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Francis B. Hildebrand

Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Francis B. Hildebrand PhD ’40, who served on the MIT faculty for 44 years, died Nov. 29 at the age of 87.

Hildebrand earned his doctorate in applied mathematics, and was appointed to the faculty the same year. He retired in 1984.

At the time he joined the faculty, the emerging engineering and computational fields were increasingly in need of a standardized mathematics curriculum focused on relevant applications. Hildebrand developed what would become famous courses on calculus for engineers, leading to the textbook “Advanced Calculus for Engineers.” The book became the standard reference for engineering mathematics.

Textbooks were influential

In 1952, Hildebrand wrote “Methods in Applied Mathematics,” another influential teaching and reference text. This work was followed in 1956 by his “Introduction to Numerical Analysis,” focusing on computational techniques he himself developed. The book played a role in positioning numerical analysis as a major influence during an early stage of computer design.

His research focused on similar topics in applied mathematics, such as the numerical solution of integral equations and the theory of elasticity. During World War II, he worked for two years in the Radiation Laboratory, which spearheaded the U.S. effort to develop microwave radar.

Jazz, photography among hobbies

Hildebrand graduated with a B.S. from Washington and Jefferson College in 1936, and received his A.M. in 1938. In 1969, his alma mater awarded him an honorary doctorate. He was a member of the American Mathematics Society, Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Delta Theta. Outside of academics, Hildebrand was an accomplished jazz musician and an enthusiast of early photography.

He is survived by his wife, three children, and five grandchildren. A memorial was held at the Wellesley Congregational Church on Dec. 4.