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Who Invented Integers?

Date: 11/29/2001 at 16:06:05
From: Melanie
Subject: Who invented integers and what year they were invented

Hey Dr. Math,

Who invented integers, and when were they invented?

I've looked everywhere on the Web and I can't find the answer.

Thank you,
Sincerely, Melanie

Date: 11/29/2001 at 17:12:03
From: Doctor Peterson
Subject: Re: Who invented integers and what year they were invented

Hi, Melanie.

I'm not sure there's really an answer to this question. The integers 
were a long, gradual development.

The root meaning of integer is "whole"; although you probably think of 
them as "positive and negative numbers," they are really "whole 
numbers, whether positive or negative." People were working with 
integers from the very beginning. According to Jeff Miller's

    Earliest Known Uses of Words of Mathematics   

the word "integer" was first used of whole numbers in 1571 by Thomas 
Digges; this would have referred only to positive ("whole") numbers.

If we think of the invention of integers as specifically the 
introduction of negative numbers into the number line, then it is 
still hard to decide when to say that began; when negative numbers 
were first used, they were not put on an equal footing with positive 
numbers, and in fact even in the 1700's they were often kept separate. 
A good case could be made that the positive and negative numbers did 
not actually become part of a single "number line" (today's "set of 
integers") until the 1700's or 1800's, as the concept of negative 
numbers became more acceptable among mathematicians.

- Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum   
Associated Topics:
Elementary Math History/Biography
Elementary Number Sense/About Numbers
Middle School History/Biography
Middle School Number Sense/About Numbers

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