Robert Recorde
1510 - 1558

Robert Recorde was born in Tenby, Wales in 1510. Unfortunately there is little known account of his childhood years. As a young adult he studied first at Oxford, then at Cambridge where he graduated in medicine. Sometime later he served as physician to King Edward VI and Queen Mary. He then served some time in Ireland as Comptroller of Mines and Monies'. Although he began in medicine, mathematics is the area that has brought about his name in history.

Recorde wrote many textbooks including; The Grounde of Artes (1540) which is one of the earliest known mathematical works published in English. In it he first used the symbols (+) and (-). It was perhaps the most important arithmetic textbook written in English in the 16th century. His other books of note include, The Castle of Knowledge (1551), an astronomical work discussing the theories of Copernicus; The Pathwaie to Knowledge (1551), considered by many as just an abridgement of Euclid's elements; and The Whetstone of Witte (1557), an algebraic book in which Recorde is credited for developing the (=) equal sign. He used two, long, parallel lines because he said, "noe 2 thynges can be moare equalle." An interesting side note is that Recorde wrote all of his books except for The Pathwaie to Knowledge in the form of a dialogue between a master and a scholar.

Recorde died in the King's Bench Prison in 1558, where he was committed for debt. It is believed, although not proven, that Recorde may have also been imprisoned for serious complaints brought against him during his job as Comptroller of the Mines in Ireland in 1551-1553.

Hint: A way to remember Recorde's contribution of the equal sign is to think of his last name, Recorde. When you record something you make a copy of the original. The new copy and the original are basically equal.

Contributed by Damian Smithhisler


References

Web Address: http://www-history.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Mathematicians/Recorde.html

Books:

  1. Kaplan, E. (1960). Robert Recorde. Publisher Unknown.
  2. Sanford, Vera (1930). A Short Story of Mathematics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  3. Scott, J. F. (1958). A History of Mathematics. London: Taylor & Francis LTD.

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