Alfred Kempe

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Not to be confused with Alfred John Kempe.
Sir Alfred Kempe
Alfred Bray Kempe.jpeg
Born (1849-07-07)July 7, 1849
Kensington, London, England
Died April 21, 1922(1922-04-21) (aged 72)
London, England
Influenced Charles Sanders Peirce

Sir Alfred Bray Kempe D.C.L. F.R.S. (6 July 1849, Kensington, London – 21 April 1922, London) was a mathematician best known for his work on linkages and the four color theorem.

Kempe studied at Trinity College, Cambridge where Arthur Cayley was one of his teachers. He graduated BA (22nd wrangler) in 1872.[1] Despite his interest in mathematics he became a barrister, specializing in the ecclesiastical law. He was knighted in 1913, the same year he became the Chancellor for the Diocese of London. He received the honorary degree D.C.L. from the University of Durham.

In 1877 Kempe discovered new straight line linkages and published his influential lectures on the subject. Kempe's universality theorem for linkages states that any bounded subset of an algebraic curve may be traced out by the motion of one of the joints in a suitably chosen linkage. Kempe's proof was flawed, and the first complete proof was provided in 2002, based on his ideas.[2]

In 1879 Kempe wrote his famous "proof" of the four color theorem, shown incorrect by Percy Heawood in 1890. Much later, his work led to fundamental concepts such as the Kempe chain and unavoidable sets.

Kempe (1886) revealed a rather marked philosophical bent, and much influenced Charles Sanders Peirce. Kempe also discovered what are now called multisets, although this fact was not noted until long after his death.

Kempe was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1881. He was a president of the London Mathematical Society from 1892 to 1894. He was also a mountain climber, mostly in Switzerland.

The Sylvester-Kempe Inversor draws a straight line.


  1. ^ "Kempe, Alfred Bray (KM867AB)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ Demaine, Erik; O'Rourke, Joseph (2007), "3.2 Kempe's Universality Theorem", Geometric Folding Algorithms, Cambridge University Press, pp. 31–40, ISBN 978-0-521-71522-5 .


  • Ivor Grattan-Guinness (2000) The Search for Mathematical Roots 1870-1940. Princeton Univ. Press.
  • Kempe, A. B. (1886) "A memoir on the theory of mathematical form," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 177: 1-70.

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