James Bassett

In 1909 the young inventor James Hunter Bassett (1888–1932) from Chicago, Illinois, started the production of adding device, quite similar in construction to the earlier Ribbon Adder of Charles Webb. In contrast with Ribbon Adder, however, the device of Bassett (called Bassett Adder) had much better market success (at the beginning of 1915, an ad claimed “Many thousands sold”).

The second modification of Bassett Adder
The second modification of Bassett Adder

Bassett Adder is a continuous band adding machine, which was in production from 1909 till the end of the 1930s. It was a small pocket-sized adder resembling a tobacco tin, with eight digital positions. Its dimensions are: 10,8 x 7,5 x 2,2 cm, the weight is 80 g.

There were at least two models of the Bassett Adder. The first is made entirely of wood, paper, and celluloid. On this simple device, numbers are entered with a stylus by pulling down the perforated bands in each column. The user must pay attention, however. Every band has a black mark between each tenth hole. When pulling down a band using a hole above a black mark, one must remember to add one to the adjacent left column for the carry.

The second Bassett Adder (see the upper image) is more complex. It has a wooden core with celluloid number bands, but it is encased in tin (there are devices with an exterior of sturdy woven paper or treated thin cloth). The second device has an automatic feature to remind users to carry their tens—a red flag appearing in the column to the left signaling when it is necessary to carry.

Basset Adder's ad from 1913
Basset Adder’s ad from 1913

In 1911 Bassett advertised the device in Scientific American magazine as the “Bassett $1.00 adder” sold by J.H. Bassett & Co. of Chicago. In an ad from 1913 (see the nearby image) the inventor claimed “Over 17,000 sold.”, which is a remarkable market success.

Some of the devices, produced by Bassett are inscribed Patent applied for or Patent pending, but Bassett never managed to take a patent for this device (Charles Webb also had problems receiving a patent for his Ribbon Adder, obviously US patent officers were very strict at that time). Besides the company of Bassett, there are at least four other companies, which manufactured and sold the device. It was advertised from 1909 as “Clark’s New Adder,” a product of the Glenn C. Clark Manufacturing Co. of Chicago. In another ad from 1910, it is described as the “$1.00 ADDER,” sold by Commercial Specialities Agency of Chicago. In 1911, it was advertised by Timesaver Co., Chicago, under the name Speed. In the 1920s the device was sold by Johnson Smith & Co. of Racine, Wisconsin.

Biography of James Basset

Very little is known about James Hunter Bassett (also listed as James Francis Bassett). He was born on 13 April 1888, in Chicago, to Dr. Charles Francis Bassett (born 10 Aug. 1851 in Denmark, Iowa—died 1940 in Pasadena, California), a physician, and Clara Dwight Hunter (born Dec. 1864), who married on 27 Apr 1882. James had an elder sister, Enid Dora Bassett (Morse by marriage) (born 15 Feb. 1885—died Aug. 1950).

Bassett family descends from the early settler William Bassett (c. 1590–1667) of Plymouth, a native from Sandwich, Kent, who emigrated to America in 1621 and was involved in many colony governmental activities and business ventures. James Hunter Bassett was a 9th generation descendant of that notorious William Bassett.

James Hunter Bassett died in 1932 in Chicago.