Adding Machines

There are important differences between the mechanical adding machines and the key-driven calculators of this early period. However, please note...
"This discussion specifically excludes the four-function calculators of Odhner design which were particularly well suited to general calculation purposes but not very efficient for the high volume business "totaling" application."

The adding machine was (and still is) most usually an "adder/lister" meaning that it added to its total register and printed each item after being "set" into the keyboard and a handle or bar operated. Both were originally limited to addition and complementary subtraction. Direct subtraction, multiplication and division would have to wait another 20 to 30 years and never appear on key-driven calculators, only key-set machines.

The second difference involves how the machine accepted keyed entries. With adding machines, a two step process was required. Values had first to be "set" into the keyboard and then a crank operated to add it to the running total and print it to the listing device. The key-driven calculator, on the other hand, having no listing mechanism to deal with, added each keyed digit as it was entered to the running total with no second operation required.

As we shall see, the interplay of these two related, yet subtly different technologies was to dominate the first 15 years of both Felt & Tarrant and the Burroughs Corp.

The Comptograph

(Comptograph pic) An adventure that came perilously close to dooming both Felt & Tarrant and the Comptometer, this "impossible dream" would occupy the talents of Felt for the better part of 15 long years. During this period, Felt and Burroughs engaged in lengthy and costly legal disputes about the various patents.

The difficulties involved in combining a key-driven design with a printing mechanism proved such a challenge that the machine had virtually no impact on the market for adding machines.

J.A.V.Turck devotes some 40% of his book to a minute examination of the design of the Comptograph, the Burroughs adding/listing machine and their predicessors in a rather obvious bid to establish Felt's precidence in "the art". It is probably true that Felt's design had features that were superior to the Burroughs machine but that hardly mattered in the final reckoning as the incompatability of key-driven and listing technologies proved insurmountable.

The Burroughs Machine

(Burroughs pic) The original Burroughs machine was issued patents #388,116 and #388,118 on Aug 21, 1888. However, it appears that it had some design flaws and the first 50 produced are said to have been destroyed by their inventor (certainly a pity for future collectors).

Anyone gazing for the first time upon one of these stately late Victorian devices cant help but be impressed. The massive frame and thick plate glass sides were certain to reassure depositors and convey a sense of down-to-earth rock-solid stability. And when the bank teller would set the $$ amount into the keyboard, crank the handle and all could see the marvelous mechanism at work as the figures listed onto the paper tape... well, it must have been quite a show.

(Burro stand) It would seem that most buyers of these machines were banks and other "counter service" businesses where the machine would reside at a fixed location. However, when they were needed elsewhere in the office or shop, it was no small task to move their massive bulk. One solution was to mount them atop extraordinarily sturdy wheeled stands capable of being raised to move and lowered to provide a firm footing.

Over the next half century, Burroughs was destined to dominate the (front office) adding machine market while warding off a variety of competitors while Felt & Tarrant's Comptograph would prove only a minor annoyance.

Other Early Adding Machines

Burroughs' many competitors in the adding machine market, included Dalton with their novel 2-row 10-key keyboard, the Monarch with the now-familiar "square" 10-key layout, the Barrett, the Brennan the Remington, the Sundstrand and, a late but potent entry, Victor Adding Machine Co. Dispite the many challenges, Burroughs continued as a major player long after its machines had been "bested" by competitors.

The Victor

The company, established in 1919 to market a non-lister, quickly shifted its production to a "true" adding machine with the addition of a printing mechanism.
(Victor 210)This original Model 210 sold well and later models appeared sporting additional function keys culminating in the 1930's Model 500 electric. As bulky as they now seem, these early Victors were lighter, simpler and cheaper than the well established Burroughs machines and proved to be a major source of competition.

Johantgen, the original inventor and designer of this early line, died in April of 1932 and it appears that he was not to be replaced for six years of this economically depressed era.

In March of 1938, Victor hired Thomas O. Mehan (creator of the original Brennan machine) to replace Johantgen.
(Victor 600-700) No man to waste time, Mehan promptly designed the model 600, a lightweight, full keyboard machine that had no dial-wheel register, thereby eliminating about half the parts. The model 700 with its 10-key keyboard, however retained the register and still had only one third the parts of the older design! Today's electronic calcs are all of the serial entry type (10 or more keys) and require a register for visual confirmation regardless of whether a printer is present or not. Note that the non-obsolete full keyboard model could omit the register when coupled with a printer. Nobody's fool, this Tom Mehan.

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