Zerah Colburn (1804-1839) was a child prodigy possessing phenomenal skills at mathematics, particularly in doing complex calculations swiftly in his mind. For example, when asked whether the number 4294967297 is a prime number, Colburn replied after doing a brief mental calculation that it was not, because it had the divisor 641.
Attracting attention, Colburn was sent to school at the Westminster School in London, where he met and inspired a young William Hamilton to become the greatest mathematician and scientist in the history of Ireland.
Colburn seemed to lose his remarkable skills as he grew older, and he did not contribute anything theoretical or lasting to the field of mathematics. He attributed his skills to a tremendous memory.
- E.T. Bell, "Men of Mathematics" 66 (1937).
- Ibid. at 342-43.