Collection SCA421-GA491 - William Tutte notebook.

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William Tutte notebook.

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1 cm of textual records

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Name of creator


Biographical history

William Thomas Tutte was born on May 14, 1917, in Newmarket (United Kingdom). In 1935, Tutte received a scholarship to study Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he majored in Chemistry and graduated with first-class honours in 1938. In 1940, as a graduate student, he transferred to Mathematics. During that time, Tutte and his colleagues Cedric Smith, Leonard Brooks, and Arthur Stone started researching mathematics and publishing under the pseudonym Blanche Descartes. They were one of the first to solve the problem of Squaring the square, and the first to solve it without a square subrectangle.

In January 1941, Tutte joined Bletchley Park, the organization of code-breakers in the United Kingdom. While at Bletchley Park, Tutte worked on a set of machine-ciphers named Fish, used for high-level communications between Berlin and the field commanders. In 1943, the British Post Office created the electronic computer COLOSSUS with algorithms created by Tutte and his collaborators Max Newman and Ralph Tester. COLOSSUS was used to break Fish codes throughout the remainder of the Second World War.

Once the War was over, in late 1945, Tutte resumed his studies at Cambridge where he received his Ph. D. with a dissertation titled "An algebraic theory of graphs" where he established the subject of Matroid theory.

In 1948, after an invitation from geometer Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter, Tutte moved to Canada and started teaching at the University of Toronto where he gained preeminence in the field of Combinatorics. In 1958, he was made Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC). In 1962, Tutte began teaching at the University of Waterloo, helping establish the identity and reputation of the University and create the Faculty of Mathematics (in 1967). At the University of Waterloo, he became one of the first members of the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization. Tutte retired in 1985 but continued working as Professor Emeritus. Between 1990 and 1996, Tutte was the first president of the Institute of Combinatorics and its Applications. In 2001, he was named Officer of the Order of Canada.

In 1949 Tutte married Dorothea Mitchell. The couple lived in West Montrose until Dorothea's passing in 1994. Afterwards, Tutte moved back to Newmarket (United Kingdom). He returned to Waterloo in 2002.

William Thomas Tutte died on May 2, 2002, in Waterloo.

Custodial history

Scope and content

William Tutte's manuscript notebook from his time as a student at Trinity College Cambridge. Manuscript includes graphs and formulas regarding the Four colour theorem or the Four colour map theorem (considered the central problem in graph theory). Notebook includes a folder with annotations made by Tutte referring to the content and pages with his annotations divided into twelve sections.

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Physical condition

Pages are fragile and folder is very fragile and brittle.

Immediate source of acquisition

Donated in 2019.


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  • English

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General note

The Four colour theorem states that "[e]very planar map with regions of simple borders can be coloured with 4 colours in such a way that no two regions sharing a non-zero length border have the same colour." [1]
The conjecture was first proposed in the 1850s and it is considered a central problem in graph theory. The theorem was proved in 1976 with the aid of computers. A solution that does not rely on a computer has yet to be found. [2]

General note

Approximate date of creation of notebook was established based on printed annotations on folder.

Signatures note

Inscribed in pen, back cover, top centre: 4 .C. T / Elementary

Signatures note

Printed on folder, front cover, bottom right: W. HEFFER & SONS LTD., / CAMBRIDGE.

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Described by CGD in 2022.

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  • English

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[1] The Four Colour Theorem - University of Waterloo Math FAQS
[2] Four colour theorem - Wikipedia

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