The 'inventor' of Venn diagrams is John Venn (see photograph).

John Venn was born on the 4th of August 1834 in Hull, England.

John Venn came from a Low Church Evangelical background and when he entered Gonville and Caius College Cambridge in 1853 he had so slight an acquaintance with books of any kind that he may be said to have begun there his knowledge of literature.

He graduated in 1857, was elected a Fellow in that year and two years later was ordained a priest. For a year he was curate at Mortlake.

In 1862 he returned to Cambridge University as a lecturer in Moral Science, studying and teaching logic and probability theory. He developed Boole's mathematical logic and is best known for his diagrammatic way of representing sets and their unions and intersections.

Venn considered three discs R, S, and T as typical subsets of a set U (see image). The intersections of these discs and their complements divide U into 8 non-overlapping regions, the unions of which give 256 different Boolean combinations of the original sets R, S, T.

Venn wrote Logic of Chance in 1866 which Keynes described as strikingly original and considerably influenced the development of the theory of statistics.

Venn published Symbolic Logic in 1881 and The Principles of Empirical Logic in 1889. The second of these is rather less original but the first was described by Keynes as probably his most enduring work on logic.

In 1883 Venn was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. About this time his career changed direction. He had already left the Church in 1870 but his interest now turned to history. He wrote a history of his college, publishing The Biographical History of Gonville and Caius College 1349-1897 in 1897.

He then undertook the immense task of compiling a history of Cambridge University which, the first volume of which was published in 1922. He was assisted by his son in this task which was described by another historian in these terms:
It is difficult for anyone who has not seen the work in its making to realise the immense amount of research involved in this great undertaking.

Venn had other skills and interests too, including a rare skill in building machines. He used his skill to build a machine for bowling cricket balls which was so good that when the Australian Cricket team visited Cambridge in 1909, Venn's machine clean bowled one of its top stars four times.

On the 4th of April 1923 he died in Cambridge, England.

© 2003 - 2008 dr. Tim Hulsen