John Napier - Napier's Bones

John Napier 1550 - 1617

A bronze bust of mathematician John Napier
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The hand without a thumb is at worst nothing but an animated spatula and at best a pair of forceps whose points don't meet properly - John Napier

John Napier was a Scottish ​mathematician and inventor. Napier is famous for creating mathematical logarithms, creating the decimal point, and for inventing Napier's Bones, a calculating instrument.

John Napier

While better known as a mathematician, John Napier was a busy inventor.

He proposed several military inventions including burning mirrors that set enemy ships on fire, special artillery that destroyed everything within a radius of four miles, bulletproof clothing, a crude version of a tank, and a submarine-like device. John Napier invented a hydraulic screw with a revolving axle that lowered water levels in coal pits. Napier also worked on agricultural innovations to improve crops with manures and salt.


As a Mathematician, the highlight of John Napier's life was the creation of logarithms and the decimal notation for fractions. His other mathematical contributions included: a mnemonic for formulas used in solving spherical triangles, two formulas known as Napier's analogies used in solving spherical triangles, and the exponential expressions for trigonometric functions.

In 1621, English mathematician and clergyman, William Oughtred used Napier's logarithms when he invented the slide rule.

Oughtred invented the standard rectilinear slide rule and circular slide rule.

Napier's Bones

Napier's bones were multiplication tables written on strips of wood or bones. The invention was used for multiplying, dividing, and taking square roots and cube roots.

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Bellis, Mary. "John Napier - Napier's Bones." ThoughtCo, Apr. 6, 2017, Bellis, Mary. (2017, April 6). John Napier - Napier's Bones. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "John Napier - Napier's Bones." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 23, 2018).