These days, it’s difficult to imagine life without computers . . . or calculators . . . or adding machines. Growing up, I remember my mother’s fingers dancing across the ten-key pad while a strip of numbers printed out.

As long as people have had things to count, they have needed math. When they ran out of fingers and toes, they used tools like the abacus. The trick was keeping track of the digits—the ones, tens, hundreds, and so on. Addition and subtraction weren’t so tricky, but multiplication and division added a new level of complexity.

One of the earliest tools for managing multiplication and division was Napier’s Rods, developed in 1617 by John Napier in Scotland. The rods basically held multiplication tables. They were lined up based on the numbers to be multiplied. This worked for the ones, carrying of the tens had to be done manually.

On a side note: Inventors of these machines weren’t very creative about naming them. Must be a common character trait.

Wilhelm
Schickard invented the first true adding machine, the Calculating Clock, in
1623. It could mechanically add and subtract up to six digits.

A contemporary said this about it:

“You would
laugh out loud if you were there and saw how it increases the digits on the
left all by itself when it exceeds a ten or a hundred, or takes something away
from them when it subtracts.”

Only two were
ever built, and both were destroyed in the mid-1600s. However, his drawings
survived, and numerous replicas have been constructed to preserve history.

Blaise Pascal
invented the first calculator to be produced in a large quantity (fifty were
built). In 1642, he invented the Pascaline, also known as the Arithmetic
Machine, for his father, who was a tax collector.

He used a small weight that rose each time a digit was added. When it reached the highest position (ten), it released the weight and triggered movement in the tens column.

In 1671, a German mathematician, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, improved the machine to multiply (by repeating addition). Two prototypes of his Step Reckoner were built. However, the machine didn’t work reliably, at least partly because the intricate design couldn’t be produced with the technology of the day.

Finally, in 1820, with the Industrial Revolution, Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar of France designed a reliable four-function adding machine. He called it the Arithmometer. It went into full production in the 1850s.

He partnered with businessman Robert Tarrant, and the Arithmometer was sold worldwide for seventy years.

By the late 1800s, others copied the machines. They became required office equipment. Anyone wanting to work for the U.S. Census Bureau needed to prove their proficiency with calculating machines.

Eventually, computers and handheld calculators came along, pushing the adding machine into obsolescence.

Still, I must
admire the inventors who devised ways to track numbers automatically.

***

**”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the**

*Thimbles and Threads*CollectionFour
historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending
Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge,
Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

**Suzanne Norquist**is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in

*A Bouquet of Brides*Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the

*Thimbles and Threads*Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.

I remember adding machines. Without them I never would have passed bookkeeping, because I am terrible at math.

ReplyDeleteThank you for posting today. I enjoyed using adding machines, and having that paper backup!

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