D. M. Smith

D. M. Smith
D. M. Smith

Born July 27, 1884
Nashville, Tennessee
Died November 26, 1962
Fields Mathematics
Institutions Georgia Tech
Centenary College
Fort Worth University
Alma mater Vanderbilt University
University of Chicago
Doctoral advisor Gilbert Ames Bliss
Known for Calculus of variations

David Melville "Doc" Smith (July 27, 1884 – November 26, 1962) was a renowned professor and mathematician at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). During his more than forty years at the school, he was particularly known for his teaching style and personality. Georgia Tech's D. M. Smith Building, which has housed numerous academic departments, is named in his honor.




D. M. Smith was born in 1884 in Nashville, Tennessee. He attended Vanderbilt University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1905 and a master's degree in 1906. Upon leaving Vanderbilt, Smith began teaching mathematics at Centenary College of Louisiana. He later moved to Texas after accepting a teaching position at Fort Worth University (now part of Oklahoma City University[1]). Smith then returned to graduate school at the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. under the advisement of Gilbert Ames Bliss.[2] As with the most notable research of his advisor, Smith focused on the calculus of variations in his dissertation, Jacobi's Condition for the Problem of Lagrange in the Calculus of Variations.[3] After graduating from the University of Chicago,[4] Smith was hired by the Georgia Institute of Technology as an assistant professor.[5]

Smith spent over forty years as a professor of mathematics at Georgia Tech. One of Smith's duties was teaching an introductory calculus course for which he received much acclaim from students.[6][7] Smith was promoted in 1922 from assistant professor to associate professor.[8] In 1936, Smith accepted a full professorship and the position of head of the Georgia Tech Mathematics department.[9] Smith stepped down from his department head position due to his age in 1950,[5] retiring in 1954.[10] The Georgia Tech Alumni Association presented Smith with an Honorary Alumnus Award in 1959.[11] Smith died of natural causes in 1962 at age 78.[12] He was a charter member of the Mathematical Association of America.[12]


"Doc" Smith, as he was called, made a powerful impression on his students. A Georgia Tech professor and former student of Smith's remembered him as "a friendly, inspiring curmudgeon who could scare the hell out of you, teach you, advise you, and follow your future after graduation. [...] Dr. Smith was unfailingly interested and supportive."[13] Other Georgia Tech alumni who were instructed by Smith called him "a gifted teacher",[14] unforgettable, likable, and "a good-hearted guy."[15] His memorable teaching style and devotion to his students earned him the title of "legend" among alumni.[16][17]

Physically, Smith was described as "a small, white-haired gentleman with a noticeable limp caused by a short leg" who "always wore a black suit with a bow tie." He was often seen driving around the Georgia Tech campus in a 1930s black coupé automobile similar to the Ramblin' Wreck.[7]

D. M. Smith Building

The D. M. Smith Building at Georgia Tech

Smith is recognized by the D. M. Smith Building named in his honor, one of twelve structures comprising the Georgia Institute of Technology Historic District. The building was erected in 1923 by the architectural firm Roberts and Company, Inc. with US$150,000 donated by the Carnegie Corporation and $50,000 from Greater Georgia Tech Campaign funds. The English collegiate architectural style of the building, recommended by Georgia Tech architecture faculty members John L. Skinner and Harold Bush-Brown, would serve as an influential model for Georgia Tech campus buildings constructed over the next twenty years.[18]

Many academic departments have been housed in the D. M. Smith Building as institutional needs changed. The first occupants were Georgia Tech's Architecture and Physics departments. Later, the building contained offices and laboratories for the Social Sciences, Psychology, and Mathematics departments.[18] Presently, the building is home to the School of Public Policy and the Pre-Law Departments in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.[19]


  1. ^ "Oklahoma City University". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/O/OK032.html. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  2. ^ "David Melville Smith". Mathematics Genealogy Project. North Dakota State University. http://genealogy.math.ndsu.nodak.edu/id.php?id=6051. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  3. ^ Smith, David M. (1916). "Jacobi's Condition for the Problem of Lagrange in the Calculus of Variations". Transactions of the American Mathematical Society (American Mathematical Society) 17 (4): 459–475. doi:10.2307/1988832. JSTOR 1988832. 
  4. ^ Records are inconsistent about Smith's year of graduation from the University of Chicago; some suggest 1913 as the year, while others suggest 1916.
  5. ^ a b Wallace, Robert (1969). Dress Her in WHITE and GOLD: A biography of Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech Foundation. 
  6. ^ Ritch, E.R. (1998). "Feedback: V-12 Program Was Vital". Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine Online (Georgia Tech Alumni Association). http://gtalumni.org/Publications/magazine/fall98/feedback.html. Retrieved 2007-10-14. "One of my favorite professors was Doc [D.M.] Smith, a math professor. [...] He could make calculus seem so simple in class you'd think a first grader could learn it." 
  7. ^ a b Lutter, Fred C. (1999). "Letters: Smith Was Gem of a Teacher". Georgia Tech Alumni Association. http://www.gtalumni.org/Publications/magazine/spr99/letters.html. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  8. ^ "Notes and News". American Mathematical Monthly (American Mathematical Society) 29 (2): 93–96. 1922. "Mr. D. M. Smith and Mr. A. B. Morton have been promoted from assistant professorships to associate professorships and Mr. G. T. Trawich has been appointed instructor." 
  9. ^ "Notes" ([dead link]Scholar search). Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (American Mathematical Society) 42 (7): 478–482. 1936. doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1936-06334-2. Archived from the original on November 29, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20071129085157/http://www.ams.org/bull/1936-42-07/S0002-9904-1936-06334-2/S0002-9904-1936-06334-2.pdf. Retrieved 2007-10-14. "Associate Professor D. M. Smith, of the Georgia School of Technology, has been promoted to a professorship and has been appointed head of the department of mathematics." 
  10. ^ "News and Notices". American Mathematical Monthly (Mathematical Association of America) 61 (8): 579–585. 1954. JSTOR 2307624. "Professor D. M. Smith has retired." 
  11. ^ "Honorary Georgia Tech Alumni". Georgia Tech Alumni Association. http://gtalumni.org/site/Page/PastHonorary. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  12. ^ a b "News and Notices". American Mathematical Monthly (Mathematical Association of America) 70 (7): 784–786. 1963. JSTOR 2312298. "Professor D. M. Smith, Georgia Institute of Technology, died on November 26, 1962. He was a charter member of the Association." 
  13. ^ Llewellyn, Donna C. (2004). "Faculty Profile: Tech Alumni Remember their Great Teachers at Georgia Tech". SciTech Vol. 3 (Georgia Institute of Technology College of Sciences): p. 3. http://www.cos.gatech.edu/scitech_v3.pdf. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  14. ^ Lampert, Sy (1991). "Tribute To a Great Teacher". Tech Topics (Georgia Tech Alumni Association). Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20071016051547/http://gtalumni.org/StayInformed/techtopics/spr91/teacher.html. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  15. ^ Dunn, John (1999). "Burdell & Friends: New Centenarian". Tech Topics (Georgia Tech Alumni Association). Archived from the original on October 14, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20071014012111/http://gtalumni.org/news/ttopics/win99/burdell.html. Retrieved 2007-10-14. "'I'll never forget D. M. Smith,' Hudgins said. 'He was my professor of mathematics when I flunked. He was a good-hearted guy; I liked him.'" 
  16. ^ Byrd, Charles (1999). "Letters: Millennium Dilemma". Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine Online (Georgia Tech Alumni Association). http://gtalumni.org/Publications/magazine/sum99/letters.html. Retrieved 2007-10-14. "I am reminded of D.M. 'Doc' Smith, who was a great professor and a Georgia Tech legend in the Mathematics Department." 
  17. ^ Lemeiras, Maria (1999). "Oral History Spotlight: It Wasn't All Work". Tech Topics (Georgia Tech Alumni Association). http://gtalumni.org/Publications/techtopics/sum99/oralhis.html. Retrieved 2007-10-14. "He [Georgia Tech alumnus Oliver Simmons] studied under such legends as math Professor D. M. Smith and Dean William Skiles." 
  18. ^ a b "Georgia Institute Of Technology Historic District". Marietta Street Artery Association. http://www.artery.org/GaTech.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  19. ^ "Detail of D. M. Smith Building". Georgia Tech Campus Map. Georgia Tech Alumni Association. http://gtalumni.org/campusmap/bldngmodel.php?id=24. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 

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