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Calculators Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129894D
Original Publication Date: 1995-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 4 page(s) / 21K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

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Copyright ©; 1995 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.




The Calculators column is intended to focus on that aspect of computing history that in many respects preceded the introduction of the computer and has paralleled the computer for the past 50 years as the original "desktop" machine, and in later years as the pocket" machine. Through this column we hope to provide information for historians and collectors about the world of calculators.

We invite readers to submit short contributions regarding the development, manufacture, and use of calculators for publication in this column. Longer articles should be submitted to Editor-in- Chief John A.N. Lee, with a copy toEarlE. Swartzlander, University of Texas at Austin, Department of E & CE, Austin, TX 78712; phone (512) 471-5923, fax (512) 471-5907, e-mail

Generations of Calculators

It is appropriate to identify the major categories of calculators. What follows is my personal classification of digital calculators into six generations. This classification is somewhat arbitrary and imprecise, but will serve as a starting point for discussion and dialogue. Future columns will explore each generation in more detail, so if this introduction seems too brief, please bear with us.

The first generation of calculators are the hand-crafted adders and calculators made in very small quantities prior to the mid-19th century. These include, for example, the stylus-activated adding machine developed by Blaise Pascal in 1642 (Williams, pp. 128-134)' and Lepine2 and the stepped-wheel calculators of Leibniz (Williams, pp. 134-141),' which are finely crafted mechanical works of art (see, for example, IBM's "A Calculator Chronicle"3). Small numbers of these machines were made, and the few that have survived are justifiably in museums.

The Arithmometer of Thomas de Colmar4 and the "Millionaire" illustrate the difficulty in categorizing calculators that straddle the generations. The early "ribbon-actuated Thomas Arithmometer" appears to be a true first-generation calculator, as it was probably produced in small quantities. The later "crank-operated Thomas Arithmometers" were certainly produced in significant quantity, although not mass produced in the sense of the second-generation machines. The "Millionaire" is another machine that was produced in quantity (4,655) (Eames,
p. 37),s but based on the current scarcity, it seems that it belongs to the first generation.

One of the goals of this column is to identify museums that have such early machines on exhibit. In this regard, it is appropriate to mention the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e delta Tecnica at 19 Via San Vittore in Milan, Italy. This museum has an exhibit hall supported by IBM Italy that includes replicas of a Pascal adder (1642) and a Leibniz calcul...