Various books call this the Weierstrass substitution, after Karl Weierstrass (1815 – 1897), without citing any occurrence of the substitution in Weierstrass' writings, but the technique appears well before Weierstrass was born, in the work of Leonhard Euler (1707 – 1783).
One starts with the problem of finding an antiderivative of a rational function of the sine and cosine; and replaces sin x, cos x, and the differentialdx with rational functions of a variable t and the product of a rational function of t with the differential dt, as follows:
The Weierstrass substitution parametrizes the unit circle centered at (0, 0). Instead of +∞ and −∞, we have only one ∞, at both ends of the real line. That is often appropriate when dealing with rational functions and with trigonometric functions. (This is the one-point compactification of the line.)
As x varies, the point (cos x, sin x) winds repeatedly around the unit circle centered at (0, 0). The point
goes only once around the circle as t goes from −∞ to +∞, and never reaches the point (−1, 0), which is approached as a limit as t approaches ±∞. As t goes from −∞ to −1, the point determined by t goes through the part of the circle in the third quadrant, from (−1, 0) to (0, −1). As t goes from −1 to 0, the point follows the part of the circle in the fourth quadrant from (0, −1) to (1, 0). As t goes from 0 to 1, the point follows the part of the circle in the first quadrant from (1, 0) to (0, 1). Finally, as t goes from 1 to +∞, the point follows the part of the circle in the second quadrant from (0, 1) to (−1, 0).
Here is another geometric point of view. Draw the unit circle, and let P be the point (−1, 0). A line through P (except the vertical line) is determined by its slope. Furthermore, each of the lines (except the vertical line) intersects the unit circle in exactly two points, one of which is P. This determines a function from points on the unit circle to slopes. The trigonometric functions determine a function from angles to points on the unit circle, and by combining these two functions we have a function from angles to slopes.