Every industry has its pioneers, and the lucky ones who are recognised for their work become the ‘father’ of the industry. Aristotle is the father of biology, Pierre Fauchard is the father of modern dentistry, Euclid is the father of geometry, so on and so forth. For the profession of accounting, their father figure is a Franciscan friar and Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli.
The Father of Accounting
Also known as Luca di Borgo (after his birthplace Borgo Sansepolcro, Tuscany), tax agents have credited him for centuries with the auspicious title he now holds after writing Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità in 1494. The book covered a synthesis of mathematics during his time, and described the double entry system, a method of bookkeeping used by the merchants of Venice during the Renaissance.
The published system described the use of journals and ledgers, much like the system tax accountants use today. The treatise also touches on topics related to accounting, such as accounting ethics and cost accounting.
Not the Father of Accounting
But, there are certain aspects of the story that are, unfortunately, woefully inaccurate; though Pacioli’s contributions to the Italian vernacular of accounting, as well as his mentorship of Leonardo da Vinci in mathematics, is astounding; the man is simply not who most people think he is.
Many accountants today consider Pacioli as the Father of Accounting, because the Summa de arithmetica was the first publication to describe double bookkeeping. This is incorrect. Summa de arithmetica is the first best-selling publication to describe double bookkeeping. Benedetto Contrugli wrote an earlier publication that did not become a best-seller, but covered the same subject, in 1458.
The method Pacioli describes in his book was in use for the last 200 years in Italy, and some authors claim that the methodology dates back even farther. Evidence for earlier bookkeeping has been found throughout West, South, and North-Eastern Asia.
No one can minimise the impact Luca Pacioli had on the accounting world with Summa de arithmetica. But it’s hardly appropriate to call him the father of accountants, when all he did was copy existing systems into the vernacular of the time.