garden
Claudia Cohen Hall, formerly Logan Hall, home of the College of Arts and Sciences and former home of the Wharton School and originally, the medical school
ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic computer, was born at Penn in 1946

mathematician and physicist

"Von Neumann" redirects here. For other uses, see Von Neumann (disambiguation).

The native form of this personal name is Neumann János Lajos. This article uses Western name order when mentioning individuals.

John von Neumann

John von Neumann in the 1940s

BornNeumann János Lajos
(1903-12-28)December 28, 1903
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
DiedFebruary 8, 1957(1957-02-08) (aged 53)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
CitizenshipHungary, United States
Alma materEötvös Loránd University
ETH Zürich
University of Göttingen
Known for
Spouse(s)Mariette Kövesi
Klara Dan
ChildrenMarina von Neumann Whitman
AwardsBôcher Memorial Prize (1938)
Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award (1946)
Medal for Merit (1946)
Medal of Freedom (1956)
Enrico Fermi Award (1956)
Scientific career
FieldsMathematics, physics, statistics, economics, computer science
InstitutionsUniversity of Berlin
Princeton University
Institute for Advanced Study
Los Alamos Laboratory
ThesisAz általános halmazelmélet axiomatikus felépítése (The general structure of the axiomatic set theory) (1925)
Doctoral advisorLipót Fejér
Other academic advisorsLászló Rátz
David Hilbert
Doctoral studentsDonald B. Gillies
Israel Halperin
Other notable studentsPaul Halmos
Clifford Hugh Dowker
Benoit Mandelbrot[1]

John von Neumann (; Hungarian: Neumann János Lajos, pronounced [ˈnɒjmɒn ˈjaːnoʃ ˈlɒjoʃ]; December 28, 1903 – February 8, 1957) was a Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, and polymath. He made major contributions to a number of fields, including mathematics (foundations of mathematics, functional analysis, ergodic theory, representation theory, operator algebras, geometry, topology, and numerical analysis), physics (quantum mechanics, hydrodynamics, and quantum statistical mechanics), economics (game theory), computing (Von Neumann architecture, linear programming, self-replicating machines, stochastic computing), and statistics.

Von Neumann was generally regarded as the foremost mathematician of his time and said to be "the last representative of the great mathematicians". He was a pioneer of the application of operator theory to quantum mechanics in the development of functional analysis, and a key figure in the development of game theory and the concepts of cellular automata, the universal constructor and the digital computer. He published over 150 papers in his life: about 60 in pure mathematics, 20 in physics, and 60 in applied mathematics, the remainder being on special mathematical subjects or non-mathematical ones. His last work, an unfinished manuscript written while in the hospital, was later published in book form as The Computer and the Brain.

His analysis of the structure of self-replication preceded the discovery of the structure of DNA. In a short list of facts about his life he submitted to the National Academy of Sciences, he stated, "The part of my work I consider most essential is that on quantum mechanics, which developed in Göttingen in 1926, and subsequently in Berlin in 1927–1929. Also, my work on various forms of operator theory, Berlin 1930 and Princeton 1935–1939; on the ergodic theorem, Princeton, 1931–1932."

During World War II, von Neumann worked on the Manhattan Project; he developed the mathematical models that were behind the explosive lenses used in the implosion-type nuclear weapon. After the war, he served on the General Advisory Committee of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, and later as one of its commissioners. He was a consultant to a number of organizations, including the United States Air Force, the Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory, the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Von Neumann, theoretical physicist Edward Teller, mathematician Stanislaw Ulam and others worked out key steps in the nuclear physics involved in thermonuclear reactions and the hydrogen bomb.

Early life and education[edit]

Family background[edit]

Von Neumann was born Neumann János Lajos to a wealthy, acculturated and non-observant Jewish family (in Hungarian the family name comes first. His given names equate to John Louis in English). His Hebrew name was Yonah. Von Neumann was born in Budapest, Kingdom of Hungary, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[6] He was the eldest of three brothers; his two younger siblings were Michael (b. 1907) and Nicholas (b. 1911). His father, Neumann Miksa (English: Max Neumann) was a banker, who held a doctorate in law. He had moved to Budapest from Pécs at the end of the 1880s. Miksa's father and grandfather were both born in Ond (now part of the town of Szerencs), Zemplén County, northern Hungary. John's mother was Kann Margit (English: Margaret Kann); her parents were Jakab Kann and Katalin Meisels. Three generations of the Kann family lived in spacious apartments above the Kann-Heller offices in Budapest; von Neumann's family occupied an 18-room apartment on the top floor.

In 1913, Emperor Franz Joseph elevated his father to the nobility for his service to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Neumann family thus acquired the hereditary appellation Margittai, meaning of Marghita. The family had no connection with the town; the appellation was chosen in reference to Margaret, as was that chosen coat of arms depicting three marguerites. Neumann János became Margittai Neumann János (John Neumann of Marghita), which he later changed to the German Johann von Neumann.

Child prodigy[edit]

Von Neumann was a child prodigy. When he was 6 years old, he could divide two 8-digit numbers in his head and could converse in Ancient Greek. When the 6-year-old von Neumann caught his mother staring aimlessly, he asked her: "What are you calculating?"

Children did not begin formal schooling in Hungary until they were ten years of age; governesses taught von Neumann, his brothers and his cousins. Max believed that knowledge of languages in addition to Hungarian was essential, so the children were tutored in English, French, German and Italian. By the age of 8, von Neumann was familiar with differential and integral calculus,[18] but he was particularly interested in history. He read his way through Wilhelm Oncken's 46-volume Allgemeine Geschichte in Einzeldarstellungen. A copy was contained in a private library Max purchased. One of the rooms in the apartment was converted into a library and reading room, with bookshelves from ceiling to floor.

Von Neumann entered the Lutheran Fasori Evangelikus Gimnázium in 1911. This was one of the best schools in Budapest and was part of a brilliant education system designed for the elite. Under the Hungarian system, children received all their education at the one gymnasium. Despite being run by the Lutheran Church, the school was predominately Jewish in its student body. The school system produced a generation noted for intellectual achievement, which included Theodore von Kármán (b. 1881), George de Hevesy (b. 1885), Leó Szilárd (b. 1898), Dennis Gabor (b. 1900), Eugene Wigner (b. 1902), Edward Teller (b. 1908), and Paul Erdős (b. 1913). Collectively, they were sometimes known as Martians. Wigner was a year ahead of von Neumann at the Lutheran School. When asked why the Hungary of his generation had produced so many geniuses, Wigner, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, replied that von Neumann was the only genius.

First few von Neumann ordinals
0= Ø
1= { 0 }= {Ø}
2= { 0, 1 }= { Ø, {Ø} }
3= { 0, 1, 2 }= { Ø, {Ø}, {Ø, {Ø}} }
4= { 0, 1, 2, 3 }= { Ø, {Ø}, {Ø, {Ø}}, {Ø, {Ø}, {Ø, {Ø}}} }

Although Max insisted von Neumann attend school at the grade level appropriate to his age, he agreed to hire private tutors to give him advanced instruction in those areas in which he had displayed an aptitude. At the age of 15, he began to study advanced calculus under the renowned analyst Gábor Szegő. On their first meeting, Szegő was so astounded with the boy's mathematical talent that he was brought to tears. Some of von Neumann's instant solutions to the problems that Szegő posed in calculus are sketched out on his father's stationery and are still on display at the von Neumann archive in Budapest. By the age of 19, von Neumann had published two major mathematical papers, the second of which gave the modern definition of ordinal numbers, which superseded Georg Cantor's definition. At the conclusion of his education at the gymnasium, von Neumann sat for and won the Eötvös Prize, a national prize for mathematics.

University studies[edit]

There were few positions in Hungary for mathematicians, and those jobs that did exist were not well-paid. Von Neumann's father wanted John to follow him into industry and thereby invest his time in a more financially useful endeavor than mathematics. Von Neumann and his father decided that the best career path was to become a chemical engineer. This was not something that von Neumann had much knowledge of, so it was arranged for him to take a two-year non-degree course in chemistry at the University of Berlin, after which he sat for the entrance exam to the prestigious ETH Zurich, which he passed in September 1923. At the same time, von Neumann also entered Pázmány Péter University in Budapest,[31] as a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics. For his thesis, he chose to produce an axiomatization of Cantor's set theory.[32] He graduated as a chemical engineer from ETH Zurich in 1926, (although Wigner says that von Neumann was never very attached to that subject),[34] and passed his final examinations for his Ph.D. in mathematics almost simultaneously, of which Wigner wrote: "Evidently a Ph.D. thesis and examination did not constitute an appreciable effort."[35] He then went to the University of Göttingen on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to study mathematics under David Hilbert.

Early career and private life[edit]

Von Neumann's habilitation was completed on December 13, 1927, and he started his lectures as a privatdozent at the University of Berlin in 1928,[37] being the youngest person ever elected privatdozent in its history in any subject.[38] By the end of 1927, von Neumann had published twelve major papers in mathematics, and by the end of 1929, thirty-two papers, at a rate of nearly one major paper per month. His reputed powers of memorization and recall allowed him to quickly memorize the pages of telephone directories, and recite the names, addresses and numbers therein. In 1929, he briefly became a privatdozent at the University of Hamburg, where the prospects of becoming a tenured professor were better, but in October of that year a better offer presented itself when he was invited to Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey.

On New Year's Day in 1930, von Neumann married Mariette Kövesi, who had studied economics at Budapest University. Von Neumann and Mariette had one child, a daughter, Marina, born in 1935. As of 2017, she is a distinguished professor of business administration and public policy at the University of Michigan.[42] The couple divorced in 1937. In October 1938, von Neumann married Klara Dan, whom he had met during his last trips back to Budapest prior to the outbreak of World War II.

Prior to his marriage to Mariette, Von Neumann was baptized a Catholic in 1930.[44] Von Neumann's father, Max, had died in 1929. None of the family had converted to Christianity while Max was alive, but afterwards they all did.

In 1933, he was offered a lifetime professorship on the faculty of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study when that institution's plan to appoint Hermann Weyl fell through. He remained a mathematics professor at Princeton until his death, although he had announced his intention to resign and become a professor at large at the University of California. His mother, brothers and in-laws followed von Neumann to the United States in 1939. Von Neumann anglicized his first name to John, keeping the German-aristocratic surname of von Neumann. His brothers changed theirs to "Neumann" and "Vonneumann". Von Neumann became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1937, and immediately tried to become a lieutenant in the United States Army's Officers Reserve Corps. He passed the exams easily, but was ultimately rejected because of his age. His prewar analysis of how France would stand up to Germany is often quoted. He said: "Oh, France won't matter."

Klara and John von Neumann were socially active within the Princeton academic community. His white clapboard house at 26 Westcott Road was one of the largest private residences in Princeton. He took great care of his clothing and would always wear formal suits. He once wore a three-piece pin-stripe when he rode down the Grand Canyon astride a mule.[53] Hilbert is reported to have asked a question at von Neumann's 1926 doctoral exam: "Pray, who is the candidate's tailor?" as he had never seen such beautiful evening clothes.[54]

Von Neumann held a lifelong passion for ancient history, being renowned for his prodigious historical knowledge. A professor of Byzantine history at Princeton once said that von Neumann had greater expertise in Byzantine history than he did.[55]

Von Neumann liked to eat and drink; his wife, Klara, said that he could count everything except calories. He enjoyed Yiddish and "off-color" humor (especially limericks).[18] He was a non-smoker. At Princeton he received complaints for regularly playing extremely loud German march music on his gramophone, which distracted those in neighboring offices, including Albert Einstein, from their work. Von Neumann did some of his best work in noisy, chaotic environments, and once admonished his wife for preparing a quiet study for him to work in. He never used it, preferring the couple's living room with its television playing loudly. Despite being a notoriously bad driver, he nonetheless enjoyed driving—frequently while reading a book—occasioning numerous arrests, as well as accidents. When Cuthbert Hurd hired him as a consultant to IBM, Hurd often quietly paid the fines for his traffic tickets.[59]

Von Neumann's closest friend in the United States was mathematician Stanislaw Ulam. A later friend of Ulam's, Gian-Carlo Rota, wrote: "They would spend hours on end gossiping and giggling, swapping Jewish jokes, and drifting in and out of mathematical talk." When von Neumann was dying in hospital, every time Ulam would visit he would come prepared with a new collection of jokes to cheer up his friend. He believed that much of his mathematical thought occurred intuitively, and he would often go to sleep with a problem unsolved, and know the answer immediately upon waking up. Ulam noted that von Neumann's way of thinking might not be visual, but more of an aural one.


Set theory[edit]

See also: Von Neumann–Bernays–Gödel set theory

The axiomatization of mathematics, on the model of Euclid's Elements, had reached new levels of rigour and breadth at the end of the 19th century, particularly in arithmetic, thanks to the axiom schema of Richard Dedekind and Charles Sanders Peirce, and in geometry, thanks to Hilbert's axioms. But at the beginning of the 20th century, efforts to base mathematics on naive set theory suffered a setback due to Russell's paradox (on the set of all sets that do not belong to themselves). The problem of an adequate axiomatization of set theory was resolved implicitly about twenty years later by Ernst Zermelo and Abraham Fraenkel. Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory provided a series of principles that allowed for the construction of the sets used in the everyday practice of mathematics, but they did not explicitly exclude the possibility of the existence of a set that belongs to itself. In his doctoral thesis of 1925, von Neumann demonstrated two techniques to exclude such sets—the axiom of foundation and the notion of class.

The axiom of foundation proposed that every set can be constructed from the bottom up in an ordered succession of steps by way of the principles of Zermelo and Fraenkel. If one set belongs to another then the first must necessarily come before the second in the succession. This excludes the possibility of a set belonging to itself. To demonstrate that the addition of this new axiom to the others did not produce contradictions, von Neumann introduced a method of demonstration, called the method of inner models, which later became an essential instrument in set theory.

The second approach to the problem of sets belonging to themselves took as its base the notion of class, and defines a set as a class which belongs to other classes, while a proper class is defined as a class which does not belong to other classes. Under the Zermelo–Fraenkel approach, the axioms impede the construction of a set of all sets which do not belong to themselves. In contrast, under the von Neumann approach, the class of all sets which do not belong to themselves can be constructed, but it is a proper class and not a set.

With this contribution of von Neumann, the axiomatic system of the theory of sets avoided the contradictions of earlier systems, and became usable as a foundation for mathematics, despite the lack of a proof of its consistency. The next question was whether it provided definitive answers to all mathematical questions that could be posed in it, or whether it might be improved by adding stronger axioms that could be used to prove a broader class of theorems. A strongly negative answer to whether it was definitive arrived in September 1930 at the historic mathematical Congress of Königsberg, in which Kurt Gödel announced his first theorem of incompleteness: the usual axiomatic systems are incomplete, in the sense that they cannot prove every truth which is expressible in their language. Moreover, every consistent extension of these systems would necessarily remain incomplete.

Less than a month later, von Neumann, who had participated at the Congress, communicated to Gödel an interesting consequence of his theorem: that the usual axiomatic systems are unable to demonstrate their own consistency. However, Gödel had already discovered this consequence, now known as his second incompleteness theorem, and he sent von Neumann a preprint of his article containing both incompleteness theorems. Von Neumann acknowledged Gödel's priority in his next letter. He never thought much of "the American system of claiming personal priority for everything."

Ergodic theory[edit]

In a series of articles that were published in 1932, von Neumann made foundational contributions to ergodic theory, a branch of mathematics that involves the states of dynamical systems with an invariant measure.[68] Of the 1932 papers on ergodic theory, Paul Halmos writes that even "if von Neumann had never done anything else, they would have been sufficient to guarantee him mathematical immortality".[69] By then von Neumann had already written his famous articles on operator theory, and the application of this work was instrumental in the von Neumann mean ergodic theorem.[69]

Operator theory[edit]

Main article: Von Neumann algebra

Von Neumann introduced the study of rings of operators, through the von Neumann algebras. A von Neumann algebra is a *-algebra of bounded operators on a Hilbert space that is closed in the weak operator topology and contains the identity operator. The von Neumann bicommutant theorem shows that the analytic definition is equivalent to a purely algebraic definition as being equal to the bicommutant.[71] Von Neumann embarked in 1936, with the partial collaboration of F.J. Murray, on the general study of factors classification of von Neumann algebras. The six major papers in which he developed that theory between 1936 and 1940 "rank among the masterpieces of analysis in the twentieth century". The direct integral was later introduced in 1949 by John von Neumann.[72]

Measure theory[edit]

See also: Lifting theory

In measure theory, the "problem of measure" for an n-dimensional Euclidean space Rn may be stated as: "does there exist a positive, normalized, invariant, and additive set function on the class of all subsets of Rn?"[69] The work of Felix Hausdorff and Stefan Banach had implied that the problem of measure has a positive solution if n = 1 or n = 2 and a negative solution (because of the Banach–Tarski paradox) in all other cases. Von Neumann's work argued that the "problem is essentially group-theoretic in character":[69] the existence of a measure could be determined by looking at the properties of the transformation group of the given space. The positive solution for spaces of dimension at most two, and the negative solution for higher dimensions, comes from the fact that the Euclidean group is a solvable group for dimension at most two, and is not solvable for higher dimensions. "Thus, according to von Neumann, it is the change of group that makes a difference, not the change of space."[69]

In a number of von Neumann's papers, the methods of argument he employed are considered even more significant than the results. In anticipation of his later study of dimension theory in algebras of operators, von Neumann used results on equivalence by finite decomposition, and reformulated the problem of measure in terms of functions.[73] In his 1936 paper on analytic measure theory, he used the Haar theorem in the solution of Hilbert's fifth problem in the case of compact groups.[69][74] In 1938, he was awarded the Bôcher Memorial Prize for his work in analysis.[75]


Von Neumann founded the field of continuous geometry.[76] It followed his path-breaking work on rings of operators. In mathematics, continuous geometry is a substitute of complex projective geometry, where instead of the dimension of a subspace being in a discrete set 0, 1, ..., n, it can be an element of the unit interval [0,1]. Von Neumann was motivated by his discovery of von Neumann algebras with a dimension function taking a continuous range of dimensions, and the first example of a continuous geometry other than projective space was the projections of the hyperfinite type II factor.

Lattice theory[edit]

Between 1937 and 1939, von Neumann worked on lattice theory, the theory of partially ordered sets in which every two elements have a greatest lower bound and a least upper bound. Von Neumann provided an abstract exploration of dimension in completed complementedmodular topological lattices (properties that arise in the lattices of subspaces of inner product spaces): "Dimension is determined, up to a positive linear transformation, by the following two properties. It is conserved by perspective mappings ("perspectivities") and ordered by inclusion. The deepest part of the proof concerns the equivalence of perspectivity with "projectivity by decomposition"—of which a corollary is the transitivity of perspectivity."[77]Garrett Birkhoff writes: "John von Neumann's brilliant mind blazed over lattice theory like a meteor".[77]

Von Neumann founded the field of continuous geometry based on lattice theoretic principles. Earlier, Menger and Birkhoff had axiomatized complex projective geometry in terms of the properties of its lattice of linear subspaces. Von Neumann, following his work on rings of operators, weakened those axioms to describe a broader class of lattices, the continuous geometries. While the dimensions of the subspaces of projective geometries are a discrete set (the non-negative integers), the dimensions of the elements of a continuous geometry can range continuously across the unit interval [0,1]. Von Neumann was motivated by his discovery of von Neumann algebras with a dimension function taking a continuous range of dimensions, and the first example of a continuous geometry other than projective space was the projections of the hyperfinite type II factor.[79]

Additionally, "[I]n the general case, von Neumann proved the following basic representation theorem. Any complemented modular lattice L having a "basis" of n ≥ 4 pairwise perspective elements, is isomorphic with the lattice ℛ(R) of all principal right-ideals of a suitable regular ringR. This conclusion is the culmination of 140 pages of brilliant and incisive algebra involving entirely novel axioms. Anyone wishing to get an unforgettable impression of the razor edge of von Neumann's mind, need merely try to pursue this chain of exact reasoning for himself—realizing that often five pages of it were written down before breakfast, seated at a living room writing-table in a bathrobe."[77]

Mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics[edit]

See also: von Neumann entropy, Density matrix, Quantum mutual information, von Neumann measurement scheme, and Wave function collapse

Von Neumann was the first to establish a rigorous mathematical framework for quantum mechanics, known as the Dirac–von Neumann axioms, with his 1932 work Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics.[73] After having completed the axiomatization of set theory, he began to confront the axiomatization of quantum mechanics. He realized, in 1926, that a state of a quantum system could be represented by a point in a (complex) Hilbert space that, in general, could be infinite-dimensional even for a single particle. In this formalism of quantum mechanics, observable quantities such as position or momentum are represented as linear operators acting on the Hilbert space associated with the quantum system.

The physics of quantum mechanics was thereby reduced to the mathematics of Hilbert spaces and linear operators acting on them. For example, the uncertainty principle, according to which the determination of the position of a particle prevents the determination of its momentum and vice versa, is translated into the non-commutativity of the two corresponding operators. This new mathematical formulation included as special cases the formulations of both Heisenberg and Schrödinger. When Heisenberg was informed von Neumann had clarified the difference between an unbounded operator that was a self-adjoint operator and one that was merely symmetric, Heisenberg replied "Eh? What is the difference?"

Excerpt from the university calendars for 1928 and 1928/29 of the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin announcing Neumann's lectures on axiomatic set theory and mathematical logic, new work in quantum mechanics and special functions of mathematical physics.

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