Personal Calculators

The introduction of microchips, combined with rapid price decreases, made handheld electronic calculators possible. They replaced the slide rule, many printed tables of numbers, adding machines, and most desktop electronic calculators. Portability and affordability made the calculators personal devices, but their capabilities were often limited.

HP-35 calculator in use, around 1972

HP-35 calculator in use, around 1972

Courtesy of Hewlett-Packard Corporation 

Pulsar in use, photographed 2014

Pulsar in use, photographed 2014

Ronald E. Zupko’s HP-35 electronic calculator, 1972

Ronald E. Zupko, a historian of weights and measures, used this HP-35. It was the first handheld electronic calculator to display all the functions represented on a slide rule.

Gift of Professor Ronald E. Zupko

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SR-10 electronic calculator, 1972

By the end of 1972, Texas Instruments also sold an electronic calculator suited to scientists and engineers. It was called the “SR” because it also performed the functions of a slide rule.

Gift of John B. Priser

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Pulsar calculator wristwatch, 1976

By the mid-1970s, electronic calculators were combined with other electronic devices to produce instruments like this wristwatch, which could be worn on the person.

Gift of John M. Bergey

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Aids for Business and Government

Minicomputers, desktop calculators, and then microcomputers and laptops became standard in workplaces across the nation. Calculators and inexpensive computers also helped individuals track their money.

IBM SCAMP, 1973

Engineers at the IBM Scientific Center in Palo Alto, California, designed this early portable computer for demonstrations of the programming language APL.

Gift of International Business Machines Corporation

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Paul Friedl with the SCAMP, 1983

Paul Friedl with the SCAMP, 1983

Courtesy of IBM

Xerox Star Information System, 1981

In 1981 Xerox began to sell systems of linked microprocessors for office use. These had screens with icons, as well as applications ranging from text entry to graphics to information retrieval to electronic mail to mathematical equation solving. Less expensive machines made by other vendors soon dominated the market.

Gift of Xerox Corporation

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Xerox Star in use, around 1981

Xerox Star in use, around 1981

Courtesy of DigiBarn

Michael Boman’s WorkSlate tablet computer, 1984

The California firm of Convergent Technologies introduced this portable computer in 1983. It was primarily designed to assist businesspeople with spreadsheets, but it also served as a calculator, telephone, speakerphone, tape recorder, and alarm.

Gift of Michael Boman

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National Semiconductor 103A electronic calculator, 1978–1981

Called the “checkbook balancer,” this calculator was specifically designed to help bank customers manage checking accounts. The attached sleeve could hold a checkbook and pen alongside the calculator.

Gift of John B. Priser

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Paul Ceruzzi’s TRS-80 Model 100, around 1983

In order to track home finances and mortgage payments, Smithsonian curator Paul Ceruzzi constructed elaborate spreadsheets for this compact computer.

Gift of Paul Ceruzzi

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TRS-80 Model 100 in use, 1984

TRS-80 Model 100 in use, 1984