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Lecture

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Department
Natural Science
Course
NATS 1700
Professor
Zbigniew Stachniak
Semester
Summer

Description
Lecture 4. The World of Calculators: from oce equip- ment to pocket gadgets Informal and unedited notes, not for distribution. (c) Z. Stachniak, 2011. Note: in the case when I was unable to nd the primary source of an image or determine whether or not an image is copyrighted, I have specied the source as unknown. I will provide full information about images and/or obtain reproduc- tion rights when such information is available to me. Introduction In the 17th, 18th, and the rst half of the 19th century the dominating and prevailing calculating aids were: pen-and-paper methods (algorithms); abacus (in its variety of forms); mathematical tables. To fully recognize the signicance of these calculating methods and aids, one needs only to mention that the pen-and-paper methods are taught at schools for this day, that the abacus is frequently used to teach numbers and count- ing to pre-school children, and that printed tables with data are still in use in a number of areas. It would be the historical role of the digital electronic calculators and, in par- ticular the hand-held (or pocket) calculators to relegate most of the mathe- matical tables and abacus-like devices to historical relics of computing housed in museums and private collections. 1 The birth of the oce calculator industry The industrial revolution brought new manufacturing methods and with them the ability to produce good quality precision instruments and mechan- ical devices, such as calculators, in large quantities. In the rst half of the 19th century, an increasing number of calculators were oered commercially but their use was not widely spread. It all changed in the second half of the 19th century, rst in Europe and, later, in America when large businesses, agencies, and institutions, such as treasuries or banks, were expanding fast, putting more and more people into their oces. It became evident that ever increasing number of calculation tasks could not be handled cost-eectively without appropriate calculating aids. While institutions were looking for ecient ways for conducting their busi- ness, inventors and entrepreneurs were determined to supply them with all sorts of oce gadgets. In the second half of the 19th century, mechanical oce equipment became an essential infrastructure of a modern business. The rst typewriters appeared in the early 19th century and the rst wave of useful calculators soon after in Europe and a few decades later in America. By the end of the 19th century, calculators would not be viewed as me- chanical curiosities any more but as useful devices enhancing human abilities in a vast range of applications. 2 Thomas Arithmometer Among the rst commercially produced adding machines was the Arith- mometer built by Thomas de Colmar of Alsace around 1820. Thomas Arith- mometres were never produced in large quantities (some sources estimate that in the rst 50 years no more than 1500 were manufactured). They were expensive and too slow for performing a large number of arithmetic opera- tions in an oce as the calculators required setting numbers using all sorts of dials (depending on a model) and a hand crank. However, Thomas Arith- mometres were technically sound, captured the attention of businesses, and started oce calculator industry, rst in Europe and, then in America. Fig. 1. An early Thomas Arithmometer. Source: http://archive.computerhistory.org. 3 Calculator industry in the 19th century America America entered the age of mechanical calculators in late 19th century, much later than Europe. When major European countries were undergoing exten- sive industrialization at the time of the appearance of Thomas calculators, the United States was still primarily involved in agriculture while Canada was not even on the map as a country. The Civil War of 18611865 did not help with the industrialization either, delaying the eects of the industrial revolution on the American landscape for a decade. It was not until after the Civil War when new forms of manufacturing (steam- powered) allowed the American industry to grow and spread across the na- tion. It was at that time, when a vibrant oce equipment industry was created with calculator manufacturing centers in cities such as Chicago, De- troit, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. American companies and organizations seemed to like oce gadgets from the start (typewriters, cash registers, calculators, telegraph, telephone) and that created a potential for mass manufacturing of such devices. It was soon evident that, for an oce calculator to be truly practical, some major improvements to calculator designs had to be introduced. There were two main issues: early mechanical calculators were slow to operate; the process of enter- ing numbers and performing operations should be as fast as typing on a typewriter; some organizations, such as banks, required printed records of calcu- lations and combining a calculator with some sort of a printing device would improve the eciency of oce work. 4
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