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Adam Ries

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Staffelstein (near Bamberg), Upper Franconia (now Germany)

30 March 1559

Annaberg, Saxony (now Annaberg-Buchholz, Germany)

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German children today know the expression Das macht nach Adam Ries... (that gives according to Adam Ries) when doing arithmetic.

Adam attended school in Zwickau then moved to Annaberg. In 1518 he moved to Erfurt and, although he did not attend university there, he had many contacts with academics from the university and he profited greatly from these contacts.

Ries, the greatest son of Staffelstein was Rechenmeister (master of calculations) and Hofarithmeticus at many towns such as Zwickau and Erfurt in Middle Germany. In 1523 he became Bergbeamter (engineer and inspector of mines) in Annaberg in the Kingdom of Sachsen. In 1525 he became Rezessschreiber (recorder of yields), then in 1532 Gegenschreiber (recorder of ownership of mining shares) and, from 1533 to 1539, Zehnter auf dem Geyer (calculator of the ducal tithes).

In 1539 Ries became court mathematician and was given the title Churfürstlich Sächsicher Hofarithmeticus.

His income came mainly from his arithmetic textbooks. Rechenung nach der lenge, auff den Linihen vnd Feder is perhaps the most famous. It was published in 1550 and was a textbook written for everyone, not just for scientists and engineers. The book contains addition, subtraction, multiplication and, very surprisingly for that period, also division. At that time division could only be learnt at the University of Altdorf (near Nürnberg) and even most scientists did not know how to divide; so it is astonishing that Ries explained it in a textbook designed for everyone to use.

Adam Ries taught both the old method, derived from the abacus , and the new, derived from the Indians, which at that time was forbidden in most countries! The importance of his book is that it was printed (book printing was invented just a short time before by Gutenberg) and many copies were therefore available.

Among his other books were the algebra book Coss (1525), and Ein Gerechnet Büchlein auff den Schöffel, Eimer vnd Pfundgewicht... (1533) which contained tables to allow prices of several items to be found when the price of one was known. Brotordnung was a work which allowed one to calculate the weight of a loaf on the assumption that the price of grain varied and the price of a loaf remained constant.

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland