GEORGE POLYA- The Father of problem Solving-Alyss

GEORGE POLYA – The Father of problem Solving

How do we solve any mathematical problem? We first understand the problem, analyse it and then plan to solve it and recheck for any errors. This method of solving problem was first suggested by a great mathematician named George Polya.


George Polya was born in Budapest on December 13th 1887. His parents were Jakab Polya and Anna Deutsch. They were Jewish. Though his parents were religious, George Polya grew up as an agnostic. His father was trained as a lawyer but his own firm failed and later he worked for the international insurance company. George Polya had two brothers and two sisters.

George Polya studied in an elementary school in Budapest and received his certificate in 1894. He was termed to be having a very good behaviour. He later joined Gymnasium and learnt Greek, Latin, Hungarian and modern language of German. Biology and Literature were his favorite subjects and he always received “Outstanding” Grades except in Mathematics. But to everyone’s surprise he later went on to become a great mathematician.

Polya got enrolled at the University of Budapest in 1905. He grew interest towards philosophy but his professor made him pursue physics and mathematics. He was awarded doctorate in mathematics for the study done in theory of geometric probability.

His first job was as a tutor and later he was invited to teach in Zurich, Switzerland. There he used to work with Dr. Weber. He met his daughter Stella one day and eventually married her. He loved to take his wife to afternoon walks in the local garden. There one day he met an young couple who also came for walk and so Polya chose another path. Still he met the same couple six more times as he moved around in the garden. He was surprised and told his wife how is this possible to meet them so many times though we have chosen random paths everytime. He named this as random walk problem and did experiments on this and later he published that “if the walk continued long enough that one was sure to return to the starting point”.

Later in 1940 he and his wife moved to the United States and there he became famous for his research in no time. He published his famous book “ How to Solve It” in the year 1945. It was translated into 17 languages and sold over one million copies. He identified the following four principles :

  1. Understand the Problem
  2. Devise a plan
  3. Carry out the plan
  4. Look back

He also published  Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning in 1954 and Mathematical Discovery in 1962. These texts became the basis for the current thinking in mathematics education. Thus he was termed as the father of problem solving. He received many honours for his outstanding contributions. He died on September 7th 1986 in Palo Alto, California, USA.



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