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William OughtredWilliam Oughtred

believed responsible for many symbols now used in mathematics

William Oughtred was born in Eton, England, on March 5, 1574. He received his early mathematical training at Eton and at Kings College at Cambridge. In 1604 he left the university to become vicar of Shalford; he subsequently became rector of Albury. During his residence in Albury, Oughtred had a succession of students coming to him for instruction in mathematics.

In 1631, Oughtred published Clovis mathematicae, which included a description of Hindu-Arabic notation and decimal fractions, as well as a considerable section on algebra. Oughtred experimented with many different algebraic symbols, and it is likely that he is responsible for the use of :: in writing a proportion, ~ to denote the value of the difference between two numbers, and X for multiplication. He also adapted John Napier's logarithms to a scale, inventing a circular slide rule about 1632 and a linear slide rule by 1633. In 1657, he published Trigonometry, a 36-page treatment of plane and spherical trigonometry. Among the symbols developed in this work were sin, tan and sec. He died Albury on June 30, 1660.


John Napier
Slide Rule

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This page was last updated on 09/10/2015.

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