Milutin Milankovic was born on May 28, 1879, at Dali near
Osijek, in what was then
He received a degree from the School of Civil Engineering in June, 1902, having submitted
a project for a reinforced concrete bridge. His thesis, Theorie der Druckkurven
(Theory of Pressure Lines), was noted for its original approach; it was published in
1907, in the eminent German scientific, non-technical, review Zeitschrift für
Mathematik und Physik, Bd. 55.
At the beginning of 1905, Milankovic took up practical work and joined the then famous
firm of Adolf Baron Pittel Betonbau-Unternehmung in Vienna. He built dams, bridges,
viaducts, aqueducts and other structures in reinforced concrete throughout the
Austria-Hungary of the time. Milankovic continued to practice civil engineering in
Vienna until the autumn of 1909 when he was offered the chair of applied mathematics
(rational mechanics, celestial mechanics, theoretical physics) in Belgrade. The year
1909 marked a turning point in his life. Though he continued to pursue his
investigations of various problems pertaining to the application of reinforced concrete,
he decided to concentrate on fundamental research.
Turbulent events took place as soon as he had settled down in Belgrade when the Balkan
Wars were followed by World War I. When World War I broke out (he was just married), he
was interned in Nezsider and later in Budapest, where he was allowed to work in the
library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. As early as 1912, his interests turned
to solar climates and temperatures prevailing on the planets. Throughout his
internment in Budapest he devoted his time to the work in this field and, by the end of
the war, he had finished a monograph on the problem which was published in 1920, in the
editions of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts by Gauthiers-Villards in Paris,
under the title Théorie mathématique des phénomènes thermiques produits par la
radiation solaire (Mathematical theory of thermic phenomena caused by solar radiations).
The results set forth in this work won him considerable reputation in the scientific
world, notably his curve of insolation at the Earth's surface.
curve was not really accepted until 1924 when the great meteorologist and climatologist
Vladimir Köppen with his son-in-law Alfred Wegener, introduced the curve in their work Klimate
der geologischen Vorzeit (Climates of Geological Past). After these first
tributes, Milankovic was invited, in 1927, to cooperate in two important publications: the
first was a handbook on climatology (Handbuch der Klimatologie) and the second a
handbook on geophysics (Guttenberg's Handbuch der Geophysik). For the
former, he wrote the introduction Mathematische Klimalehre und astronomische Theorie
der Klimaschwankungen (Mathematical science of climate and astronomical theory of the
variations of the climate), published in 1930 in German and in 1939 translated into
Russian. Here the theory of planetary climate is further developed with special
reference to the Earth.
For the second textbook, Milankovic wrote four sections developing and formulating his
theory of the secular motion of the Earth's poles and his theory of glacial periods.
Fully aware that his theory of solar radiation had been successfully completed and
that the papers dealing with this theory were dispersed in separate publications, he
decided to collect and publish them under a single cover. Thus, in 1941, on the eve
of war in his country, the printing of his great work Kanon der Erdbestrahlung und
seine Anwendung auf das Eiszeitenproblem (Canon of Insolation of the Earth and Its
Application to the Problem of the Ice Ages) was completed, 626 pages in quarto, in
Cemian, published in the editions of the Royal Serbian Academy. This work was translated
into English under the title Canon of Insolation of the Ice-Age Problem, in 1969
by the Israel Program for Scientific Translations and published for the U.S. Department of
commerce and the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C.
Objections were raised in the 50's against the Milankovic theory of ice ages; these
objections came mainly from meteorologists who claimed that the insolation changes
the changes in the Earth's orbital elements were too small to perturb significantly the
climate system. However, in the late 60's and 70's, investigation of the deep-sea
sediments and theoretical works in celestial mechanics and climate modelling showed that
Milankovic's view was correct and that the astronomically induced changes in
received by the Earth from the Sun, was indeed the primary cause for the waxing and waning
Quaternary ice sheets.
In addition to his scientific work, Milankovic always showed great interest in the
historical development of science. In addition to a textbook on the history of
astronomy, the wrote two books on a popular level: Through Space and Centuries
fictionalized the development of astronomy while the other, entitled Through the Realm
of Science, dealt with the development of exact sciences.
Milankovic also published a three volume autobiography in Serbo-Croatian, Recollection,
Experiences and Vision, which was never translated. For this reason his son,
Vasko Milankovic, has completed a beautiful biography: My father, Milutin Milankovic.
Milankovic was elected a corresponding member of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences
in 1920, a full member in 1924, a corresponding member of the Yugoslav Academy of
Arts and Sciences in 1925 and as member of the German Academy of Naturalists
"Leopoldine" in Halle; he
was also a member of many scientific societies and related to organizations, both in
Yugoslavia and abroad.
He died on December 12, 1958, in Belgrade.