When Was the First Adding and Listing Machine or the Calculator Invented?
An adding machine was a class of mechanical calculator, usually specialized for bookkeeping calculations. In the United States, the earliest adding machines were usually built to read in dollars and cents. Adding machines were ubiquitous office equipment until they were phased out in favor of calculators in the 1970s and by personal computers beginning in about 1985. The older adding machines were rarely seen in American office settings by the year 2000.
Blaise Pascal and Wilhelm Schickard were the two original inventors of the mechanical calculator in 1642; for Pascal this was an adding machine that could perform additions and subtractions directly and multiplication and divisions by repetitions, whilst Schickard’s machine, invented several decades earlier was less functionally efficient but was supported by a mechanised form of multiplication tables.
These two were followed by a string of inventors and inventions leading to those of Thomas de Colmar who launched the mechanical calculator industry in 1851 when he released his simplified arithmometer (it took him thirty years to refine his machine, patented in 1820, into a simpler and more reliable form). However, they did not gain widespread use until Dorr E. Felt started manufacturing his comptometer (1887) and Burroughs started the commercialization of differently conceived adding machines (1892).
William Seaward Burroughs invented the first practical adding and listing machine. He was awarded a patent application for his ‘calculating machine’ on August 25, 1888. In 1886, Burroughs and several St. Louis businessmen formed the Arithmometer Company of America to market the machine. He was one of the founders of American Arithmometer Company, which became Burroughs Corporation and evolved to produce electronic billing machines and mainframes, and eventually merged with Sperry to form Unisys.
The first machine however, required a special knack in pulling the handle to execute the calculation correctly. More often than not; novice users would get wildly differing sums depending on the vigour with which they used their invention. In 1893, Burroughs received a patent for an improved calculating machine, which incorporated an oil-filled ‘dash-pot’, a hydraulic governor. This device enabled the machine to operate properly, regardless of the manner in which the handle might be pulled.
In 1904, six years after Burroughs’ death, the company moved to Detroit and changed its name to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. It was soon the biggest adding machine company in America.