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Henry Briggs

Feb 1561 Worley Wood, Yorkshire, England
26 Jan 1630 Oxford, England

 

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Papers

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Hardware

Software

Related Subjects

Keywords
Briggs logarithms.

Achievement

Briggs is especially known for his publication of tables of logarithms to the base 10, first Logarithmorum chilias prima, 1617, and later Arithmetica logarithmetica, 1624.

He also composed a work on trigonometry (basically tables, both of the functions and of the logs of sines and tangents) that was left unfinished at his death; Gellibrand completed and published it. And he left quite a few mathematical manuscripts that remained unpublished.

 
Biography
 
Father
Occupation: Unknown
Thomas Smith, writing early in the 18th century, said that Briggs' parents were "humble of class and rather slender of means." Humble of class could mean too many things to guess, but I take the slender means to state unmistakably that they were poor. Smith indicates that Briggs could not have attended Cambridge without financial assistance from his college.
 
Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A.
Local grammar school.
St. John's College, Cambridge, 1577-85; B.A., 1581; M.A., 1585.
Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
He is described in one fairly contemporary source as a severe Presbyterian, and he was active in the Puritan cause while he was at Cambridge.
 
Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
Subordinate: Astronomy, Navigation, Geography
Briggs is especially known for his publication of tables of logarithms to the base 10, first Logarithmorum chilias prima, 1617, and later Arithmetica logarithmetica, 1624.
He also composed a work on trigonometry (basically tables, both of the functions and of the logs of sines and tangents) that was left unfinished at his death; Gellibrand completed and published it. And he left quite a few mathematical manuscripts that remained unpublished.
Briggs also devoted some attention to astronomy and saw logarithms initially primarily as a device to aid in astronomical calculations.
He published Tables for the Improvement of Navigation, 1610, and North-west Passage to the South Sea, 1622.
Briggs was consulted by the Virginia Company about the northwest passage, and from information about tides and currents he deduced the existence of such a passage. From the flow of rivers in Virginia and in the Hudson Bay area, he also deduced the existence of the mid-continental range of mountains. He produced a map of North America that Purchas published.
Means of Support
Primary: Academia
Fellow of St. John's College, 1589. I find no information about what he did between 1585 (his M.A.) and 1589.
Appointed Dr. Linacre's Reader of the Physic Lecture, 1592-6. (I am pretty sure that this was internal to St. John's College.)
Professor of Geometry, Gresham College, 1596-1620. Briggs was the first Gresham Professor of Geometry.
Savilian Professor of Geometry, Oxford, 1620-30. Also Fellow of Merton.
Patronage
Types: Gentry, Court Official
He was appointed Professor of Geometry at Oxford at Henry Saville's invitation. He held the position in the last decade of his life. [Source on patronage: J. Ward, The Lifes of the Professors of Gresham College, pp. 124-6, LF795.G8A2]
In his early life of Briggs, Dr. Smith says that he condemned riches and preferred a life of retirement to one of splendor.
Nevertheless he did dedicate Arithmetica logarithmetica to Prince Charles.
Technological Involvement
Types: Applied Mathematics, Navigation, Cartography, Instruments
See above. Virtually the whole of his work in mathematics was devoted to making computation more easy.
Briggs' first publication, Concerning the Construction, Description and Use of Two Instruments Invented by Mr. Gilbert, was devoted to the concept of determining latitude from magnetic declination. The work included tables for this purpose. He also constructed several tables of astronomical phenemena useful to navigation, which were published in Wright's book.
See above about the map of North America.
Note also that he considered (I do not know how deeply or how long) the problem of constructing a canal from the Isis to the Avon. Without more information I am unwilling to list this.
Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Friendship with Sir Henry Bourchier, Dr. Ussher and Henry Gellibrand. Two of his (apparently many) letters to Ussher, a correspondence about astronomy and chronology, survive.
He journeyed to Scotland twice to meet and discuss with Napier.
He exchanged a couple of letters with Longomontanus.
 

Briggs was the man most responsible for scientists' acceptance of logarithms.

He was educated at Cambridge University. In 1592 he became reader of the Linacre lecture and in 1596 became the first professor of geometry at Gresham College, London. In 1619 he was appointed professor of geometry at Oxford.

Briggs published works on navigation, astronomy, and mathematics. In his lectures at Gresham he proposed that Napier's logarithms would be more useful if they were to base 10, so called 'common' logarithms. After travelling to Edinburgh on two occasions to visit Napier, he constructed a table of logarithms (1617) that was used until the 19th century.

In 1619 he was appointed Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford.

Briggs' Arithmetica Logarithmica (1624) contained the logarithms of 30000 natural numbers computed to 14 places. In 1631 he published, at Gouda in the Netherlands, tables of sinec functions to 15 places and tangent and secant functions to 10 places. In 1633 these were also published in London under the title Trigonometrica Britannica .

 

Chronology

1617
Henry Briggs discusses decimal logarithms in Logarithmorum Chilias Prima used Napier's ideas to produce logarithm tables which all mathematicians use today.
 
1561 - 1630
English Invented common, or Briggsian, logarithms, and was responsible for widespread adoption of logs in Europe.
1617
struck a deal w/Napier and published.(ref. Linacre Lecture, Gresham College, Savilian Prof. of Geom @ Oxford)
1619
Henry Briggs becomes Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. Sir William Harvey (1578-1657), in lectures at St. Barthlolmew's Hospital, outlines his discovery of the circulation of the blood. Henry Briggs and John Napier use the decimal notation for fractions.
1622
book on travels to America.
1624:
Arithmetica Logarithmica, logs to 14 places, since functions to 15 places, tangent and secant functions to 10 places.
1632:
Trigonometrica EB, more of the same.
 

Bibliography

Briggs published works on navigation, astronomy, and mathematics. In his lectures at Gresham he proposed that Napier's logarithms would be more useful if they were to base 10, so called 'common' logarithms. After travelling to Edinburgh on two occasions to visit Napier, he constructed a table of logarithms (1617) that was used until the 20th century.

Briggs' Arithmetica Logarithmica (1624)
In 1631 he published, at Gouda in the Netherlands, tables of sin functions to 15 places and tan and sec functions to 10 places.
In 1633 these were also published in London under the title Trigonometrica Britannica .

 
 

 

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