Gerard was born in Harvey, Illinois. He was an uncommon intellectual and was encouraged in science by his father Maurice Gerard, who received an engineering degree in England, then moved to America to work as an engineering consultant. Maurice encouraged Ralph in mathematics and chess. In his teens, Ralph beat the American chess champion playing simultaneous matches in Chicago. He completed high school in two years and entered the University of Chicago at age fifteen. Ralph was a member of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity.
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