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 eight-wheeled stylus-operated non-printing adding machine has plastic wheels and a metal frame. The first wheel is red and has eight holes near its edge for adding fractions. The second wheel from the left is white and has 12 holes near its edge for adding inches. The remaining six wheels each have ten holes around the edge. The rightmost is red, the next three are white, and the next two are red. All the wheels are labeled around the outside with digits for use in addition, and around the inside with digits for use in subtraction. A steel stylus and a clearing bar fit into the right side.
- The top edge of the instrument has an 11-inch scale of equal parts, divided to sixteenths of an inch. A sales receipt indicates the machine was purchased September 19, 1951, by Frederick Mathesius for $12.95. A second sheet gives operating instructions. The machine is stored in a tan and purple cardboard box. It was made by Reliable Typewriter & Adding Machine Company of Chicago, Illinois.
- Typewriter Topics, vol. 66, August, 1927, pp. 36-37 (announced as coming in September - $10.00), Typewriter Topics, vol. 72, June, 1929, p. 29 (cost $15.00); Office Appliances, vol. 87, January, 1948, p. 138, 182 (price $12.95); Office Appliances, vol. 98, Oct., 1953, p. 233 (price $14.95).
- Currently not on view
- date made
- H. & M. Button Company
- Reliable Typewriter & Adding Machine Corporation
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- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center