Adding MachinesStylus-Operated Adding Machines
In 1642, while he was still a teenager, the Frenchman Blaise Pascal invented one of the first machines that could add automatically. Numbers were entered by rotating wheels with a pointed rod or stylus. Carrying took place through the fall of a weight. Some fifty copies of Pascal’s machine were made in his lifetime, mainly for the cabinets of curiosity of well-to-do nobles. In the eighteenth century, similar machines were made, such as one build by Jean Lepine, clockmaker and mechanician to French King Louis XV. In Lepine’s elegant brass machine, carrying took place through the flex of a spring, not the fall of a weight.
In the second half of the 19th century, a variety of much humbler stylus-operated adding machines were patented in the United States. At least three of them went on the market. Two, based on inventions of John Groesbeck and of A. M. Stephenson, had modest sales. The third, invented by journalist Charles H. Webb and sold as the Webb adder, was a sufficient commercial success to boast distinct models, patented in 1868 and 1889.
A.M. Stephenson described a small adding machine with several dials, but only sold one that handled two digits. In the 1840s the Frenchman Didier Roth had designed an improved stylus-operated adding machine that was small and light weight, but had several dials. Roth did not sell his machines successfully, but in the early 20th century such instruments became quite common. One of the first to sell widely in the U.S. was the Calcumeter, patented by James J. Walsh of New Jersey in 1901. Similar instruments, made from metal or later plastic, would sell into the 1970s.
Other small adding machines had parallel rods or chains that moved either crosswise or from top to bottom. Some of these looked quite a bit like contemporary adders, although they had a mechanical carry.
"Adding Machines - Stylus-Operated Adding Machines" showing 1 items.
- In the 17th century, the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal built a machine that could be used to add numbers by the rotation of discs with a stylus. Pascal and his associates made several copies of this machine, but it never became a commercial product. In 1725 Jean Lepine, the watchmaker and mechanic for King Louis XV of France, built this stylus-operated adding machine in the tradition of Pascal. However, in Lepine’s machine, carrying took place through the flex of a spring and not, as in Pascal’s device, through the fall of a weight.
- The brass instrument fits in a leather-covered wooden case. There are five rows of circles, with ten circles to a row. A window at the top of each circle shows a digit on a disc below. In the first and fourth row there are ten discs on the front of the machine, each with ten indentations in it. The indentations are numbered clockwise 0 to 9. In these rows, there is a stop at the bottom of each disc. All five rows of circles also have a circle of numbers ranging from 1 to 9. In the first and fourth row, these numbers are outside the discs with indentations in them and run counterclockwise, and one digit is not indicated (usually 5, though it may be 10 or 6 - in place of this digit there is an opening in the circle). In the other rows, the digits in the circles run clockwise. In the leftmost column of circles (labeled “Deniers”) numbers on the circles and discs run 1 to 11. The column one in from this (labeled “Sols” ) has numbers from 1 to 19. In each of the circles of numbers without discs, there is a pointer that points to the digit on the circle that is shown in the window. A stylus fits in the right side of the case.
- The underlying discs of the top two rows of circles are linked. These circles are used in addition and multiplication. The underlying discs of the bottom three rows of circles are linked. These circles are used in subtraction and division. The underlying discs in each row have pinholes indicating their position. These pinholes are visible if the machine is removed from the case and inverted. A brass plate in the lid of the case has a multiplication table for the numbers 1 to 9. Openings in the plate reveal two rotating brass plates which give multiples of unit prices.
- The machine is inscribed at the front right: DE L’EPINE (/) INVENIT ET FECIT (/) 1725. It is inscribed to the left of this: Nouvelle Machine d’arithmetique contenant toutes les parties de cette Science et dont les operations se font d’une maniere aussi curieuse et aussi promte [sic] que certaine. It is marked inside the lid: reparé en 1844 par [/] le Chr Thomas de Colmar. This refers to repairs done in 1844 by Charles Xavier Thomas of Colmar, a distinguished French inventor of calculating machines and prior owner of the machine.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- L'Epine, Jean
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- accession number
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- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center