The aim of this paper is to describe the free product of a pair G, H of groups in the category of inverse semigroups. Since any inverse semigroup generated by G and H is a homomorphic image of this semigroup, this paper can be regarded as asking how large a subcategory, of the category of inverse semigroups, is the category of groups? In this light, we show that every countable inverse semigroup is a homomorphic image of an inverse subsemigroup of the free product of two copies of the infinite cyclic group. A similar result can be obtained for arbitrary cardinalities. Hence, the category of inverse semigroups is generated, using algebraic constructions by the subcategory of groups.
The main part of the paper is concerned with obtaining the structure of the free product G inv H, of two groups G, H in the category of inverse semigroups. It is shown in section 1 that G inv H is E-unitary; thus G inv H can be described in terms of its maximum group homomorphic image G gp H, the free product of G and H in the category of groups, and its semilattice of idempotents. The second section considers some properties of the semilattice of idempotents while the third applies these to obtain a representation of G inv H which is faithful except when one group is a non-trivial finite group and the other is trivial. This representation is used in section 4 to give a structure theorem for G inv H. In this section, too, the result described in the first paragraph is proved. The last section, section 5, consists of examples.