Friday, April 8, 2011

Calculating Wheels of Fortune

A Pascaline, signed by you-know-who
Well, it's tax season, isn't it - and we're all having a good time with budgets and receipts and all kinds of fun math. And when you're working on those taxes, think for a moment of the teenage math whiz who invented the first mechanical calculator. Yes, 17th century mathematician and all-around Clever Fellow Blaise Pascal invented what he modestly called the Pascaline in 1642 - at age nineteen.

The very first modern calculator, with push buttons, was the 1902 Dalton Adding Machine. I don't think Mr. Dalton autographed any of those, though.
Mechanical Wages Calculator Pop Mech Mar 1906
Popular Mechanics, March 1906

There were other people inventing calculators, too. And it's a good thing that we don't have to sit at that spinning wheel budget calculator from 1906, over on the left, in order to get the finances done. For one thing, that just isn't going to fit in my living room. And for another, I've read the description about seventeen times and I'm still not sure what you're supposed to do with all the bands of celluoid and whatnot. Do you think people actually used this sort of thing?

Celluloid Calculator Pop Mech May 1909
Popular Mechanics, May 1909
And then there's the pocket sized wheel - they liked circular calculators back in the good old days, I guess. Meet Chandler's Adding and Subtracting Scale, which you could buy for a dollar in 1909. It was the cutting edge budgeting tool for "mechanical engineers, draughtsmen, students, electrical engineers, civil engineers, machinists [and] shopkeepers." It did come in a "handsome leather case," which is nice. And I suppose it would help you balance your checkbook and so on. But I'm still glad there are easier ways to figure out your financial life now.

Still, maybe I could make room for the spinning-wheel calculator somewhere on the back porch. I could do the taxes and spin some wool at the same time!


vanilla said...

Hah! Congress has a spinning wheel calculator-- they keep spinning wool to pull over our eyes instead of calculating a budget.

Bill said...

Vanilla may be on the right track.
That big-wheel calculator is enchanting. Imagine working with one of those all day. Reminds me of the penny-farthing design in bicycles.

John | Retro Programming said...

This might sound strange, but I actually collect mechanical calculators, slide rules etc.

I'd love to have a Curta, but they're out of my price range :-(

Marcheline said...

I need that thingie. With the wheelie-do's. Need. It.