MULTIPLYING BY DOUBLING
(Russian Peasant Multiplication) 
In many sections of Russia, the peasants employed until recently what appears to be a very strange method of multiplication. In substance, this was at one time in use in Germany, France and England, and is similar to a method used by the Egyptians 2000 years before the Christian era. Computers are still using related methods today. It is best illustrated by an example. To multiply
53 by 67, form two columns. At the head of one, say, the lefthand column,
put 53, at the head of the other, 67. Successively divide
the lefthand column by 2 (until a quotient of 1 is obtained) and multiply
the righthand column by 2. When an odd number is divided by 2, discard
the remainder.
Cross out the rows which have an even
number in the lefthand column.
Add up the remaining numbers in the righthand column to obtain the desired product. (53)(67) = 67 + 268 + 1072 + 2144 = 3551 This result may be verified by traditional multiplication. The relation of this method of multiplication to the binary
system is not too difficult to discover. First, in the lefthand
column, in successively dividing by 2, we employed the same procedure used
to determine the binary representation of a decimal number.
Thus 53 _{decimal} = 110101 _{binary} or 32 + 16 + 4 + 1 In the righthand column, in successively multiplying
by 2, we obtained binary multiples of 67.
Since these are the binary multiples of 67 that we must add to obtain the product of 53 and 67, we should select and add only those multiples in the righthand column that contribute a "1" to the binary representation of 53, that is, opposite odd numbers. Incidentally, real Russian peasants may have tracked their
doublings with bowls of pebbles, instead of columns of numbers. They probably
weren't interested in problems as large as our example, though 3551 pebbles
would be hard to work with!

Jill Britton Home Page 
23October2006
Copyright Jill Britton 