Edmund Barbour

Edmund Dana Barbour (1841-1925)
Edmund Dana Barbour (1841-1925) (Source: Harvard University Archives, HUGFP 125.32, Box 1, Folder Barbour)

Everything is hard before it is easy.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Edmund Dana Barbour (1841-1925), a businessman, philanthropist, and genealogist from Boston, Massachusetts, is a remarkable figure in the world of mechanical calculators. In 1872, he took out two very interesting US patents for calculating devices (U.S. patents №130404 and №133188), describing a machine, which seems to be the first representative of so-called direct-multiplication devices. In the same 1872 Barbour received also a patent in Great Britain (GR187202437), and in France (Brevet N°96190).

In his second patent, Barbour not only improved and simplified his first machine, but also provided a simple printing mechanism. Moreover, in 1875 he patented a new machine (U.S. patent №168080), not a direct-multiplication one, but with a more complex printing device. Barbour seems to be one of the first people (after Johann Müller and Charles Babbage), who designed a printing mechanism for his mechanical calculator.

There is no doubt, that Barbour’s machines were simply too advanced for the time (beginning of the 1870s), so they had not been commercialized and remained only on paper. Nevertheless, they deserve our attention because they included some extremely interesting technical solutions and innovations and proved the great constructor imagination of the inventor.

Almost all early calculating machines carried out multiplication as a form of repeated addition. To multiply, say, by sixteen, one set the carriage at its rightmost position, turned the operating crank six times, shifted the carriage one position to the left, and turned the crank once. In direct-multiplication calculating machines, the operator had only to perform n operations when the multiplier was an n digit number.

Let’s start our review with an examination of the first direct-multiplication device of Barbour, and obviously the first of its kind in the world, using the first patent drawing (see the image below).

The patent drawing of the first machine of Barbour
The patent drawing of the first calculating machine of Barbour

The accumulator mechanism of the machine, including the numeral wheels and their devices for transferring the tens, is mounted in a sliding carriage at the top of the machine (see Fig. 1 of the patent drawing), which may be operated by the hand-knob. Extending through the bottom of the carriage are a series of pinions, one for each ordinal numeral wheel, and connected thereto by a ratchet and pawl action. The pinions are each so arranged as to be operative with a gear rack beneath the carriage when the carriage is slid back and forth.

Thus the wheels received action from one direction of the motion of the carriage and remain idle during the movement in the other direction. The degree of motion so received would, of course, depend upon the number of teeth in the racks below encountered by the pinions.

The gear racks employed by Barbour were numerous, one being provided for each multiple of the nine digits, arranged in groups constituting nine sets mounted on the drums marked B (see Fig. 4). Each of these sets contains nine mutilated gear racks, the arrangement of the teeth of which serve as the multiples of the digit they represent.

The teeth of the racks representing the multiples of the digits were arranged in groups of units and tens. For instance: 4×6=24, the rack representing the multiple of 4×6 would have two gear teeth in the tens place and four gear teeth in the units place, and likewise for the eighty other combinations.

Adding the multiples of the digits by overlapping the orders was accomplished by a very simple means, the arrangement of the racks being such that as the carriage was moved from left to right the numeral wheel pinions would move over the units rack teeth of a multiplying rack of one order and the tens rack teeth of a multiplying rack in the next lower order.

By close examination the reader will note from the drawings that the lower one of the sets of multiplying gear racks shown on the drum B, to the left in Fig. 4, is the series of one times the nine digits, the next set or series of racks above are the multiplying racks for the multiples of two, the lowest rack in that series having but two teeth, the next higher rack four teeth, the next rack six and the next eight.

So far no multiple of two has amounted to more than a units ordinal place, therefore these racks operate on a lower-order numeral wheel, and are all placed to the right of the center on the drum B, but the next rack above for adding the multiple of two times five requires that one shall be added to a higher order, and is therefore placed on the left side of the center of the drum.

Thus it will be noted that by reading the number of teeth on the right of each rack as units and those on the left as tens, that running anti-clockwise around the drum, each series of multiplying racks show multiples of the digits from one to four, it being obvious that the racks for adding the multiples of the higher digits are on the opposite side of the drums.

From the layout of the racks it is also obvious that the starting or normal position of the carriage would be with the numeral wheel pinions of each order in the center of each drum, so that as the carriage is moved to the right, the units wheel will receive movement from the units teeth of the rack on the units drum, while the tens wheel will receive movement from the units teeth of the tens drum and the tens teeth of the units drum, and so on with the higher wheels, as each numeral wheel pinion except the units passes from the center of one drum to the center of the next lower and engages such teeth as may be presented.

Each of the drums B is independently mounted on the pivot shaft C, and is provided with the hand-operating setting-racks I and E, co-acting with the gears R and D, to help in bringing the proper racks into engage-able positions with the pinions of the accumulator numeral or total wheels.

The hand-knob G, Fig. 4, and the gears f, fast to a common shaft, furnish a means for operating the whole series of drums when the right multiple series of racks of each drum have been brought into position.

As an example of the operation of the Barbour calculator, let us assume that 7894 is to be multiplied by 348. The first drum to the right would be moved by its setting racks until the series of multiplying racks for adding the multiples of four are presented, the next higher drum to the left would be set until the series of multiplying racks for adding the multiples of nine were presented, the next higher drum would be set for the multiples of eight, and the next higher drum, or the fourth to the left, would be set for the multiples of seven. Then the hand-knob G, first turned to register zero, may be shoved to the right, engaging the pinions f with the gears D, and by turning the knob to register (8), the first figure in the multiplier, the racks are then set ready to move the numeral wheels to register as follows: The drum to the right or the units drum has presented the multiplying rack for adding the multiple of 8×4, thus it will present three teeth for the tens wheel and two teeth for the units wheel. The tens drum presenting the rack for adding the multiple of 8×9 will present seven teeth for the hundreds wheel and two for the tens wheel. The hundreds drum presenting the rack for adding the multiple of 8×8 will present six teeth for the thousands wheel and four for the hundreds wheel.

The rack of the thousands drum representing the multiple of 8×7 will present five teeth for the tens of thousands wheel and six for the thousands wheel. Thus by sliding the carriage to the right one space, the numeral wheel pinions will engage first the units teeth on one drum, then the tens teeth on the next lower drum and cause the wheels to register 63152. The operator, by turning the knob G to register (4), the next figure of the multiplier, turns the drum so that a series of multiplying racks representing multiples of 4 times each figure in the multiplicand are presented, so that by sliding the carriage another space to the right, the multiple of 4×7894 will be added to the numeral wheels. The operator then turns the knob to register three and moves the carriage one more space to the right, adding the multiple of 3×7894 to the wheels in the next higher ordinal series, resulting in the answer of 2747112.

The first calculating machine of Edmund D. Barbour (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)
The patent model of first machine of Edmund Barbour (© Smithsonian Institution)

The U.S. Patent Office model (up to 1880, the Patent Office required inventors to submit a model with their patent application) of the first calculating machine of Edmund Barbour’s is still preserved in the National Museum of American History (see the nearby photo).

The patent model is a greatly simplified version of the patented machine, with overall measurements: 14 cm x 41 cm x 13 cm. It consists of eight wooden cylinders that rotate on a crosswise shaft inside a wooden box. Each cylinder has around its edge 90 rows of cog-teeth (they have not actually been constructed, only shown as pen marks on a slip of paper that extends around the first cylinder). Each set of nine cog-teeth represents the multiples of a digit (zero multiples correspond to blank spaces).

The machine is set to a given multiplier by rotating all the cylinders with a knob at one end of the machine (this knob is also missing). The first cylinder has on its left side a wooden spur gear with 90 teeth. The other cylinders would have such gears, but they are uncut. Pulling out a wooden toothed rack below the gear advances it one-ninetieth of a revolution for each unit on the rack. Hence the operator can set a multiplicand.

A movable carriage of brass on the top of the machine is supposed to be linked to the cylinders, so that when the carriage is pulled one unit to the right, the recording wheels advance in proportion to the figure represented on the edge of the cylinders (in the model, the cylinders are not linked to the sliding carriage).

Now let’s examine the second patent (see the lower drawing) for an improved and simplified variant of the first machine with a printing mechanism.

The patent drawing of the second machine of Barbour
The patent drawing of the second machine of Edmund Barbour

The printing device for recording calculations was of the most simple nature, allowing only for the printing of totals and sub-totals. Its manipulation consisted of placing a piece of paper under a hinged platen and depressing the platen by hand in the same manner that a timestamp is used. The ink had to be daubed on the type by a hand operation to make legible the impressions of the type.

Fig. 1 represents the base of the machine, while Fig. 4 shows a carriage which, when in place, is superimposed above the base as illustrated in Figs. 3 and 5.

The operation of the machine is performed by first pulling out the slides B (shown in Fig. 1), which set the digital degrees of actuation of each order; and, second, by operating the hand-lever K, from its normal position at 1, if it is desired to add, or to any of the other numbers in accordance to the value of the multiplier if multiplication is desired.

The movement of the handle K, from one figure to the other, gives a reciprocation to the carriage, so that for each figure a reciprocation will take place.

Each of slides B, has a series of nine gear racks; each rack has a number of teeth ranging progressively from 1 tooth for the first gear rack to 9 teeth for the last rack, thus the pulling out of the slides B will present one of the gear racks in line to act upon the accumulator mechanism of the carriage as the carriage is moved back and forth over it.

The accumulator mechanism consists of the register wheels M1 and M2 and the type wheels M3 and M4, mounted on a common arbor and a carry transfer device between the wheels of each order.

Operating between the accumulator wheels and the racks of plate B are a pair of gears, one in the form of a lantern wheel loosely mounted on the accumulator wheel shaft but connected thereto by a ratchet wheel and pawl connection; the other, a small pinion meshing with the lantern wheel on a separate axis, protrudes below the carriage into the path of the racks.

Thus as the carriage is moved by the reciprocating device connected with the hand-lever K, the pinions of the accumulator will engage whatever racks have been set and the numeral wheels and type wheels will be operated to give the result.

The numeral and type wheels have two sets of figures, one of which is used for addition and multiplication, while the other set runs in the opposite direction for negative computation or subtraction and division.

A plate arranged with sight apertures covers the numeral or register wheels, while the type wheels are left uncovered to allow a hinged platen F, mounted on the top of the carriage (see Fig. 3), to be swung over on top of them and depressed.

Attached to the platen F, are a series of spring clips d, under which strips of paper may be slipped (as shown by D, in Fig. 4), and which serves to hold the paper while an impression is taken.

A part of the patent model of the second machine of Barbour (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)
A part of the patent model of the second machine of Barbour (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)

It seems Barbour submitted to the U.S. Patent Office only a part of his second calculating machine’s model, which is still preserved in the National Museum of American History (see the nearby photo).

The device (overall measurements: 2.5 cm x 41 cm x 9.1 cm) has a rectangular wooden base with nine grooves in it. The rightmost groove contains a rectangular brass plate with nine rows of teeth in it. The first row has one tooth, the second, two, and so forth. This plate has a metal handle, marked with digits from 1 to 9, that can be pulled forward to enter a digit.

To the right of the grooved wooden base and its metal plate is another brass plate on which is mounted a mechanism for controlling a slide that is supposed to move over the rectangular plate, carrying out desired arithmetic operations. In this machine, multiplication is carried out by repeated motion of the slide, rather than in a single motion as in Barbour’s first machine.

The patent drawing of the third machine of Barbour
The patent drawing of the third machine of Edmund Barbour

The third patent of Barbour, applied for in 1873 and granted in 1875, described not a direct-multiplication machine, but a calculating machine with a more complex printing device (see the nearby patent drawing).

The U.S. Patent Office model of the third calculating machine of Edmund Barbour is still preserved in the National Museum of American History (see the photo below).

It is a small brass machine with an overall measurement: 5.5 cm x 19 cm x 12.2 cm, which has a rectangular base on which is mounted crosswise a rotating cylinder. The cylinder has nine crosswise grooves that fill somewhat less than a quarter of the surface. Metal bands separate the grooves into columns, and each column has a set of nine sliding markers that fit in the grooves. Sliding these markers sets a number. There also is an array of pins around the cylinder, which is used in carrying. There are gears on both sides of the cylinder.

The registering mechanism has an open frame that holds three rods. One rod holds four type wheels, and the other two rods hold four gears each. Each type wheel has numbers from 0 to 9.

The third calculating machine of Edmund D. Barbour (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)
The third calculating machine of Edmund D. Barbour (© Smithsonian Institution)

Biography of Edmund Dana Barbour

Edmund Dana Barbour (1841-1925)
Edmund Dana Barbour (1841-1925) (Source: Harvard University Archives, HUGFP 125.32, Box 1, Folder Barbour)

Edmund Dana Barbour, the youngest of six children of Oliver Barbour (1796–1866), and Mary Hutchinson (1800–1857), was born on 11 August 1841, at Henchman Lane, in the North End of Boston.

Edmund’s father, Oliver H. Barbour (12 August 1796–4 December 1866), a tailor by occupation, was an heir (7th generation) of the glorious family of Capt. George Barbour (born 28 Dec. 1613 in Fessingfield, England, died 13 April 1685 in Medfield, New England) the Puritan leader of Dedham and Medfield, who came to America in 1635, was a selectman and town clerk, Deputy to the General Court, and chief military officer of his district.

On 25 December 1821, Oliver Barbour married in Boston Mary Hutchinson (25 December 1800–1 September 1857), daughter of Henry Hutchinson (1763–1833), sailmaker in Boston, and Susannah (Leach) Hutchinson (1765–1807). The family had six children—Mary Elisabeth, Susannah Leach, Henry, Mary, Mary Angeline, and Edmund.

John Murray Forbes
John Murray Forbes

Edmund Barbour was educated in the public schools of Boston, and while a youth came under notice and entered the employ of the distinguished Boston railroad magnate and merchant, John Murray Forbes (1813-1898), see the nearby image. In 1862, during the Civil War, Forbes, who was a very active and influential abolitionist, recommended young Barbour to be used as a wartime messenger as “a young man who got things done”. Through the influence of John Forbes, Barbour secured in 1863 a position in the company of Russel & Co. (Robert Bennet Forbes (1804–1889), the brother of John Forbes, was the head of Russell & Co.)

Russel & Co. was an eminent and prosperous Asiatic commercial house, the largest American trading house in China. Just as his patron John Forbes, who began his career spending 7 years in China, Edmund Barbour at once went to China, spending most of the next 8 years there, and his energy and abilities resulted in his admission as a partner in the firm in 1869. During his years in Asia, he traveled to India, and had numerous exciting and dangerous experiences, among them attacks by pirates and religious fanatics, escapes from the plague, and perils from rebellions and local uprisings (the lower photo pictures the headquarters building of Russel & Co. in Canton, where Barbour served).

Russel and Co. Canton headquarters c. 1880
Russel and Co. Canton headquarters c. 1880

Barbour returned to Boston in 1871 and soon became connected with the large financial operations and railroad business of Forbes. In the early 1870s, he devised and patented his remarkable calculating machines. Barbour continued with his successful acquisition of money (e.g. he invested successfully in the Bell Telephone Company) until about 1895, having accumulated a fortune of over a million dollars. During the remaining 30 years of his life, he continued with shrewd investing, and his estate was nearly trebled before his death.

Barbour had a large estate in Sharon, Mass., with a dwelling house of Chinese design and a large and valuable collection of Chinese works of art, which unfortunately were burned in 1882. Barbour loved to travel and he made three trips around the world and a score of visits to Europe.

On retiring from active business in 1895 Barbour made extensive research on the genealogy of Barbour and Hutchinson families and wrote a huge manuscript and many genealogical charts. He entered also the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Barbour’s greatest pleasure in later years came in helping those in need. Many young men and women are indebted to him for financial help in securing their education. He financed also a great number of charitable philanthropies, promoted temperance legislation, and helped discharged prisoners. He devised almost the whole of his huge property (on a rough estimate of three million dollars, a huge sum for the time) to several Boston Universities like Harvard College, MIT, and Radcliffe (Barbour’s daughter Mary Ella studied in Radcliffe 1894-1897).

The house of Edmund Barbour in Boston, 344 Beacon Street. The house was acquired by Barbour in 1894, and he continued to live there until his death in 1925. The left photo is the house in early 1880s, shortly after its opening, the right photo is the house (still preserved) in 2014.
The house of Edmund Barbour in Boston, 344 Beacon Street. The house was acquired by Barbour in 1894, and he continued to live there until his death in 1925. The left photo is the house in early 1880s, shortly after its opening, the right photo is the house (still preserved) in 2014.

Edmund Barbour married in Boston, on 23 August 1867, to Mary Therese Ross (born in Lyme, New Hampshire, on 11 January 1841, died in Boston on 11 December 1897), daughter of Samuel Elkins and Ruth (Hews) Ross. The family had four children, but unfortunately only one of them survived childhood—Mary Ella (1870-1954). The only son, Edmund Forbes (1868-1869), and two other daughters Ethel (1881-1884), and Edith (1872-1874) died young.

Edmund Dana Barbour was an extremely positive, kind-hearted, and magnetic man with a handsome, vigorous physique and remarkably strong mental powers. However, since 1920 he rapidly developed serious heart weakness, resulting in his death at his home in Boston, 344 Beacon Street (see the house of Barbour on the nearby images), on 5 March 1925.