You are on page 1of 1

William Oughtred

The slide rule, also known colloquially in the United States as a slipstick, is a mechanical analog
computer.The slide rule is used primarily for multiplication and division, and also for functions such
as exponents, roots, logarithms and trigonometry,
but
is
not
normally
used
for addition or subtraction. Though similar in name and appearance to a standard ruler, the slide rule
is not ordinarily used for measuring length or drawing straight lines.
Slide rules exist in a diverse range of styles and generally appear in a linear or circular form with a
standardized set of markings (scales) essential to performing mathematical computations. Slide
rules manufactured for specialized fields such as aviation or finance typically feature additional
scales that aid in calculations common to those fields.
The Reverend William Oughtred and others developed the slide rule in the 17th century based on
the emerging work on logarithms by John Napier. Before the advent of the electronic calculator, it
was the most commonly used calculation tool in science and engineering. The use of slide rules
continued to grow through the 1950s and 1960s even as digital computing devices were being
gradually introduced; but around 1974 the handheld electronic scientific calculator made it largely
obsolete and most suppliers left the business.
The slide rule was invented around 1620–1630, shortly after John Napier's publication of the concept
of the logarithm. Edmund Gunter of Oxford developed a calculating device with a single logarithmic
scale; with additional measuring tools it could be used to multiply and divide. The first description of
this scale was published in Paris in 1624 by Edmund Wingate (c.1593–1656), an English
mathematician, in a book entitled L'usage de la reigle de proportion en l'arithmetique & geometrie.
The book contains a double scale, logarithmic on one side, tabular on the other. In 1630, William
Oughtred of Cambridge invented a circular slide rule, and in 1632 combined two handheld Gunter
rules to make a device that is recognizably the modern slide rule. Like his contemporary at
Cambridge, Isaac Newton, Oughtred taught his ideas privately to his students. Also like Newton, he
became involved in a vitriolic controversy over priority, with his one-time student Richard
Delamain and the prior claims of Wingate. Oughtred's ideas were only made public in publications of
his student William Forster in 1632 and 1653.
In 1677, Henry Coggeshall created a two-foot folding rule for timber measure, called the Coggeshall
slide rule, expanding the slide rule's use beyond mathematical inquiry.
In 1722, Warner introduced the two- and three-decade scales, and in 1755 Everard included an
inverted scale; a slide rule containing all of these scales is usually known as a "polyphase" rule.
In 1815, Peter Mark Roget invented the log log slide rule, which included a scale displaying the
logarithm of the logarithm. This allowed the user to directly perform calculations involving roots and
exponents. This was especially useful for fractional powers.
In 1821, Nathaniel Bowditch, described in the American Practical Navigator a "sliding rule" that
contained scales trigonometric functions on the fixed part and a line of log-sines and log-tans on the
slider used to solve navigation problems.
In 1845, Paul Cameron of Glasgow introduced a Nautical Slide-Rule capable of answering
navigation questions, including right ascension and declination of the sun and principal stars.