What was Euler's first proof of his famous formula?

In Euler's book on complex functions he used the following proof. But was this his first proof?

Euler starts with writing down De Moivre's Formula (can be proven by simple induction using some basic trig identities).

$$\cos(nx)+i\sin(nx)=\left( \cos(x)+i\sin(x)\right)^n$$

He says that $n$ is very large ($n \to \infty$) and $x$ is very small ($x\to 0$). The product of both will be a finite number called $\omega =nx$. Then he applies this as substitution for De Moivres Formula: $$\cos(\omega)+i\sin(\omega)=\left( \cos(\frac{\omega}{n})+i\sin(\frac{\omega}{n})\right)^n$$

Euler now applies the limit $n\to \infty$: $$\cos(\omega)+i\sin(\omega)=\lim_{n\to \infty}\left( \cos(\frac{\omega}{n})+i\sin(\frac{\omega}{n})\right)^n$$

using small angle aproximations $\cos(x)\approx 1$ and $\sin(x)\approx x$: $$\cos(\omega)+i\sin(\omega)=\lim_{n\to \infty}\left( 1+\frac{i\omega}{n}\right)^n=e^{i\omega}.$$

In the last line he applied the limit representation $e^x=\lim\limits_{n\to \infty}(1+\frac{x}{n})^n$.

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    $\begingroup$ I thought limits did not exist until at least a few decades after Eulers death. Is this how he wrote the proof? $\endgroup$
    – Avatrin
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ He didn't use the limit notation, but he actually used a limit by saying that $n$ is very large or $x$ is very small. $\endgroup$
    – MrYouMath
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 7:25

1 Answer 1


According to Boyer's A History of Mathematics, the identity first appeared in Euler's Introductio in analysin infinitorum of 1748. Euler started from the infinite series for $e^x$, $\sin x$, and $\cos x$, from which the identity quickly follows. Thus from:

$$e^x = 1 + x + \frac{x^2}{2!} + \frac{x^3}{3!} + \dots$$ $$\sin x = x - \frac{x^3}{3!} + \frac{x^5}{5!} - \dots$$ $$\cos x = 1 - \frac{x^2}{2!} + \frac{x^4}{4!} - \dots$$

substituting $ix$ into the series for $e^x$ and rearranging terms quickly leads to the result.

Boyer also notes that Roger Cotes had derived this identity, given by him in a Philosophical Transactions article of 1714 in the equivalent form $\ln(\cos \theta + i \sin \theta) = i\theta$.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! Could you provide a link to Cotes proof? $\endgroup$
    – MrYouMath
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ @MrYouMath I'm unable to locate any online source giving Cotes' derivation. It is likely included in his posthumously published Harmonia Mensuraum, but no online PDF appears to be available. Cotes was also the first to derive the decimal expansion of e, also misattributed to Euler. An issue with Cotes' statement of the Euler identity is that, as we now understand, the ln function is multi-valued over C. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ try harmonia mensurarum. $\endgroup$
    – user2255
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW The original paper is available here: babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/… Cotes, Roger. Logometria. Philosophical transactions [of the Royal Society of London], N. 338, vol. 29 (1714), p. 5. The desired passage seems to be on p.32, in the Scholium Generale, but it's not exactly in modern notation. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ I did what I could to explain Cotes's work at this answer: hsm.stackexchange.com/questions/13155/… But it's not a complete explanation (the most important bits are missing) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 18:14

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