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George Parker Bidder (1806–1878)

A short account of George Bidder, the celebrated mental calculator (1821)

George Bidder was a childhood mathematical phenomenon born in Moretonhampstead on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon.  He was able to perform extraordinary calculations in his head from a very early age and exhibited his talent as a ‘calculating boy’ at local fairs and then in ‘the principal towns in the kingdom, where he gave universal satisfaction’:

‘the first proof he gave of his extraordinary abilities, was in reckoning the nails in a horse’s four shoes, and be degrees doubling them from a farthing, thirty two times.’

He was aged 15, and in his second year at Edinburgh University, when this account of his feats was published in 1821.  An extract from the Edinburgh correspondent on 27 December 1819 describes his talents at the age of 13:

“performing the most complex and difficult arithmetical operations, without the use of pen or pencil, by mental calculation alone.  He was repeatedly examined by several members of the University and … gave correct answers, with most inexplicable rapidity.”

With the support of the University of Edinburgh, Bidder went on to become an internationally known civil engineer, and a President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.  He became involved in the construction of railways across Europe and beyond and turned his skills to hydraulic engineering, designing the Victoria Docks in London.

In later life, he returned to Devon and died at his home in Dartmouth in 1878.  He is buried in St Peters Church at Stoke Fleming.