(1883-1953) Austrian mathematician and aerodynamicist who made valuable contributions to statistics and the theory of probability, in which he emphasized the idea of random distribution.
Von Mises was born in Lemberg (now Lvov, Ukraine), and educated at Vienna. He was professor at the University of Strassburg (now Strasbourg, France) 1909–18. In 1920 he was appointed director of the Institute for Applied Mathematics at Berlin, but with the coming to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933, von Mises emigrated to Turkey and taught at the University of Istanbul. In 1939 he went to the US to join the faculty of Harvard, where he was professor from 1944.
Von Mises's first interest was fluid mechanics, especially in relation to aerodynamics and aeronautics. He learned to fly and in 1913 gave the first university course in the mechanics of powered flight. He made significant improvements in boundary-layer-flow theory and airfoil design and, in 1915, built an airplane for the Austrian military. During World War I he served as a pilot.
Von Mises was drawn into the field of probability theory and statistics by his association (from 1907 until the 1920s) with the Viennese school of logical positivism. He came to the conclusion that a probability cannot be simply the limiting value of a relative frequency, and added the proviso that any event should be irregularly or randomly distributed in the series of occasions in which its probability is measured.
Von Mises's ideas were contained in two papers which he published in 1919. Little noticed at the time, they have come to influence all modern statisticians.