Math Basics

Basic Arithmetic

When was the first arithmetic book published in North America?

In 1556 the first arithmetic book was published in North America by Brother Juan Diez Freyle, a Franciscan friar. The name of the book was Sumario compendioso de las quentas de plata y oro que in los reynos del Piru son necessarias a los mercaderes y todo genero de tratantes: Con algunas reglas tocantes al Arithmética. The title translates to Comprehensive summary of the counting of silver and gold, which, in the kingdoms of Peru, are necessary for merchants and all kinds of traders. The book explained the conversion of gold ore into value equivalents in different types of coinage in the Old World, problems that required the use of ratios and proportions. Diez also included a short chapter on algebra.

The first English language mathematics book written in North America was published in 1729 by Isaac Greenwood and titled Arithmetik, Vulgar and Decimal (“vulgar” refers to the common people). Greenwood’s life was also somewhat vulgar: He was appointed to the first Hollis Professorship of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard University in Massachusetts when it was founded in 1727. By 1737, he was removed for “intemperance.” Reportedly, he drank too much, and more than likely, his views, philosophical and otherwise, differed greatly from those of his colleagues at the university.



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