Mathematical Charts and Tables Tables for General Reckoning

Tables for General Reckoning

Multiplication tables were among those most  frequently produced for general use. Some people apparently just cut tables out of books for their particular purposes. In 1857, James D. Smith of Brantingham, New York, patented a “machine for multiplying numbers” that consisted of a wooden disc engraved with tables and a rotating stylus. At the turn of the century, a patented paper instrument of this type actually sold. At about the same time, Stanislas Szenhak of Warsaw  (now in Poland) took out a U.S. patent for an especially designed multiplication table that could be fit around the eraser end of a pencil, with a metal cover that made it easier to find results.  Such a pencil multiplier actually was manufactured in Illinois.

Some of these tables could by quite elaborate. In the 1870s, British accountant John Sawyer devised a set of bound tables with slips that could be turned to set up problems of interest. His procedures replaced multiplication and division by addition and subtraction.  Most of those doing extensive multiplications and divisions at the time preferred to add and subtract logarithms of numbers, but Sawyer’s process allowed one to get results exactly. In the 1930s the American mathematician John Perry Ballantine proposed replacing slide rules with a set of tables in which the results of multiplication, division, and taking square roots could be read off directly, rather than requiring an awareness of significant figures.