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Work for the Hairdressers: The Production of de Prony's Logarithmic and Trigonometric Tables

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129665D
Original Publication Date: 1990-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 12 page(s) / 56K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

I. GRATTAN-GUINNESS: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

A summary account is given of the large set of logarithmic and trigonometric tables produced at the end of the 18th century under the direction of Gaspard Riche de Prony. Although they were completed in 1801, their size made publication a costly task; and it was never done, despite the fact that printing was started more than once and various efforts were made over the years to find finance. Eventually a reduced edition of some tables appeared in 1891. In addition to the history, some details are given of the mathematical methods used in the compilation of the tables. An appendix considers the possible influence of this project upon Babbage's ideas on computers and tables.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1990 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Work for the Hairdressers: The Production of de Prony's Logarithmic and Trigonometric Tables

I. GRATTAN-GUINNESS

(Image Omitted: Author's Address: Middlesex Polytechnic at Enfield, Middlesex EN3 4SF, England)

A summary account is given of the large set of logarithmic and trigonometric tables produced at the end of the 18th century under the direction of Gaspard Riche de Prony. Although they were completed in 1801, their size made publication a costly task; and it was never done, despite the fact that printing was started more than once and various efforts were made over the years to find finance. Eventually a reduced edition of some tables appeared in 1891. In addition to the history, some details are given of the mathematical methods used in the compilation of the tables. An appendix considers the possible influence of this project upon Babbage's ideas on computers and tables.

Categories and Subject Descriptors: K 2. [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- people. theory. G11. [Mathematics of Computing]: Numerical analysis, Interpolation. General Terms: Theory. Additional Terms: Logarithmic tables, Trigonometric tables, Gaspard Riche de Prony, Charles Babbage.

The Career of de Prony: Education and Mathematics for the Engineer

The great tables project of de Prony is often mentioned in books and articles on the history of computing and (occasionally) of numerical mathematics; but the statements made are often in passing and sometimes inaccurate, for no connected account seems to be available. The purpose of this article is to pull together information from various sources on this remarkable effort.

Gaspard Clair Francois Marie Riche de Prony (1755-1839) (Figure 1) was born in the Beaujolais region of southern France to the Riche family. They owned land at a location nearby called "Prony," and he added this name to his own. I shall refer to him as "de Prony," in conformity with his own preferred form in his many publications; but his younger brother Claude used only the original surname during his career as a distinguished naturalist.

After studying at the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees in Paris in the late 1770s, de Prony joined the associated engineering corps but maintained connections with the school. In the reforms of educational institutions following the Revolution of 1789 he was appointed professor of analysis, with Lagrange, at the newly founded Ecole Polytechnique from 1794, transferring to a post of graduation examiner in 1816. From 1798 he was also made Director of the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees, another post which he retained until the end of his life. He was elected in 1795 to the new classe des sciences mathematiques et physiques of the Institut de France, the learned body which replaced the old Academie des Sciences, and he retained this pos...