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 seven-wheeled adding machine is made of steel painted black. Below each wheel is a disc with the digits from 0 to 9 printed close to the center. Each wheel has ten holes, one of which has been cut large enough to reveal a digit on the disc below. Numbers are entered by rotating wheels. Clockwise rotation adds a digit, counterclockwise subtracts. The result appears in the large holes of the wheels. The two rightmost and the two leftmost wheels are painted black. The three center ones are unpainted. This makes it easy to distinguish cents, dollars up to $999, and larger amounts. The machine is marked: THE CALCULATOR CO. (/) GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. (/) PATD. The back of the instrument is covered with green felt. The silver-colored metal stylus resembles a nut pick. Documentation is stored separately.
- This example was donated to the Smithsonian by Richard J. De Prez, who inherited it from his father.
- Compare to Smallwood calculator (see MA*336184).
- Popular Science Monthly, July, 1920, vol. 97, p. 9 - advertising for agents - machine sold for $12.50. According to Robert Otnes, the Calculator Corporation was at the address in Grand Rapids given on 1982.0542.02 (trade literature relating to this object) in the 1917 Grand Rapids city directory. Before this it had a different name and afterward a different address. By 1920 it moved to a different building.
- Currently not on view
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- Calculator Corporation
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- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center