Caroline Winter

Once made equal to man, the woman becomes his superior.

On 12 April 1859, a certain mysterious person, named C. Winter, of Piqua, from the county of Miami and the State of Ohio, received the 3-page US patent №23637 for Improved Adding-Machine, which was the fourth in the USA keyboard adder, after the machines of Parmelee, Castle and Nutz, and seventh in the world, after the machines of White, Torchi, and Schwilgué.

What makes this simple adding machine (in fact, a single column adding device. i.e. suitable for adding columns of numbers) a remarkable one is the fact, that (according to my personal investigation) its constructor is a woman, thus this machine is the first and the only mechanical calculator, devised by a woman. This remarkable lady was Caroline Winter from Piqua, a small town on the Great Miami River in southwest Ohio, developed along with the Miami and Erie Canal construction between 1825 and 1845.

Patent drawing of Caroline Winter's machine
Patent drawing of Caroline Winter’s machine (US patent No. 23637)

Almost nothing is known about the inventor of this machine—Caroline Winter. She was mentioned in the business directories for Piqua in 1859-60 and 1860-61 as the owner of a general store in the town. There is a tombstone in the Piqua’s Cedar Hill Cemetery of Caroline Winters, born in 1816, died on 8 Jan 1899 in Lima, Allen County, Ohio, at the home of her daughter—Amelia (Winters) Stein (1848-1932).

No doubt, Caroline Winter devised this machine to facilitate the tedious calculations in her store and trade business, as it is specified in the patent “It will be perceived that by the use of this machine figures may be added rapidly and always with perfect correctness.” Interestingly, the witnesses of her patent—Augustin Thoma and John B. Larger probably also significantly contributed to the creation of her machine. Note: Both of them were emigrants from Germany, as it was a large part of Piqua’s population in the middle of the 19th century. Caroline Winter was most probably also an emigrant from Germany because, in the United States Index to Passenger Arrivals, we can find two records (from 1833 and 1835) for women named Caroline Winter arriving in the USA from Germany.

John B. (Baptiste) Larger was a wealthy Piqua merchant (b. 1828 in Fellering, Departement du Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France), who unfortunately get killed young, when in early 1862 volunteered 32nd Regiment of Ohio Infantry to take part in Civil War, and was shot by a sniper in May 1862, while in camp.

Augustin (August, Augustus) Thoma (b. 3 Aug 1819 in Kappel (Lenzkirch), Baden, Germany, d. 30 Dec 1899 in Piqua, OH) was the founder of a successful jeweler’s business in Piqua (est. 1838), which was conducted by his descendants and survived up to 2010. He landed in New York at the age of 13 in 1832, served as an apprentice to a watchmaker, learned the trade, and in 1838 moved to Piqua to found his own jewelry business. Admittedly, Thoma was not only a good jeweler and merchant, but also a skillful instrument maker, and civic leader. He is a holder of three US patents—for a Jewelers Tool (pat. №67462 from 1867-08-06), for a Watch Jeweling Tool (№70049 from 1867-10-22), and for a Watch Maker Tool (№120618 from 1871-11-07), so we could easily imagine, that he was somehow involved in the construction of the Winter’s machine. Interestingly, Thoma had a daughter, named Caroline.

Winter's Keyboard Adder
Front view of the machine of Winter (© 2009 by Auction Team Breker, Koeln, Germany,

In contrast to the first US keyboard calculating machines (these of Parmelee and Castle), the machine of Caroline Winter survived to the present, in the form of the Original U.S. Patent Model (up to 1880, the Patent Office required inventors to submit a model with their patent application). At the beginning of our century, the device was a property of Auction Team Breker, Koeln, Germany (see the photos below) and was restored and sold in an auction in 2009 for $46480 to Arithmeum Museum in Bonn, Germany (I guess Auction Team Breker could eventually get a much better price if they knew my assumption that this is the first (and only) mechanical calculator, devised by a woman 🙂 Arithmeum recently uploaded a 3D animated video made by a student of Computer Science, showing the functionality of the machine in detail and also giving an impression of its operation and aesthetics (see Arithmeum video on Winter’s machine).

The size of the machine is 27 x 22 x 25 cm. The box is made from oak, with ivory key taps and two dial faces on the plate on top of the registers. The base part of the internal calculating mechanism is the big ratchet wheel (marked with K on the patent drawing), which is provided with 100 teeth, a smaller ratchet wheel (n, for counting hundreds), bevel-wheels j and i, pawls s and z, cord o, and pulley P. The dial plate on top of the box has two dials: a big dial B, divided into 100 divisions, and a smaller dial for counting hundreds C, which is within the big dial, and is divided into 6 divisions, thus the calculating capacity of the machine is up to 699.

Winter's adding machine 1859 rear view
Rear view of the machine of Winter (© 2009 by Auction Team Breker, Cologne, Germany,

The device has a resetting mechanism, presented by the lever (marked with c), which has its fulcrum at c’, slotted to embrace the shaft h, having a groove around it at the point of contact with the lever. d represents a spring secured to lever c, which serves to raise it again after being depressed.

The adding device of Caroline Winter doesn’t have a tens carry mechanism, and in fact, it doesn’t need it, because the smaller ratchet wheel (counting hundreds), rotates simultaneously with (and proportionally to) the bigger ratchet wheel (counting 1-99). However, when adding multidigit numbers, tens carry operations must be done manually, as it is described in the patent application.

Winter machine’s use of an elementary switching latch mechanism is characteristic since this mechanism had only been used in very few calculating machines before, for example, those made by Jean-Baptiste Schwilgué.