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 worn, rough metal counter has three wheels for tallying numbers up to 999. t once attached to a wheel and recorded rotations, serving as an odometer.
- A stamp on the object reads: CARMEAN (/) ANTHONY KS. According to the accession file, it was made by W. H. Carmean, who lived for a time in Hutchinson, Kansas. William H. Carmean is listed in the 1910 U.S. Census as a twenty-four- year-old, Kansas-born resident of Anthony, Kansas. He was not living there in 1900 or 1920, hence the rough date assigned to the object.
- According to the donor, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the counter and wheel were used in the early days of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, established in 1933. Measures of distance were carried out to help compute acreages.
- Accession File.
- U.S. Census 1900, 1910, 1920.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- ca 1910
- Carmean, W. H.
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center