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Exploratorium Celebrates Original Pi Day, Invented With Lots of Pie in 1988

It’s the 30th anniversary of the first-ever Pi Day

© Exploratorium,

Restaurants and bakeries serving pie specials today — not to mention math teachers using baked goods to entice students into a better understanding of their curriculum — owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to the San Francisco Exploratorium, an institution that’s celebrating Pi Day, and its own history, for the 31st time today. Festivities at the popular museum (at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero) culminate with a Pi March at 1:59 p.m. (the digits of Pi after 3.14) and slices of apple, lemon, banana cream, and pecan pie from its Seaglass Restaurant served to attendees at 2:15 p.m.

“Larry Shaw, a long-time staff member of the Exploratorium, created Pi Day in 1988 as a way to make the mathematical concept ‘pi’ into a more tangible experience for the museum’s young visitors,” the Fresno Bee recalled in 2007. A trained physicist, motorcycle enthusiast, and practicing buddhist, Shaw’s first innovation was linking the digits of the mathematical constant to a calendar day — March 14, or 3/14. But his second, more subtly brilliant leap sealed the deal: Connecting “Pi” to “pie,” and thus providing his holiday with something every celebration needs, a good dessert.

Larry Shaw at Pi Day in 1988
© Exploratorium,
Larry Shaw at Pi Day 2014
© Exploratorium,

The 30th anniversary of the original Pi Day at the exploratorium is also the first to be held without Shaw. He died last August at the age of 78.

But by now, his celebration of the special relationship between a circle’s diameter and its circumference — as well as the special resonance between pi and pie — has fully entered the mainstream. Pi Day, for example, is today’s Google Doodle, featuring a pie made by renowned pastry chef Dominique Ansel.

30 years after its birth as a one-off nerd ritual, Pi Day is definitely a la mode.

Pi Day in 2014
Gayle Laird © Exploratorium
Pi Day 2014 participants

Seaglass Restaurant

Exploratorium Pier 15/17, San Fracisco, Ca