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.
- The wooden ruler also serves as a stylus-operated non-printing adding machine. It has a plastic inset along the middle, with a perforated paper strip that moves below the plastic. The numbers from 1 to 45 are marked along one edge of the plastic and from 46 to 90 along the other. A small dial and a window are at one end. Instructions are given on a plastic insert on the reverse of the rule. The number in the window indicates units and tens, while those around the dial denote hundreds. Only one of the hundreds digits (3) is marked. There is no stylus. One edge of the ruler is beveled and has a brass insert. This edge is marked off with a scale 15 inches long, divided to 1/16 inches.
- The device is marked: PERFECTION (/) SELF-ADDING RULER (/) PAT. JAN. 8th 1895. No place of manufacture is indicated. The inventor, Robert E. McClelland, lived in Williamsville, Illinois. Later versions of the rule indicate that it was made in New York.
- Robert E. McClelland, “Computing Machine,” U.S. Patent 532241, January 8, 1895.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- McClelland, Robert E.
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- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center