Calculators that Made History

Numbers are part of our daily lives and calculators have become a daily commodity. There is no phone, tablet or laptop nowadays without a calculator app on it. It has become vital to our society, but it wasn’t like that all the time (of course…). Moreover, they have evolved so much from the 1642 Blaise Pascal’s wooden box with sixteen dials on it, which could do just addition and subtraction. Here is a list with some great adding machines and calculators that influenced our society. 

First ever adding machine. At 19 years old, Blaise Pascal invented an adding machine to help his father in his work. His father was a clerk and he had to spend all day doing tedious number calculations. Therefore, his boy created a wooden box with sixteen dials on it. The only thing the machine could do was add and subtract, but it was enough to put the first block for the calculator history. Imagini pentru blaise pascal adding machine

It is believed that there were prior attempts to create something similar before. In 1623, Wilhelm Schickard is believed to have invented a mechanical calculator, but the prototypes have been lost. The information was found from some letters if Schickard discovered in the 1950s. Even earlier than that, it is believed that Leonardo da Vinci thought about something similar. In 1967 some of his found notes, found in the National Museum of Spain, included a description of a similar machine.

First 4 – operation digital mechanical calculator. Invented and patented in 1820 France by Thomas de Colmar, the Arithmometer was the first successful 4 – operation mechanical calculator. It was first produced in 1851 and sold as an adding machine. By 1890, around 2500 were sold. Other companies in Germany (1878, Burkhardt) and UK (Layton, 1883) have started manufacturing similar models. Some people have been calling them clones.

Most portable device. The Curta Calculator was invented by Curt Herzstark in the 1930s in Austria. It could do all four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). In 1938, he filed a patent for it, more specifically for the complemented stepped drum. This drum was a replacement for the old method involving around 10 drums. This idea was the one that made his device very portable. It was one of the most popular calculators ever. It became a collectable item from 1970s due to the development of electronic calculators.

Before talking about other interesting electronic calculators, I will mention the Adding Machine by Victor Adding Machine Co. The story behind this company and its developments is very interesting. People say the story of the Victor Adding Machine begins—ironically enough—with a miscalculation.

The first all-electric compact calculator. It was released in 1957 in Japan by Casio Computer Company. Most of the calculators in that period worked using gears. Tadao Kashio and his brothers possessed the necessary knowledge of electronics and inovation to create a calculator using solenoids (a coil wound into a tightly packed helix). Besides this innovation, they came up with the 10-key number pad. Previously, all the other calculators used a keypad which contained more keys due to the fact that each place in the number (1s, 10s, 100s, etc…) had nine keys. Most of the other calculators contained 3 display windows (one for each argument and one for the answer); they came up with just one single display window. The calculator  was finished around 1954. The Casio Computer Co. was formed in June 1957 and in that same year they released Model 14-A – the first all-electric compact calculator.

Before finishing I have a couple of mentions:

  • Hewlett – Packard Calculators There is the Museum of HP Calculators, that displays and describes Hewlett-Packard calculators introduced from 1968 to 1986 plus a few interesting later models.
  • The Schubert Model DRV is a pin-wheel calculator. It take its name from the fact that it has a circular disc or wheel which has nine retractable pins extending radially around part of its circumference. It was first introduced in 1953.

Let me know if there is anything else you would add to this list. Have a great day. Enjoy the summer! If you have ideas for future blog posts, let us know. Don’t forget to check our last post: Summer Reading List. You can find us on FacebookTumblr,   Google+,  Twitter and Instagram. We will try to post there as often as possible.

Lots of love and don’t forget that maths is everywhere! Enjoy!


The National Museum of American History

Vintage Calculators

Wikipedia – Calculators


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