第一次提到常數e，是約翰·納皮爾於1618年出版的對數著作附錄中的一張表。但它沒有記錄這常數，只有由它為底計算出的一張自然對數列表，通常認為是由威廉·奧特雷德(William Oughtred)製作。第一次把e看為常數的是雅各·伯努利(Jacob Bernoulli)
The compound-interest problem
Jacob Bernoulli discovered this constant by studying a question about compound interest.
One simple example is an account that starts with $1.00 and pays 100% interest per year. If the interest is credited once, at the end of the year, the value is $2.00; but if the interest is computed and added twice in the year, the $1 is multiplied by 1.5 twice, yielding $1.00×1.5² = $2.25. Compounding quarterly yields $1.00×1.254 = $2.4414…, and compounding monthly yields $1.00×(1.0833…)12 = $2.613035….
Bernoulli noticed that this sequence approaches a limit (the force of interest) for more and smaller compounding intervals. Compounding weekly yields $2.692597…, while compounding daily yields $2.714567…, just two cents more. Using n as the number of compounding intervals, with interest of 1/n in each interval, the limit for large n is the number that came to be known as e; with continuous compounding, the account value will reach $2.7182818…. More generally, an account that starts at $1, and yields (1+R) dollars at simple interest, will yield eR dollars with continuous compounding.