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The First Calculating Machine (John Napier, 1617)

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129542D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Dec-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 12 page(s) / 49K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

W. F. HAWKINS: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

John Napier was born at Merchiston, near Edinburgh, in 1550 and he died there in April, 1617. His fame as a mathematician is due to a small volume which he published in Latin in 1614 called A Description of the Admirable Table of Logarithms which released his brainchild to the world. This book was an instant success and it swept through Europe like wildfire, so that it was in common use within 10 years. I have called this the ";explosion"; of logarithms for this was the first occasion on which a radical transformation in scientific attitudes took place in such a short period of time. The East India Company was so impressed by this book that it hired the services of Edward Wright, the Cambridge mathematician and expert in navigation, to translate it into English to meet the needs of those who knew no Latin. The English translation was approved by John Napier, and it was published in 1616. Napier, who appears to be a self-taught mathematical genius, wrote four other books, of which three were mathematical:

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1988 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

The First Calculating Machine (John Napier, 1617)

W. F. HAWKINS

Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing-hardware, people. B.2 [Hardware]: Arithmetic and Logic Structures -- Design styles, Calculator General Terms: Algorithms Additional Terms: John Napier, Promptuary, Napier's Bones, Chessboard Computer, Translation

Introduction

John Napier was born at Merchiston, near Edinburgh, in 1550 and he died there in April, 1617. His fame as a mathematician is due to a small volume which he published in Latin in 1614 called A Description of the Admirable Table of Logarithms which released his brainchild to the world. This book was an instant success and it swept through Europe like wildfire, so that it was in common use within 10 years. I have called this the "explosion" of logarithms for this was the first occasion on which a radical transformation in scientific attitudes took place in such a short period of time.

The East India Company was so impressed by this book that it hired the services of Edward Wright, the Cambridge mathematician and expert in navigation, to translate it into English to meet the needs of those who knew no Latin. The English translation was approved by John Napier, and it was published in 1616.

Napier, who appears to be a self-taught mathematical genius, wrote four other books, of which three were mathematical:

1. A Plain Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St. John, published at Edinburgh, 1593. This was an anti-Papal polemic which was very popular on the continent amongst Reformers, and it was translated from English into Dutch, French, and German. Napier acquired considerable prestige as a theologian, and would have regarded this as his greatest work.

2. Rabdologiae (numbering rods), published in Latin, Edinburgh 1617.

3. The Construction of an Admirable Table of Logarithms, published, in Latin, in 1617 after Napier's death.

4. De Arte Logistica, a manuscript treatise on Arithmetic and Algebra published in Latin at Edinburgh, 1839.

Book 3 listed above was translated into English at Edinburgh in 1889 by W. Rae Macdonald, a fellow Scotsman. Thus both of Napier's books on logarithms had been translated into English before the end of the 19th century but his other mathematical works still lay outside the reach of those who knew no Latin.

De Arte Logistica was translated into English by me at Auckland University during 1978. It contains two books of Arithmetic and two books of Algebra which show that Napier had taken

IEEE Computer Society, Dec 31, 1988 Page 1 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Volume 10 Number 1, Pages 37-51

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The First Calculating Machine (John Napier, 1617)

great pains to assemble and classify the various methods of making computations, and invented his own methods in so...