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Early Adding and Calculating Machines

Antique Adding and Calculating Machines

Scheutz Difference Engine, 1855

A 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 1779_Pascal_Pascaline_calculating_machine.jpg (137535 bytes) 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.  

At some point between 1866 and 1870, the Director of the Bureau of Statistics at the U.S. Treasury Department purchased a Thomas Arithmometer for use in the Bureau. (Alexander Delmar, "Recollections of the Civil Service: VI," Appletons' Journal, Sept. 5, 1874; Manufacturer and Builder, August 1870, p. 1)  Also, it appears that the St. Louis Mutual Life Insurance Co. had a Thomas Arithmometer around 1872. (P. Kidwell, "The Adding Machine Fraternity at St. Louis: Creating a Center of Invention, 1880-1920," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Apr. 2000). In 1874, when the Thomas Arithmometer was first offered for sale in the US, its price ranged from a low of $75 for a machine capable of giving a product of 10 figures without quotient or effacer to a high of $275 for a machine capable of giving a product of 20 figures with quotient and effacer. The notice of the machine's availability in the US stated that "It is already used by the leading insurance companies and mathematicians of England and the United States, and by many of the bankers of London. For any lengthy calculations its services are invaluable, and in any large institution will replay its cost in a very short time." (The Bankers' Magazine, Apr. 1874)

As late as April 1889, an article in Manufacturer and Builder (p. 75) stated that "Calculating machines, as a class, have proved themselves to be more remarkable for the ingenuity displayed in their construction than for utility. As marvelous pieces of mechanical construction, they excite surprise and admiration, but it may be doubted if thus far any one of them has shown itself to be adapted to practical service in the daily business routine of government bureaux, banks and other financial institutions, and the like." One limitation of calculating machines introduced prior 1885 was that numbers were entered with levers (rather than keyboards). While lever-set machines were useful for scientific, engineering, and other calculations requiring multiplication and division of long numbers, data entry using levers was too slow for routine accounting and banking applications, which involved large amounts of addition.  

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 1876_Centennial_Expo_Geo_B_Grants_calculating_machine_Free_Library_of_Phila_c020422.jpg (69481 bytes)1876_Grant_Difference_Engine_at_Cent_Exhibition_description.jpg (206149 bytes)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.

Burroughs_Style_4_Detroit_OM.jpg (21500 bytes)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." 

1887_1904_Comptometer_cv_OM.jpg (22305 bytes)With 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.

An office equipment book explains that "The adding machine prints the items as it is operated while the calculating machine only indicates the items without printing them. When a printed record is needed for checking the work, for statements, or for other purposes, the adding machine best serves the purpose. Adding-listing machines are usually preferable for pure addition and subtraction, especially when equipped with a direct-subtraction device. [Direct-subtraction was added to Burroughs machines in 1911.] But for computations involving multiplication or division, speed and economy usually demand that this work be performed on calculating machines, unless the importance of preserving printed lists that will serve as permanent records overbalances the desirability of speed."  (Practical Business Administration, American Technical Society, 1930)

Both Burroughs and Felt & Tarrant were founded in the mid-1880s, but business was initially slow. Neither sold significantly more than 5,000 machines by the end of 1900. Turck (1921, pp. 144-45) states that adding and calculating machines "met with very strong opposition for the first few years. The efforts of book-keepers and counting-house clerks to prevent these machines entering their department were inspired by the fear that it would displace their services. Of the two classes of machines, the listing machines were the first to sell in quantities that may be called large. This was probably due to the fact that they were largely sold to banks." While Burroughs adding machines were marketed heavily to banks, photographs from the 1910s demonstrate that Burroughs machines were used in a wide variety of office settings. Comptometer advertising targeted accounting departments, while Turck (1921, p. 111) reports that Comptographs were targeted at banks.

Sales of Burroughs machines grew rapidly after 1900, with Burroughs outselling Felt & Tarrant by about five to one during 1901-1910 and, with an expanded product line, ten to one during 1911-1920. The machines produced by these companies and a number of smaller competitors revolutionized the way offices carried out numerical calculations, accounting, and billing in the early 1900s. A large number of higher-salaried men with pens who added columns of four-digit numbers rapidly in their heads were replaced by lower-salaried office workers, many of them women, with machines. (Lisa M. Fine, The Souls of the Skyscraper, 1990, p. 92) 

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.

During the first decade of the 20th century, adding and calculating machines produced by Burroughs, Felt & Tarrant, and their closest competitors ranged in price from $60-$200 for a Mechanical Accountant key-driven calculator, $150-$315 for a Comptometer, and $160-$250 for a Standard Adding Machine to $350 for a Comptograph and $375 for a Burroughs Adding and Listing Machine. Because these machines were expensive, there was a market for the numerous simple adders that were advertised in business publications at $5 to $35.  

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.

For photographs of a number of adding and calculating machines that are not included in the Early Office Museum's exhibits, see Jay M. Goldman's collection.


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