Barbour Calculating Machine Model

Barbour Calculating Machine Model

This rough model of a calculating machine that would multiply a number by a digit directly and print the result was submitted to the U.S. Patent Office by Edmund D. Barbour in 1872. It has a rectangular wooden base with nine grooves in it. The rightmost groove contains a rectangular brass plate with nine rows of teeth in it. The first row has one tooth, the second, two, and so forth. This plate has a metal handle, marked with the digits from 1 to 9, that can be pulled forward to enter a digit. It is a modification of the cylinder in Barbour’s patent 130404 (see MA.309172 ). A complete machine would have nine such plates.
To the right of the grooved wooden base and its metal plate is another brass plate on which is mounted a mechanism for controlling a slide that is supposed to move over the rectangular plate, carrying out desired arithmetic operations. In this machine, multiplication is carried out by repeated motion of the slide, rather than in a single motion as in Barbour’s earlier invention. Two rotating sets of brass gears, each equipped with a type wheel, are intended to demonstrate how the results of calculations might be printed automatically. The object has no maker’s marks. No successful product emerged directly from Barbour’s patents.
Compare MA.309172, MA.309173, and MA.318168.
The Edmund D. Barbour who took out this patent was probably Edmund Dana Barbour (1841–1925), a Boston native who reportedly gained a fortune in the China trade before returning to Boston in 1871, not long before taking out this patent. Barbour took our two other patents calculating machines, invested successfully in the Bell Telephone Company, carried out extensive genealogical research, and left most of his fortune in bequests to Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Radcliffe College.
Edmund D. Barbour, "Improvement in Calculating Machines," U.S. Patent 133188, November 19, 1872.
J.A.V. Turck, Origin of Modern Calculating Machines, Chicago: Western Society of Engineers, 1921, pp. 180–187.
“Sharon’s Rich Men,” Boston Daily Globe, February 20, 1888, p. 6.
“Fund for Three Local Colleges: Edmund D Barbour’s Will Gives Each $20,000 a Year,” Boston Daily Globe, March 13, 1925.
J. Gardner Bartlett, “Edmund Dana Barbour,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register , vol. 79, October 1925, pp. 339–344.
Currently not on view
Object Name
calculating machine
Object Type
Patent Model
date made
Barbour, Edmund D.
Barbour, Edmund D.
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
place patented
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
wood (overall material)
overall: 2.5 cm x 41 cm x 9.1 cm; 31/32 in x 16 5/32 in x 3 19/32 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Calculating Machines
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object