Soon π started down its road of mathematical stardom. The idea of an endless number was appealing to many, especially amidst the bloom of scientific and technological discoveries made during the Industrial Revolution. For somebody like William Shanks, π became an obsession.

Shanks was born in 1815 in rural England. Not much is known about his life, but he became the master of a private boarding school in a small village called Houghton, mainly known at the time for coal mining. That didn’t interest Shanks much, though. Instead, during his free time he devoted himself to calculating and determining more and more digits of π. He wasn’t a mathematician, but that didn’t stop him from spending his mornings building out calculations, and his afternoons checking them.

Over time, he made impressive progress. In 1853 he published a book titled *Contributions To Mathematics, Comprising Chiefly the Rectification of the Circle* that gave 607 decimal places for π, the first 500 of which had been independently verified.

In 1873 Shanks reached the height of his π powers. He calculated 707 decimal places, a record which stood until the advent of the electronic computer. But there was a further indignity—in 1944, a mathematician named D.F Ferguson independently went through Shanks’ work. There was a mistake. Ferguson discovered that Shanks had misplaced two terms, which threw off his 528th number.