The idea of using two numbers to identify a position on the Earth’s surface is very old. The Greek astronomer Hipparchus (190–120 BC) was the first to specify location using latitude and longitude. However, while latitude could be measured relatively easily, the accurate determination of longitude was more difficult, especially for sailors out of site of land.

French philosopher, scientist and mathematician René Descartes demonstrated the power of coordinates and his method of algebraic geometry revolutionized mathematics. It had a profound, unifying effect on pure mathematics and greatly increased the ability of maths to model the physical world.