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.
- This small and incomplete model from the U.S. Patent Office well illustrates the technology used to store information about patent models. Attached to the knob by red tape are two labels. The smaller tag records the entry of the model into the office on March 17, 1881. It indicates in pen the name of the inventor, Leroy B. Haff, the type of the invention (a game counter) and the date received. The front of the tag also is marked in pencil “issued.” The back of this tag also has the pen marks S 28482, 23 Div, and 84/1044.
- A second tag, attached to the model by the same piece of red tape, is the patent tag. It has what appears to be a form number, as well as space for the patent number (242635), the patentee (here spelled Le Roy B. Haff), the subject of the patent (Game-Counter), and the date patented (June 7, 1881). Glued to the back of the tag is a printed summary of the drawing and claims. This is heavily damaged.
- Haff’s invention was a small counter that recorded both points scored in a card game such as whist and the number of games won. Only the upper part of the model has survived.
- The inventor, Leroy (or Le Roy) B. Haff of Englewood, N.J., was no doubt the silversmith Leroy B. Haff (1841-1893) who lived in Engelwood and was a partner in the New York firm of silversmiths, Dominick & Haff. He also took out a patent for a corkscrew in 1889.
- Le Roy B. Haff, “Game-Counter,” U. S. Patent 242,635, June 7, 1881.
- Le Roy B. Haff, “Pocket-Corkscrew,” U S. Patent 356936, February 1, 1887.
- U. S. Census, 1880.
- “The Death of Leroy B. Haff,” The Jeweler’s Circular and Horological Review, vol. 22, #9, September 27, 1893, p. 13.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- Haff, Le Roy B.
- Haff, Le Roy B.
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- accession number
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- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center