Antique Adding and Calculating Machines
wide variety of calculating machines were invented beginning in the early 17th
century. Stepped-drum calculating machines solved lengthy multiplication
problems by successive addition and solved lengthy division problems by
successive subtraction. The image to the left shows the Pascaline
calculating machine of Blaise Pascal (1623-62), which was not a commercial
success. The first commercially successful machine of this type was the Arithmometer
made by Charles Xavier
Thomas de Colmar (1785-1870). The photograph to the right shows a Thomas Arithmometer
in the Smithsonian Institution's collection. Thomas introduced his Arithmometer in
1820 and spent the remaining half century of his life manufacturing and
improving it. Thomas was French, and in
1856 the Moniteur
reported that "Mr. Thomas has lately made the finishing improvements in the
arithmometer, at which he has been working for upwards of thirty years. It
is already used in many great financial establishments." Thomas's
Arithmometer was a commercial success in Europe after the Paris Exposition of 1867.
An entirely different type of calculating machines was designed for use in construction of the many types of large tables -- logarithmic, trigonometric, nautical, astronomical, actuarial, civil engineering, etc.-- that were published and used extensively in the 19th century. (Manufacturer and Builder, Aug. 1870, p. 225. On early table-making, see Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, 1996, pp. 10-15.) These machines were called difference engines because of their large size and because their mode of calculation was based on the method of differences. The Scheutz Difference Engine, shown above in an 1855 illustration, was made by Georg and Edvard Scheutz of Stockholm, Sweden. This was a "machine, similar to Babbage's in principle, for calculating tables by means of ratios or common differences, which not only made the calculations but automatically cast stereotypes of its results, so that it avoided possible printer's errors." (Henry Lucian Arnold, The Complete Cost-Keeper, New York, 1907, p. 375) Grant's Difference Engine, pictured to the left and described further to the right, was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. (Courtesy of The Free Library ) "George B. Grant [1849-1917] of Boston's wonderfully ingenious difference machine constructs intricate logarithmic tables, and solves all the problems of the differential calculus, preparing also a waxen mould from which electrotype plates can be taken." (Appletons' Annual Cyclopaedia, 1876, New York, NY, 1877, p. 276) Another contemporary description states that Grant's difference engine "is a large machine built for the University of Pennsylvania, and designed for the construction of large mathematical tables, such as tables of logarithms, sines, tangents, reciprocals, square and cube roots, etc. It stands five feet in height by eight in length, weighs 2000 lbs., contains, when in full working order, some 15,000 pieces, and is worth about $10,000." (Spencer F. Baird, ed., Annual Record of Science and Technology for 1876, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1876, p. 43) As far as we are aware, no more than a handful of difference engines were completed by all the manufacturers put together.
The first calculating machine that was practical for routine office work, the Comptometer, was introduced commercially in 1887 by the Felt & Tarrant Manufacturing Co. The Comptometer did not have a printer. In 1889, Felt & Tarrant began production of the Comptograph, a calculating machine with a visible printer that has been described as "without question the first practical recording-adding machine ever sold that would produce legible printed records of items and total under the variable conditions that have to be met in such a class of recording" (J.A.V. Turck, Origin of Modern Calculating Machines, 1921, p. 116). The Burroughs Registering Accountant, which was the first practical adding-listing machine, was introduced in 1892 by the American Arithmometer Co., which became the Burroughs Adding Machine Co. in 1905.
Both Felt & Tarrant and Burroughs machines used keypads for entry of numbers, but there were significant differences between the machines made by the two companies. Burroughs produced adding machines that printed entries and totals on paper tapes or forms. The operator of a Burroughs entered the number on the keyboard and then pulled and released a lever on the side of the machine, causing the entry to print and to be added to the running total. In order to print the total, the operator depressed the "Total" key and pulled and released the same lever. While the operator could read the running total on a register behind the glass front of the machine, the printer was on the rear of the machine. The operator had to lift a carriage on the rear of the machine to see what was printed. In short, Burroughs machines were "blind" printers. Competing adding machines that printed in view of the operator were promoted as "visible."
the exception of the Comptograph, calculating
machines did not print inputs or
outputs. Comptometers (rhymes with "thermometers") and Comptographs were key-driven
calculating machines. To add a number to the running total, the operator entered
the number by pushing down on the keys and releasing. The lever on the right
side was used to clear the machine.
The earliest photograph we have found that shows an adding or calculating machine
in an office dates from 1903 and shows a Burroughs registering accountant in a
bank. (System, 1903) [Insert photo from System 1903] The second earliest shows Burroughs adding machines in a Sears, Roebuck & Co. office in 1906.
In 1907, Albert B. Barrett stated with regard to bank operations, "The
registering account, or adding machine,...has proved itself one of the most
useful instruments ever introduced to the banks." He also stated that
"Lists upon what are called exchange slips are made of the checks in each
file. This was formerly done with pen and ink, but now the arithmometer or
adding machine is almost universally used." (Modern Banking Methods,
5th ed., Bankers Publishing Co., New York, NY, pp. 50, 249.) Beginning in 1910,
office photographs commonly show adding and calculating machines.. Burroughs
is the most common brand in photos taken in the 1910s. We have also identified Comptometer, Dalton, Universal, and Wales
machines in photos taken during the 1910s. For a 1912 photograph of an
office with a Universal, see Lisa M. Fine, The Souls of the Skyscraper,
1990, p. 110. Burroughs adding machines are pictured in the 1911 catalog for
Hesser Business College, Manchester, NH, and the 1912 catalog for King's
Business College, Raleigh, NC.
Different types of calculating machines, including stepped-drum,
pinwheel, and direct multiplication calculators, were faster than adding machines or
key-driven calculators for multiplication and division involving long numbers.
As a result, these other types of calculators were more suitable for scientific
and engineering applications. However, stepped-drum and pinwheel calculators, as
well as the available direct multiplication calculators,
were not efficient for high volumes
of addition and subtraction, and hence they did not play a major role in the
typical early business office, at least in the US.
All material on the Early Office Museum web site is copyrighted. All rights are reserved.