1614 - Napier's Logarithms

The worldwide development of science and technology over the last 300 years owes much to logarithms - a simple method of making complex mathematical calculations devised by John Napier of Edinburgh. His 1614 book launched his invention, and it was not until the 1970s that 'logs' were eventually driven out of the classroom by the electronic calculator.

John Napier (1550-1617), laird of Merchiston near Edinburgh, whose family home now forms part of Napier University, was a man of wide intellectual interests. His anti-papist work A Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St. John (1593) was very successful and was soon translated into Dutch, French and German, but his fame rests on his mathematical work, principally his work on logarithms. First thought of in the 1590s, the theory and tables of logarithms were published in the Descriptio of 1614. Schoolchildren now use calculators to handle multiplication and other operations with large numbers, but through to the 1970s they were taught the use of 'logs'. Napier's invention of logarithms was the earliest important British contribution to the development of mathematics.

John Napier. Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio. Edinburgh, 1614. Ry.II.f.49

Napier's Logarithms


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