when did we need to count to 1 million

not sure if this is GQ or IMHO, but there might be some factual(ish) answer. When did we first have the need to count to 1million?

Also related to this, when did we need to count to 1 million that was not related to counting money, or people?
I’m looking for actually counting, not calculating or using 1 million as a mathematical excersize.
Was bored working out this morning

I’m not convinced that it has EVER happened. (… time out for some research …)

Wikipedia mentions an event where 4 million dominoes were toppled. That’s about the only example that I can think of where individual objects might be physically counted one by one, rather than calculated.

The ancients didn’t use the term, but numbers around that order of magnitude weren’t alien to them. The Latin term for “million” is decies centena milia - literally, “ten times a hundred thousand”. Centena milia in itself means 100,000, and decies is a numeral meaning “ten times”. “Two million” would be “twenty times a hundred thousand”, and so on. It was used, primarily, for money, counted in the sestertius as the numeric basis of Roman currency.

The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 uses this word and the modern-age neologism “million” alongside each other.

Ancient Greeks did something similar. They had a special word for “ten thousand”, which is in use even today - myriad. So a million would be expressed as a hundred myriads.

This is a great question!

I agree that money and people are the most likely first things to count up to a million for.

The first government to issue coined money was that of Lydia (now part of Turkey) c. 600 BC. Not sure if they would have had a million of them, but I bet that the total was tallied by whoever was in charge of the coinage.

It happens every 10 years in the US at least. The first US Census in 1790 counted a population of almost 4 million. I’m sure there were censuses prior to that that broke 1 million.

Even with something like the census, it’s not like any one person counts to a million. Each family counts their members. The census worker then adds the households together. Then you add the census workers together. So 4 million is really more like 400 x 10,000 x 10.

In that light, the old Roman and Greek systems probably reflect what was (and still is) really happening.

It depends on your definition of “need”. It wasn’t for a practical purpose, but in the 3rd century BCE Archimedes decided to calculate how many grains of sand were needed to fill the universe. He invented his own method of writing extremely large numbers, which went up to 10 to the 8 X 10[sup]16[/sup] power. Pretty impressive:


For describing their cycles of years, the Hindu religion/philosophy devised the system of “kalpas”:


Beside these sorts of numbers, a “million” is nothing.

“Calculations” are specifically NOT wanted by the OP. I think that the census is the winning answer. Even if the counting was spread out over many census-takers, still, each individual person did get counted.

No “people” are also specifically not wanted so the census is also out. Certainly there must have been some votes taken with over a million ballots that had to be counted by hand. I don’t know when the first vote with over 1 million ballots cast took place. Or maybe you’d require over 1 million ballots for the winner if you say the winner & loser(s) are counted separately. In the US, the population of New York exceeded of 1 million in the 1829 census, but not everyone could vote. It exceeded 2.4 million by 1840 so maybe there were more than 1 million votes cast for governor at that time. But certainly no one person did all the counting.

There are many manufactured items that are made in volumes of more than a million per year. As with the census, these are not counted by one person, nor is the count perfectly accurate, but if you are talking about expensive items, like a cell phone or an automobile, you can be sure they are counted.

I would expect there would have been a need to count a million head of livestock before having a local population of a million people.

In that case, I doubt that anyone has ever actually “counted” a million items. If you gave me a million items to count, I wouldn’t start at the first one and iterate continuously to the last, incrementing my count with each selection. I would start picking off piles of about 100-1000 each, and then count the piles at the end (probably with an additional level of collating, too). It’s the same thing as the census would do, except that I’d be filling the role of the census worker and collator at different times.

How about public buildings? Ancient architects will have needed to calculate the number of blocks of sand or bricks or whatever required to construct the edifice to ensure a sufficient supply.

I’m kind of uncertain what you mean by “count”. Does a single person have to go “999,998”, “999,999”, ok “1 million”. Or do countless mechanical and electronic devices count?

I wasn’t thinking an individual had to count specifically 1,2,3,4…
I was thinking more of govts, people or groups somehow needing to know how many of something there was and having that something go into the million range. (maybe like the livestock suggested upthread).

I figured the first time it happened people or govt was adding up money in the treasury, or maybe a census, may have been the first time.

but then I also wanted to exclude those things for the second aspect, to see when we really needed to add enough things together that required the use of a million.

I wanted to exclude the academic exercise of multiplying or calculating abstract numbers and focus instead on when we needed to actually have an idea of the physical number of something that went above 1 million.

Wait till I get bored at the gym again.:slight_smile:

For people, I might suggest the census of Herod (?) talked about in the bible (why jesus was born in a stable).

Otherwise, I’d say a public work of the greek or roman empires, or the pyramids of egypt.

We’ve had a thread like this before, but I can’t find it. The problem was about the word “count.” And I think it wasn’t a million, but the largest number ever counted.

Not Herod - according to the Gospel, that was the order of Caesar Augustus. Herod gets dragged in when the Magi visit.

Ancient Egypt must have had to count a million somethings - if not people, then annual bushels of wheat for a start.

When they built the pyramids, a bunch of people had to fed and watered. A thousand people working for three years eating three times a day is a million meals. Someone had to count them, otherwise the bakers etc wouldn’t get paid.

The Great Pyramid at Giza has over 2 million blocks in it, and hopefully somebody somewhere figured out how many they’d need before they started building it…