Calculating MachinesStepped Drum Calculating Machines
The distinguished mathematician and philosopher Gottfried William Leibniz started thinking about stepped drum calculating machines in the 1670s, and an eighteenth century instrument built on his design survives. However, it was the French insurance executive Charles Xavier Thomas (1785-1870) who invented and sold the first commercially successful calculating machine. Proposed in 1820, it would sell successfully from about 1850.
Thomas’s calculating machine, which he dubbed the arithmometer, had cylindrical brass drums, each with nine teeth that varied in length. If a setting lever was at “9”, it engaged nine teeth, at 8, eight teeth and so forth. This stepped drum mechanism would be modified over time, with different metals used for the stepped drums, much of the drum cut away, and different arrangement of the teeth on the gears. Nonetheless, the stepped drum survived as part of some calculating machines as long as they were manufactured.
"Calculating Machines - Stepped Drum Calculating Machines" showing 1 items.
- The manufacture of calculating machines, which began in France, widened to include Germany in the late 1870s with the introduction of Burkhardt arithmometers. This stepped drum, manually operated non-printing instrument is a somewhat later form of Burkhardt’s machine. It has eight German silver levers for setting numbers; an operating crank right of the levers; and an addition & multiplication / subtraction & division lever left of the levers. The operating crank folds down so that the lid closes. Left of this a small compartment with a slate cover that holds a black knob.
- When one pushes up the addition & multiplication/subtraction & division lever, it pushes back a set of ten gears that are linked to shafts coming from the stepped drums. In this position, these gears turn the gears of the result register clockwise (if looked at from the inside), and the number in the result register increases. If the lever is down, the gears on the shafts turn the gears of the result register counterclockwise, so that the number in the result register decreases.
- Behind the levers is a carriage with a nine-window revolution register and a 16-window result register. Both registers have thumbscrews for setting numbers. A small crank on the right side of the machine clears the revolution register and another crank on the left side clears the result register. When these cranks are in use, a brass bar extends out the sides of the carriage. Holes for decimal markers are between the levers and between the windows of the registers. Two brass decimal markers fit in these holes. When the entry in the result register becomes negative (as it might in subtraction or division), a bell rings. It rings again if a number is added so the result is once again zero or positive.
- A mark on the top of the machine, left of the entry levers, reads: Arth.Burkhardt (/) Glashütte(Sa) (/) Nr557.
- A mark on the outside of the wooden case reads: RECHEN- (/) MASCHINE. Glued to the inside of the lid of the wooden case is a paper label with operating instructions in German. Written in ink on this sheet is the mark: Made in Germany.
- Further instructions received with the machine are stored separately. The last date indicated on the instructions received with this machine is 1886. The instructions are stamped WEIGHTS AND MEASURES (/) U.S.C.&G. SURVEY, with an illegible date.
- A mark on the front edge of the case reads: B.S.219. The machine apparently was transferred from the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey to the National Bureau of Standards some time after the latter organization was founded in 1901. From there it came to the Smithsonian.
- Burkhardt exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. “More than 500 machines have been supplied to all parts of the world,” the maker claimed at that time.
- Compare MA*313158, MA*313519, MA*323624 and MA*323597.
- E. Martin, The Calculating Machines (Die Rechenmaschinen), trans. P. A. Kidwell and M. R. Williams, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992, pp. 78–82.
- German Exhibition, Group 21, Special Catalogue of the Collective Exhibition of Scientific Instruments and Appliances . . . ., 1893, p. 15.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- Arthur Burkhardt
- ID Number
- accession number
- catalog number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center