Everybody knows the value of pi is 3.14…er, something, but how many people know where the ratio came from?
Actually, the ratio came from nature—it’s the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter, and it was always there, just waiting to be discovered. But who discovered it? In honor of Pi Day, here’s a semi-brief history of how pi came to be known as
3.14(1592653589793238462643383279502884197169…and so on).
The history lesson
It's hard to pinpoint who, exactly, first became conscious of the constant ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter, though human civilizations seem to have been aware of it as early as 2550 BC.
The Great Pyramid at Giza, which was built between 2550 and 2500 BC, has a perimeter of 1760 cubits and a height of 280 cubits, which gives it a ratio of 1760/280, or approximately 2 times pi. (One cubit is about 18 inches, though it was measured by a person's forearm length and thus varied from one person to another.) Egyptologists believe these proportions were chosen for symbolic reasons, but, of course, we can never be too sure.
The earliest textual evidence of pi dates back to 1900 BC; both the Babylonians and the Egyptians had a rough idea of the value. The Babylonians estimated pi to be about 25/8 (3.125), while the Egyptians estimated it to be about 256/81 (roughly 3.16).
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