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8 Fascinating Fan Theories About Mad Men

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When Mad Men made its television debut nearly eight years ago, its storyline seemed straightforward enough: When he’s not creating brilliant advertising campaigns for some of the country’s most successful corporations, a handsome Madison Avenue executive named Don Draper likes to smoke, drink, and cheat on his wife.

But as the series continued, cracks began to show in Don's perfectly chiseled exterior. Who is Dickie Whitman? And where is this house of ill repute in which he was raised? As such, Mad Men took on a much more mysterious tone, one that ultimately led devoted viewers to wonder whether the show had ever been straightforward at all. Or if it they had been hoodwinked, and Mad Men had been some sort of strange 1960s fever dream all along. And so began the onslaught of elaborate fan theories about the rabbit hole that Mad Men just might be (some of them crazy, others entirely plausible).

1. DON DRAPER IS D.B. COOPER.

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On November 24, 1971, a well-dressed man in his mid-forties walked up to the Northwest Orient Airlines ticket counter at Portland International Airport and purchased a one-way ticket to Seattle under the name Dan Cooper. Once on board, he made his way to a seat at the back of the plane, ordered a bourbon and soda, and lit a cigarette … then passed a note to the flight attendant, informing her that he had a bomb. His demands were simple: $200,000 in cash, four parachutes, and a fuel truck awaiting the plane upon its arrival in Seattle. Long story short: after being informed that his demands had been met, the plane landed, refueled, and took off again. Twenty minutes later, Cooper—who would become known as D.B. Cooper because of a simple media miscommunication—parachuted from the plane, ransom money in tow, never to be heard from again.

Could D.B. Cooper—infamous hijacker and all-around man of mystery—and Don Draper be one and the same? The physical description certainly sounds familiar. And considering Don’s association with Bert Cooper and the Sterling Cooper ad agency, the alias would certainly make sense. Which could very well be why this theory has gained so much traction, particularly with Lindsey Green at Medium, who wrote an in-depth breakdown of the reasoning behind the idea, noting that the ending has been hinted at since the very beginning. “There’s always been something in the air with Mad Men, quite literally,” writes Green. “From Mohawk to American, North American Aviation, and Ted’s own little two-seater, airlines and aviation are about as prevalent on the show as aliases and fake identities. Even when Joan was upset after being served divorce papers from Dr. Harris, it was a model airplane she grabbed and threw at the unassuming receptionist as Don stood in the doorway. Mad Men has been telling us how the story ends from the very beginning. It ends on an airplane.”

2. MEGAN DRAPER IS SHARON TATE.

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Of the many theories that have popped up surrounding possible plot lines, one that posits that aspiring actress Megan Draper is Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s version of Sharon Tate—and is destined to suffer the same fate—has gathered rampant attention. It all began when some eagle-eyed viewers noticed that in season six, Megan wore a T-shirt that was eerily similar to one worn by Tate. From there, additional “proof” began mounting, including a glimpse of Sally Draper reading Rosemary’s Baby, the book that Tate’s husband Roman Polanski adapted for the big-screen. When asked about the connection, Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant swore to Yahoo! that the choice of outfit “wasn't about Sharon Tate. It was about Megan just being political. That T-shirt [features] the Vietnam star, and in past shows you know Megan has made reference to not really supporting the Vietnam War.” For his part, Weiner himself told HitFix: “The Sharon Tate thing, you know, it’s so flimsy and thin, and at the same time, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of coincidence.’ I don’t know what to tell you. I would like to think that people would know that the show’s striving for historical accuracy that I would not add a person who was not murdered by the Manson family into that murder. So that in itself is the dumbest argument in the world for me.”

3. MEGAN DRAPER IS A GHOST.

Mad Men viewers sure do have a morbid fascination with Megan. Shortly after the show’s creators swore that the younger, shinier Mrs. Draper would not be murdered by Charles Manson, fan theorists took another shot at placing Megan in the afterlife: she's already dead! Mainly, this train of thought seems to have sprung from an episode in which Don nearly drowns at a pool party and, in that space between life and death, sees and is comforted by a hallucination of Megan. As Uproxx explains it: “The wording during [the pool party] sequence is very careful. During the hallucination, in addition to finding out that Megan is pregnant, Don asks, ‘How did you find me?’ Megan responds, ‘But I live here.’ The ‘here’ is not California; it can’t be the party. She’s clearly not actually there, but she could be in the afterlife. A few seconds later, Draper sees a dead Private Dinkins, who says, ‘I heard you were here.’ Again, ‘here’ is in the afterlife.”

4. FORGET MEGAN. IT’S BETTY WHO’S THE GONER.

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After all of the talk about Megan’s (assumed) imminent demise, Esquire posited a new theory in the summer of 2013: that if any of Don’s wives were going to kick the bucket, it would—and should—be Betty. “Think about it,” wrote Jen Chaney. “We already got to see Don and Betty together again this season, which seemed to bring closure to that relationship, for Betty at least. Betty is barely in the show these days, so losing that character makes sense from a narrative efficiency standpoint. If we agree that Don Draper's identity as Don Draper will likely cease to exist this season, it would make complete sense for Betty, the symbol of Don's old life as Don, to be gone.”

5. DON’S GOING TO DIE.

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Mortality has (obviously) always been a recurring theme in Mad Men. And as with any series that’s readying for its final episodes, viewers are anticipating some sort of finality with their finale. Being that Don Draper is the maddest of the titular Mad Men, his death is the only one that would be meaningful enough to really matter. Viewers have combed through hours of footage to point out bits of imagery that hint at Don’s ultimate demise (including the fact that he chose The Inferno as his Hawaiian beach read). But mostly, people reference a possible harbinger that’s been in front of their faces all along: the series’ iconic opening credits, which feature a faceless man falling out of a window.

6. PETE CAMPBELL WILL FALL OUT OF THAT WINDOW.

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Oh, Pete Campbell. Smug, smarmy Pete Campbell. While plenty of viewers have probably gleefully envisioned an episode in which the whiny, overprivileged up-and-comer who everyone loves to hate says bye-bye to the world, Salon dedicated more than 2400 words to the topic in 2012. “Pete Campbell will take a header out a Time & Life Building window, probably around Thanksgiving on the show. (I’m iffy on the when but feeling solid on the who, what, and where),” declared writer Robin Sayers. “I can argue that I came to this conclusion logically, because I was a sociology of media major in college, focused on film and TV theory and I did intern as a script analyst for the late, great Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice, Klute). Plus, I worked in the T&L Building for nearly a decade, so I know that, indeed, its windows can in fact be ‘opened’ … And now I can only see poor Vincent Kartheiser dropping on that stark poster heralding Season 5, even though the cut of that guy’s jib is more Draper than Dyckman.” Okay, so the details on this one are admittedly dated—but it could still happen. Right?

7. DON IS JEWISH.

This one isn’t so much a fan theory as it is one fan’s theory. In discussing the many hypotheses viewers have put forth, Weiner admitted that he kind of enjoys it. “I have no complaint,” Weiner told HitFix in January. “I don’t care how it’s being watched. I mean, I hate the screen within a screen within a screen watching, but I love that people watch the show.” He then recounted one strange encounter with a fan: “You get in this weird situation the first season where people were like, ‘I know Don Draper’s secret. He’s Jewish.’ And I was like, ‘Did I ever put anything in there that said he wasn’t?’ Because he’s not. I mean, I know that.”

8. IT’S ALL LEADING UP TO MAD WOMEN.

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Don Draper may be the star of Mad Men, but neither he nor his business ventures would have been as successful if it weren’t for the women behind the men—namely, Peggy Olson and Joan Harris. Throughout the series’ seven seasons, we’ve seen each of their characters grow, both in their personal lives and their professional positions. Maybe it’s time they strike out on their own?

In The Hollywood Reporter’s recent oral history of Mad Men, Lionsgate COO Sandra Stern recounted that “when we first started negotiating with AMC, one of the things they wanted was a spinoff. We talked about doing a contemporary one. Given the fact that [Mad Men] ends nearly 50 years ago, most of the characters would be dead. Sally was the one character young enough that you could see her 30 or 40 years later. There was a time we wanted a Peggy spin­off, too, and, a la Better Call Saul, a minor character going off to L.A. Matt wasn't comfortable committing to a spinoff.” Which doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t happen. Even if Christina Hendricks, a.k.a. Joan, hasn’t heard anything about it yet.

Earlier this week, the Huffington Post asked Hendricks about the rumors of a Peggy and Joan spinoff. “You're the first I'm hearing it from. It hasn't reached my ears yet,” she replied. Then added: “That would be amazing. If they wanted me, I'd be there.” (Are you listening, Matthew Weiner?)

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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The First Known Uses of 6 Common Typographic Symbols
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Many of the most common symbols on our keyboards have fascinating origin stories. Some, such as the zero, we now take for granted—yet the idea of denoting an absence of value was not present in Western mathematics until introduced from the East. Other symbols, such as the hashtag or at-sign, had a variety of uses until the internet ushered in a new way of communicating and fixed them with the meanings we know today. Below are six examples of the first known usage and subsequent history of some of the most common typographic symbols.

1. AT SIGN // @

The @ (or at-sign) is usually dated to 1536 in a letter from a Florentine merchant, Francesco Lapi, who used it to mean a unit of wine called “amphorae.” But a Spanish researcher claims to have found an even earlier usage in a 1448 document, where the symbol also referred to a unit of measurement (even today, Spaniards call the @ symbol arroba, which is also a unit of weight, and some other Romance languages have similar dual meanings). Either way, the researchers think that the symbol then moved to Northern Europe, where it eventually gained the meaning of “at the price.” Other explanations have also been offered, but whatever the exact root of the symbol, its meaning eventually became known as shorthand for at, and it was generally used in written financial transactions—for example, in noting “Bob sells James 4 apples @ $1.”

The sign had largely fallen out of use by the early 1970s, when computer scientist Ray Tomlinson was working at what is now BBN Technologies, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tomlinson, who was working for the government on a forerunner of the internet, was trying to figure out how to address messages sent from one computer to another when he noticed the little-used @ on his computer keyboard, and used it to send a prototype email. This precedent was soon adopted as the internet developed, and the at-sign is now, of course, central to our lives.

2. ZERO // 0

The absence of a value is a complex concept, one that many ancient civilizations struggled with. The idea of a zero ultimately came to the West from the mathematicians of India, where, as in a few other cultures, zero was initially used as a placeholder, for example to indicate a lack of units, as in the number 101.

The earliest surviving usage of a zero in India has been traced to an ancient mathematical text known as the Bakhshali manuscript, which is held at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. In September 2017, radiocarbon dating indicated that the manuscript was produced as early as the 3rd or 4th century—providing us with the first known usage of zero some 500 years earlier than previously thought. As Oxford’s Bodleian Library says, “the symbol in the Bakhshali manuscript is particularly significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is this dot that evolved to have a hollow centre and became the symbol that we use as zero today. Secondly, it was only in India that this zero developed into a number in its own right, hence creating the concept and the number zero that we understand today."

The manuscript itself was discovered buried in a field in 1881 in what is today Pakistan. Written on 70 delicate leaves of birch bark, historians think it represents a training manual for Silk Road traders, teaching them concepts of arithmetic.

3. HASHTAG // #

Hashtag on an old typewriter key
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The origin of the hashtag (or pound sign as it's traditionally known in the U.S.) comes from scribes writing shorthand for the Latin libra pondo, which translates as "pound by weight." The abbreviation they used was lb, which was sometimes misread as 16. So, scribes took to drawing a line through the top of the two letters, which over time developed into the now familiar #. In the 1960s, the pound sign was chosen by Bell Laboratories to be a function key on their newly designed telephone keypad. (The Bell Labs team fondly nicknamed the symbol the “octothorpe,” possibly in honor of athlete Jim Thorpe.) Fast-forward to 2007, when early Twitter users wanted to be able to group and filter their feeds, so developer Chris Messina suggested they appropriate the method used in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) whereby users employed the pound sign or "hashtag" to signpost what they were chatting about. (Programmers knew the symbol as the hash, which was now being used to "tag" content.) This simple method soon caught on, and today the hashtag has become indelibly linked to the rise of social media.

4. ELLIPSIS // …

Originally, periods of silence were marked textually with a series of hyphens, but today the symbol of choice is the , a.k.a. the ellipsis. Dr. Anne Toner of Cambridge University spent years researching the ellipsis and finally discovered what she thinks is its first use—an English translation of Roman dramatist Terence’s play Andria printed in 1588. Although the play used hyphens instead of dots, the general idea caught on rapidly. (Toner notes that although there are only four “ellipses” in the 1588 translation, there are 29 in the 1627 version.) By the 18th century, dots started to replace the dashes, which an assistant professor from Southeastern University suggests may be connected to a medieval piece of punctuation called subpuncting or underdotting, which generally indicated something was incorrectly copied.

5. AMPERSAND // &

Ampersand symbol on an old metal block
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The ampersand originated in Latin when the word et (meaning and) was written in cursive script as a ligature (in which one or more letters are written together as a single glyph). One of the earliest examples was found daubed in graffiti on the walls of a house in Pompeii, where it was preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. By the 8th century the ampersand became a recognizably distinct character, but the word ampersand did not come into use until the late 18th/19th century, when English school children would recite "and per se and" meaning “and by itself means and” to help remember the symbol (per se being Latin for "by itself"). One of the most thorough investigations into the typographic history of the ampersand comes courtesy of German graphic designer Jan Tschichold, who in 1953 published The am­persand: its ori­gin and de­vel­op­ment, in which he collected numerous examples of the ampersand from the 1st century onwards, visually charting its developing form.

6. PLUS SIGN // +

A variety of ceramic plus signs
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The plus sign used for addition in mathematics likely derives from a shorthand ligature for the Latin et meaning “and” and was probably in use for a long time before a surviving example appeared in print. One candidate for the earliest surviving usage is in French philosopher and polymath Nicole Oresme's Algorismus proportionum, a manuscript handwritten between 1356 and 1361, although scholars debate whether it's a true plus symbol. The first use of a plus sign in a printed book is more definitive, and can be found in a 1489 edition of Johannes Widmann’s Mercantile Arithmetic. Widmann also uses the minus sign for the first time in print in this volume—although both plus and minus signs relate not to addition and subtraction but to surpluses and deficits in business accounting. After this usage, the plus sign began to appear more frequently in German mathematical texts, and first appeared in an English text in 1557 in Robert Recorde’s The Whetstone of Witte—which also introduced the equals sign.

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