The mechanical calulator
Mechanical calculator, pascaline, adding machine, arithmometer: protagonists of the economy for 350 years.
The first mechanical calculator was probably imagined by Leonardo da Vinci, Pascal invented the cheap and widespread pascaline, still on the market only 35 years ago.
These models were followed by the arithmometer, the adding machine, the Comptometer up to the perfect mechanical calculator: the Olivetti Divisumma. Let's briefly see the history of the mechanical calculator.
"For the world and our country: 90 degrees north! The Nautilus had accomplished the impossible"
With these words, at 23:15 GMT on August 3, 1958.
Captain Anderson announced to the crew that the first nuclear submarine had reached the North Pole navigating beneath the arctic ice cup.
In 1966 Were found in Madrid a Leonardo's manuscripts considered lost. A drawing seems to represent a mechanical calculator.
Leonardo's calculator, Codex Madrid I ca. 1500 (B. N. Madrid)
A reproduction of Leonardo's computer was built by IBM in the 60s.
The original could not work due to excessive friction and the first mechanical calculator can be attributed to the German scientist Schickard in 1623.
These prototypes were too complex for the technology of the time and could only be built by hand in pieces almost unique, but the patent of Pascal gave life to economic pascaline.
This big calculator, ca 1650 and the little Curta, 1952
The mechanical calculators, except the Olivetti Divisumma, are derived from inventions of 1600 and were built until the mid 70s.
Pascal and the pascaline
In 1642, at the age of 19, Blaise Pascal built the first calculator.
Pascaline, 1650 (replica by R. Guatelli - Museo Leonardo - Milan)
The invention of Pascal was not immediately successful.
At the time was impossible to solve the problem of friction and many tried to improve this machine, often creating beautiful pieces by fancy names.
The most beautiful examples, inspired by the design of Pascal, were executed by Tito Livio Burattini and Samuel Morland, both given as gifts to Cosimo III de'Medici, but the pascaline remained in the shadows until the strong economic development of the United States pushed the inventors to redraw it rationally.
The Burattini's Ciclografo, 1660 (@ Museo Galileo - Florence)
In 1901 appeared on the U.S. market "The Calcumeter", the first pascaline really cheap and functional.
The Calcumeter, 1901, one of the first working Pascalines
In the 1930 it was realized finally that, by turning the wheel in the opposite direction and using a second reversed numerical scale, it was possible to perform the subtraction as negative addition.
Lightning, a best seller
The single column pascaline
At the end of the 1800 was very successful a model of pascaline with the display of only two or three digits, able to add just the numbers of each column performing the carry with memory.
All were very successful and some were marketed for over 50 years.
Webb Adder, ca. 1891: a very simple adding machine
The small Adix had a keyboard, ca. 1901
Leibniz and followers
Leibniz in 1673, inspired by the patent of Pascal, designed a sophisticated computer using its innovative "drum" (or stepped drum).
Addition and subtraction are performed as in pascaline.
Furthermore the drums, one for each column, can sliding in the side allowing to multiply automatically by powers of 10.
Wanting to perform 540x123 does not need to perform 123 additions, but simply set on the cylinders 540, summing it 3 times, move the drums one position to the left, add 2 times, move and add once.
Leibniz's calculator in an old print
Imagining a super calculator Leibniz also invented the binary system, presented March 15, 1679 in the manuscript of only three pages "De Progressione Dyadica."
The Leibniz's calculator was difficult to build but had many emulators as Poleni, Leupold and Braun, who produced works of art even if not very functional.
Braun's calculator, 1736
Thomas de Colmar improved the Leibniz's calculator in 1820. Cumbersome and expensive its Arithmometre, however, was very reliable and was produced until 1915 in 1,500 units.
The Arithmometre, ca 1855.
The Arithmometre had no followers because Odhner was now flooding the market with its new model of calculator, more light and practical to use.
Finally we can not forget the little Curta, designed by Kurt Herzstark during World War II.
230 grams to perform the four operations with a display of 11 digits, a miniature jewel of great success in spite of the prohibitive cost.
Willgodt Odhner, Swedish engineer and entrepreneur, worked in St. Petersburg in the factory of Alfred Nobel's brother.
Odhner mechanical calculator, ca. 1920 (@ Kees Nagtegaal)
It was copied by many companies, the main were: Brunsviga, Triumphator, Walther, Thales, Muldivo, Felix, Tiger and Busicom.
The latter has been famous as, in 1970, asked the Intel to create a chip for a modern machine designed to replace the old Odhner project.
The "Pin Wheels" (@ Kees Nagtegaal)
In the 50s, with millions of units built by different companies, the successor of the Leibniz's machine was one of the best-selling calculators.
The last mechanical Busicom, 1970 (@ John Wolff)
Perrault and the aritmographs
Let's go back a little back in time.
The architect Claude Perrault, famous for the facade of the Louvre, designed around 1670 a pocket adding machine, the Abaque Rhabdologique, passed unnoticed at the time despite his description had been published in 1699.
Comptator, pocket adding machine, ca. '900
Golden Gem, little "Chain Adder", ca. 1917
The design of Perrault was simplified in 1847 by Kummer, but only in 1889 Troncet Louis managed to successfully commercialize this change.
In 100 years nothing has changed for the adding machine
Exadecimal aritmograph for computer's programmers
The aritmograph was extremely popular for almost 100 years.
They were no longer marketed in Europe after 1979, but remained in production for the Soviet market until 1988.
Inventories were still on sale in the early 90s.
Felt and the full keyboard
After several attempts, such as those of Louis Torchi and Tito Gonnella, in 1887 a new category of calculators was born.
360 keys for the Burroughs Duodecillion adding machine, 1915
The project, inspired by the pascaline, was patented by the American Dorr Felt.
Funny to remember that the prototype of its Comptometer was built inside a wooden box for spaghetti bought at the grocery store and these machines are remembered as "Macaroni Box".
Model 1900 (@ Mark Richards) and 1960 (@ John Wolff)
In the Key Driven pressing a button gives the sum of the corresponding value in the correct decimal place, to input the zero must simply jump the column, and all figures are released simultaneously with both hands.
Half-keyboard calculator, ca. 1947 (@ John Wolff)
The extended keyboards were so complex and expensive that were also realized calculators "Half Keyboard" with the numbers on the keyboard only up to 5.
The major suppliers were Felt & Tarrant, Burroughs and Bell Punch, but all models were called by the name Comptometer designed by Felt in 1887.
1961: the first electronic calculator used in offices:
The direct multiplication
All the calculators that we have seen are simple adders that can, with repeated addition and subtraction, perform the four operations.
It required a great attention by the operator and many people tried to overcome this limitation.
The Millionaire (@ John Wolff)
Trying to improve the performance of MADAS the American J.R. Monroe built from 1914 his own line of calculators.
Composed of more than 4,000 pieces were obviously very expensive and were mainly used in scientific laboratories or where there was need for many multiplications with untrained operators.
The first and the last Monroe calculators, 1920-70 (@ John Wolff)
This advertising praises the ease of use, but
Capellaro, Olivetti and the Divisumma
Natale Capellaro joined Olivetti in 1916 as an apprentice worker, in 1943 became Director of Projects and from 1960 was Technical Chief.
In the early days he was assigned to the assembly of typewriters but later will be the creator of almost all calculators.
Olivetti Divisumma, ca. 1960 (@ John Wolff)
The series included the Multisumma (addition, subtraction and multiplication), the Divisumma (including division) and Tetractys, equipped with a mechanical memory,
electric motor and double totalizer, which represented the state of the art.
No display: only print results
They were complex mechanism to build but were marketed up to 10 times the cost of production. Despite the very high price, more than a million and a half were sold.
The end of an era
In the 60s the mechanical calculators were used in all commercial and financial applications. Data processing centers had the direct multiplication models, in large
offices there were the Odhner type, derived from the project of Leibniz and the Key Driven invented to the 1800.
Olivetti, sometimes surviving in the Post Offices (@ J. Wolff)
However the transition was slow. Engineers and scientists have replaced immediately their slide rule, but in the offices these machines were changed only when they broke.
In 1973 you could choose between these two models ...
... and this new electronic Divisumma: the era
On board of the firsts nuclear submarines were
Mechanic Calculator Links:
The mechanical calculator on Wikipedia
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