Some of the simplest computing devices made and sold are aids to counting. From ancient to early modern times, scribes performing calculations moved small stones or metal tokens along lines. More recently, mechanical counters have been widely used to count crowds and objects, and as parts of machines.
In the nineteenth century, several inventors patented mechanical counters. Patent models surviving in the Mathematics Collections at the National Museum of American History suggest the range of their concerns. Paul Stillman in 1854 and Daniel Davies and Edward Wright in 1876 patented improvements in rotary measures, such as were used in revolution counters for steam engines. In 1874, Alexander Atkinson patented a counting register to help track quantities of grain. As the amount of leisure time available to Americans increased, three inventors around 1880 saw fit to patent counters to keep score in games.
By the turn of the century, mechanical revolution counters were incorporated in laboratory apparatus, in factories using engines, in distance measures such as odometers, and in cash registers. Americans manufactured them and imported them from abroad. Government offices bought and made counters to compile statistics, and employers used them to figure out the bills and coins they needed to meet payroll. Of course counters were incorporated in a wide range of vehicles and meters. Handheld counters are used to this day to count people entering and leaving buildings and on public transit.
D. Baxandall, rev, J. Pugh, Calculating Machines and Instruments, London: Science Museum, 1975, p. 66.
Examples of counting tokens are in the Smithsonian's National Numismatics collection.
"Counters - Introduction" showing 1 items.
- At a time when employers paid workers in cash, knowing the combination of bills and coins needed to meet a payroll was a challenge. The Denominator, a device for counting items in classes, eased that task and similar cash payments. It consists of a set of eleven counters, each with a separate operating key. Six keys are for values of cents, and five for dollar values. Behind each key are three wheels; the value shown by the wheels increases by one each time the key is pressed. The keys are marked: $20; $10; $5; $2; $1; 50¢; 25¢; 10¢; 5¢; 3¢; 1¢.
- A steel wing nut on the left side zeros when rotated. On the right side is a space for a sheet of forms.
- A mark on the top behind the wheels reads: DENOMINATOR (/) PATENTS PENDING. A mark in front of the keys reads: DENOMINATOR ADDING MACHINE CO. (/) 224-226 SHEPHERD AVE. BROOKLYN, N.Y. A mark on the wing nut reads: 2249.
- The Denominator Adding Machine Company of Brooklyn, N.Y. is listed in Thomas’s Register of American Manufacturers from 1916 through at least 1928. According to Martin, it originated in 1915. William A. Cook of Hollis, N.Y, and Joseph Levine of Brooklyn, N.Y., applied for a patent for a “denominating apparatus” March 9, 1921. Their invention closely resembles this product. When the patent was granted in 1923, they assigned it to the Denominator Adding Machine Company. The date of this patent application is taken as the approximate date of the object.
- W. A. Cook and J. Levine, “Denominating Apparatus,” U. S. Patent 1,444,586, February 6, 1923..
- J. H. McCarthy, American Digest of Business Machines, Chicago: American Exchange Service, 1924, pp. 42-43.
- E. Martin, The Calculating Machines (Die Rechenmaschinen), trans. P. A. Kidwell and M. R. Williams, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992, p. 290-291.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- ca 1921
- Denominator Adding Machine Company
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center