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 handheld instrument has nine parallel brass rods with holes in them. The holes in each rod are numbered from 1 to 9. Numbers are entered by pulling down rods with a stylus. The total appears in a set of nine holes at the bottom of the instrument. A lever on the side may be set so that a number entered is recorded in another set of nine holes that are immediately below the columns. The machine also has a carry mechanism; a white plastic zeroing button that is pulled out to zero the result register; a brown plastic button that is pushed to zero the entry register; a white plastic button used for subtraction; and decimal markers. Instructions are stored with the object and its leather-covered velvet-lined case. The stylus is missing.
- Ernst Martin, Die Rechenmaschinen, second edition, p. 454.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- Steinmann, Albert
- ID Number
- accession number
- catalog number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center