Odhner Arithmometer

Odhner Arithmometer

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This is one of the first calculating machines built on the design of Willgodt T. Odhner (1845–1905), a Swedish engineer working in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the factory of another Swede, Ludwig Nobel.
In the early 1870s, Odhner sought to improve the family fortunes by inventing a calculating machine. He prepared a prototype in 1875, and a model in 1876. In 1877 fourteen machines were built at the Nobel factory. This is one of these machines. Like Frank S. Baldwin of St. Louis, Odhner represented digits by retractable pins that extended from the edge of metal discs. Rotating the disc had an effect proportional to the number of protruding pins. Pinwheel calculating machines would come to sell widely.
The lever-set, non-printing machine has a black cast–iron frame with eight brass pinwheels and a wooden base. Numbers are set by rotating the pinwheels forward, using levers that extend from the wheels. Windows between the pinwheels show the number set. The carriage at the front of the machine has a seven-digit revolution counter at the very front ,and a ten-digit result register behind this.
Seven brass screws are rotated to set numbers in the revolution register. Rotating a wing nut on the right of the carriage zeros the result register, and moving a crank to the left of the revolution counter zeros it. A crank at the right end of the carriage releases it to be shifted. A crank with an ivory knob on the right side of the machine is rotated counterclockwise for addition and multiplication and clockwise for subtraction and division. The base of the machine is covered with green felt. It fits in a wooden case.
The machine is marked on the top: ARITHMOMETER (/) W. Odhners Se Petersburg. Invention. The number 4, which may be the serial number, is visible several places inside the case, namely along the top edge of the bottom of the case, along the bottom edge of the top of the case, and on all eight of the pinwheels, next to the entry digit 7.
A letter from J. M. Furnas to adding machine manufacturer Dorr E. Felt, dated April 6, 1916, is pasted to the inside of the lid of the case. It indicates that the machine was purchased by Professor Ezekial Brown Elliott about 1865 [sic], after he was appointed United States Government Actuary in May 1865. It was used by Brown until his death May 24, 1888, and purchased from his estate by Mrs. S. Wollard, who had been appointed assistant actuary by Brown and continued in this capacity under his successor, Joseph S. McCoy. Mrs. Wollard continued to use the machine until her death September 6, 1915, at which time it was inherited by her daughter, Mrs. Lillian Bonner, herself a clerk at the Treasury Department. Mrs. Bonner sold the machine to Furnas, who was acting on Felt’s behalf. Other than the alleged date of purchase of the machine, the dates are not impossible.
Compare 310231.
E. Martin, The Calculating Machines (Die Rechenmaschinen), trans. P. A. Kidwell and M. R. Williams, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992, esp. p. 67, figure 36.
Timo Leipälä, “The Life and Works of W. T. Odhner,” Greifswalder Symposium zur Entwicklung der Rechentechnik, ed. W. Girbardt, Greifswald: Univ. Greifswald, Inst. für Mathematik und Informatik, 2003 and 2006.
Currently not on view
Object Name
calculating machine
date made
Odhner, W. T.
place made
Russia: Saint Petersburg, St. Petersburg
Physical Description
iron (overall material)
wood (overall material)
brass (overall material)
ivory (overall material)
cloth (overall material)
overall: 16 cm x 29.8 cm x 20 cm; 6 5/16 in x 11 23/32 in x 7 7/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Victor Comptometer Corporation
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Calculating Machines
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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