Who Invented Decimals?

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The invention of decimals isn't attributed to one person, but rather to several groups who have been using decimals for centuries. Learn about the usage of decimals in Ancient China and medieval Arabia with help from a math teacher in this free video on using decimals in math.

Part of the Video Series: Fractions & Proportions
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Video Transcript

So who invented decimals? Hi, I'm Jimmy Chang, I've been teaching college mathematics for 9 years and the answer to that is not one person but it's been a collaborative effort to say the least. Now decimals have been used throughout civilizations and ages and ages of centuries and so what we'll do today is since there's no one person who invented decimals, we can talk about some groups of folks who have worked on it and how decimals became what it is today. But what I need to focus on first is the people in ancient China, medieval Arabia and folks working in renaissance Europe, they've been working with decimals for a very, very long time, but throughout the centuries, decimal notation has changed and shifted over the years. But it wasn't until Simon Stevin of Bruges who really was one of the first people to teach decimals in a very understandable way in a way that we are able to learn decimals much easier. But it wasn't until John Napier who also did work with logarithms, who in 1616 wrote the book Descriptio and the reason that is significant is because in that particular work, he used notation for decimals that we are using today. So if not been for Mr. Napier here, we would still be using decimals in who knows what sort of way. But it was a combination of Simon Stevin and John Napier who really helped shape decimals in its modern use today. So my name is Jimmy Chang and that gives you a little bit of insight as to the development and invention of decimals.


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