Fractions first appeared in the works of Egyptian mathematicians in the form of unit fractions, unlike the ratios used today. They did not enter Europe until the 17th century.
The need for fractions began with observations of nature. People divided days, months and seasons. As societies grew, people needed a way to measure goods and merchandise for trade when there was no money or currency. The Egyptians were the first society to study fractions by using unit fractions.
A unit fraction has a numerator of 1 and a positive integer for the denominator. Instead of numerals, the Egyptians used symbols representing numbers in fractions. European mathematicians believed fractions came from the Greeks until the Rhind Papyrus, which contained the work of Egyptian mathematicians, was discovered. Egyptian fractions were used to write noninteger numbers until the 18th century, when ratios began to be used.
Evidence of other ancient cultures using fractions has also been discovered. In 550 A.D., the Indian mathematician Aryabhata used fractions to study and solve linear equations. He wanted to predict eclipses of the sun and moon.
The 19th century brought the Industrial Revolution, where fractions were necessary to calculate precision instrumentation. The 20th century saw fractions being used within computer algorithms to solve questions. Fractions continue to have important functions in all areas of life.