Archibald Stephenson

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Archibald Stephenson (1844-1913)
Archibald Stephenson (1844-1913)

On 25 March 1873 Archibald Milton Stephenson (1844-1913), a railroad company agent (meanwhile performing tours as a traveling salesman) of Manteno, a village in Kankakee County, Illinois, took out a 17 years US patent №137107 for Adding Machine (see the lower patent drawing). Despite its very simple construction and operation, Stephenson’s adding device and its analogs were perhaps actively being sold as late as 1929, a period of 56 years!

The original Stephenson’s Adding Machine is a four-wheeled stylus-operated column adder (this means that you can only add single digits to its total, and when you want to add a list of larger numbers you used it to add them one single column of digits at a time) with a rectangular wooden base and an automatic tens carry, made by wood, paper and brass. Measurements of the device are: 2 cm x 26.6 cm x 9 cm. The patent model of Stephenson’s Adder survived to our time and is kept now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution (see the lower image).

The patent drawing of Stephenson's adding machine
The patent drawing of Stephenson’s adding machine
The patent model of Stephenson's adding machine (© Smithsonian Institution)
The patent model of Stephenson’s adder (© Smithsonian Institution)

Four adjacent rotating wheels are inset in the wooden base, with a metal cover that fits over them. The three small wheels on the right each have a metal arm pivoted at their centers and ten evenly spaced indentations around the edge. The digits from 0 to 9 are marked on the cover just outside each of these wheels. The numbers increase counter-clockwise going around the first and third wheels and clockwise going around the second wheel. The two middle wheels also have ten pins arranged just inside the indentations. The pins of one wheel are linked to the arm of the wheel to the right of it. The fourth, leftmost, wheel is larger and has 20 indentations and 20 pins. The indentations are numbered from 0 to 19 going counter-clockwise. There are no detents shown, which could make the actions erratic.

Stephenson probably never made any adders to the original design (besides the patent model). For the production devices, he modified it heavily, reducing the number of dials to only two, and adding a single detent with a leaf spring (to stop the leftmost wheel from turning further than one position when the tooth from the rightmost wheel engages it).

The two-wheeled version of Stephenson's Adding Machine
The two-wheeled version of Stephenson’s Adding Machine

The two-wheeled versions were sold at least up to the end of the 1920s under a number of different names (Perfection Adding Machine, Universal Adding Machine, Mindling Vest Pocket Adding Machine, Tel-O-Flash Adder, etc.), made by different manufacturers (including the Stephenson’s own workshop in Joliet, Illinois), which are sold at the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century for $1-$2.

In the two-wheeled production version (see the nearby photo), the user may enter only single digits in the right wheel. There is also an automatic carry to the left wheel, which registers up to 19 so that the maximum sum is 199. The Stephenson’s adder is a modest device, both in size, capacity, and presumably price, but it seems to have been an aid for people adding long columns of figures using paper and pencil.

The device is only 3.5 inches long, 2-3 mm thick, and is constructed entirely of brass. Numbers are entered by means of a pen. Reverse turn (i.e. subtraction) is not possible. Reset is done by manual forward rotation to 0.

Biography of Archibald Stephenson

Archibald Milton Stephenson was born on 2 June 1844, near a creek called Brown’s Wonder near Lebanon, Indiana, northwest of Indianapolis. He was the son of John A. Stephenson (born 1814) and Jane Jamison Stephenson (1820-1860), both natives of Kentucky. Archibald’s grandfather, Robert Stephenson, Jr. (1781-1859), and his numerous family (he had 3 children with his first wife Martha McAnulty, and 8 children with his second wife Sarah McDole) left Kentucky and settled in Clinton Township, Boone County, in 1833. It is believed the family left Kentucky because of their disapproval of slavery.

in the middle 1830s John Stephenson and two of his brothers—Robert (1806–1861), and William (1815–1901), became early settlers of Lebanon, IN, as John is said to have been named constable in 1836, while his brother Robert was elected justice of the peace. John Stephenson married Jane Jamison in 1839, and they had three children: Elvira Ann (1840–1909), Mary E. (1842–1908), and Archibald Milton (1844-1913).

In 1860 the entire family of John Stephenson moved to Tolono, Illinois. In 1863 Archibald Stephenson started his career as an agent of the Illinois Central Railroad at Peotone, Illinois. Later, he became a billing clerk. In 1865 he became a traveling salesman and left Illinois, making a complete tour of the US, visiting every state and territory.

Upon returning to Illinois a couple of years later, Stephenson established in Beardston and became an agent of Rockford, Rock Island & St. Louis Railroad. In the early 1870s, we found him in Manteno, Illinois, where he patented his adding device, but at some point he returned to Beardston, where he remained until 1879, working as an agent of the railroad company, meanwhile performing several tours as a traveling salesman.

In 1879 Stephenson left the railroad business and moved to Wilmington, then to Braidwood and Braceville, Illinois, where he was engaged in the newspaper and publishing business, which he left in 1892, making another trip, covering again every US state and territory.

In 1895 Stephenson set up in Joliet, Illinois, starting work as a printer, then as a solicitor, and again as a traveling agent. In 1906 he established his own printing company.

Archibald Stephenson married in 1865 to Frances Almeda Stephenson, born Wilkens (1846–1935), and they had four children (three daughters: Eva Mae (1872-1950), Ura May (b. 1873), and Alta M. (1876-1929), and a son—Francis A. (1884-1906). Archibald Stephenson belonged to a Masonic Lodge and was a passionate republican.

Archibald Milton Stephenson died on 13 September 1913, of a stroke, at St. Luke’s Hospital, Utica, New York, while on one of his selling trips as the representative of an adding machine company, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Joliet.