The theorem was first mentioned in 1840 in a letter by C. L. Lehmus to C. Sturm, in which he asked for a purely geometric proof. C. Sturm passed the request on to other mathematicians and Jakob Steiner was among the first to provide a solution. The theorem became a rather popular topic in elementary geometry ever since with a somewhat regular publication of articles on it.
The Steiner–Lehmus theorem can be proved using elementary geometry by proving the contrapositive statement. There is some controversy over whether a "direct" proof is possible; allegedly "direct" proofs have been published, but not everyone agrees that these proofs are "direct." For example, there exist simple algebraic expressions for angle bisectors in terms of the sides of the triangle. Equating two of these expressions and algebraically manipulating the equation results in a product of two factors which equal 0, but only one of them (a − b) can equal 0 and the other must be positive. Thus a = b. But this may not be considered direct as one must first argue about why the other factor cannot be 0. John Conway has argued that there can be no "equality-chasing" proof because the theorem (stated algebraically) does not hold over an arbitrary field, or even when negative real numbers are allowed as parameters. However, until someone formulates a precise definition of what a "direct proof" is, there remains room for debate.
- Coxeter, H. S. M. and Greitzer, S. L. "The Steiner–Lehmus Theorem." §1.5 in Geometry Revisited. Washington, DC: Math. Assoc. Amer., pp. 14–16, 1967.
- Diane and Roy Dowling: The Lasting Legacy of Ludolph Lehmus. Manitoba Math Links – Volume II – Issue 3, Spring 2002
- Barbara, Roy, "Steiner–Lehmus, revisited", Mathematical Gazette 91, November 2007, 528–529.
- Alleged impossibility of "direct" proof of Steiner–Lehmus theorem