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.
- This stylus-operated non-printing flat adding machine has five cogged, linked wheels. Five windows at the bottom show sums of numbers entered. Five windows at the top show complementary digits and are used in subtraction. The outer casing of the instrument is nickel-plated brass, the mechanism is brass. The device lacks a stylus. It is marked: GROESBECK’S CALCULATING MACHINE (/) PATENTED MAR. 18 1870. It is also marked: ZIEGLER & McCURDY (/) PHILAPA.CINN.O.CHICAGO,ILL. (/) ST.LOUIS,MO.SPRINGFIELD,MASS.
- This machine is the invention of John Groesbeck (1834-1884), a consulting accountant, operator of the Crittenden Commercial College in Philadelphia, and author of several textbooks on commercial arithmetic. It apparently was his only invention. According to a review in the Philadelphia School Journal, it sold for $6.00 in 1871. The firm of Ziegler & McCurdy dissolved in 1872, suggesting that this object was made quite near the time of the patent. It was given to the Smithsonian in 1944 as a gift of Lt. John P. Roberts of the U.S. Naval Reserve.
- John Groesbeck, “Improvement in Adding-Machines," U.S. Patent 100,288, March 1, 1870.
- “Groesbeck’s Calculating Machine,” Pennsylvania School Journal, vol. 19 #7, January, 1871., p. 216.
- E. Martin, The Calculating Machines (Die Rechenmaschinen), trans. P. A. Kidwell and M. R. Williams, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992, p. 383.
- George P. Donehoo, editor. Pennsylvania A History - Biographical, Chicago/New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., 1928, 290 to291.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- Groesbeck, John
- Ziegler & McCurdy
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- accession number
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- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center