Napier's rods, 17th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
John Napier (1550-1617), discoverer of logarithms, created the popular calculating tool known as Napier's rods or bones. Napier's rods reduced muliplication to a sequence of simple additions; division and square roots could also be achieved. This instrument consists of a wooden box containing ten rotating cylinders each of which bears the numbers '0 times' to '9 times'. These sets would have been made to order for a wealthy client and regarded more as an adornment and status symbol than as tools for practitioners.