Harry Bateman was born May 29, 1882, in Manchester, England. He attended Trinity College, Cambridge, where he earned his B.A. in mathematics as Senior Wrangler in 1903 and his M.A. in 1906. After a further year of study in Paris and in Göttingen and some teaching at Liverpool University, he came to the U.S. in 1911 to teach at Bryn Mawr College. From Bryn Mawr he went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore on a fellowship, and he earned his PhD there in physics in 1913. In 1917 he moved to Pasadena, California, to take a professiorial position at Throop College, which would shortly become the California Institute of Technology (1920). He held his appointment there in mathematics, physics, and aeronautics until his death on January 21, 1946.
Bateman displayed a wide range of mathematical interests, from geometry to integral equations. He was the author of many papers; his studies included the application of integral equation theory to the propagation of earthquake waves, the mathematical study of electrodynamics, hydrodynamics, dynamics and elasticity, and the problem of numerical computation. Perhaps his best work centered around the development of the properties of special functions and the solution of the most important equations of mathematical physics. His work in fluid mechanics was a basic factor in airplane design. Bateman was recognized by a number of professional societies and organizations, including the Royal Society of London (fellow, 1928), the National Academy of Sciences (fellow, 1930), and the American Mathematical Society (vice-president 1935; Gibbs Lecturer 1943).
At his death, Bateman left extensive notes for a monumental work on special functions. Recognizing the great need for the completion of this important work, Caltech secured funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research. The Hungarian-born mathematician Arthur Erdélyi (1908-1977), then professor at the Mathematical Institute at the University of Edinburgh, was persuaded to come to Caltech and to accept the task of editing these papers, which he accomplished with three assistants, beginning in 1949 and concluding with the publication of Higher Transcendental Functions (McGraw-Hill, 1953-55, 3 vols) and Tables of Integral Transforms (McGraw-Hill, 1954, 2 vols). Erdélyi also held a professorial position in mathematics at Caltech until 1963, when he returned to Edinburgh.
From the guide to the Harry Bateman Papers, 1906-1947, (California Institute of Technology, Caltech Archives)