Joseph Turck

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.

Joseph Abraham Valentine Turck (1870-1956)
Joseph Turck (1870-1956)

Joseph Abraham Valentine Turck (1870-1956) was a famous figure in the world of mechanical calculators. He is the author of some 40 patents in this area, the first (for adding machine and register) received in 1899 (pat. №US622091), and the last in 1956. Some of his patents are received together with Dorr Felt, whose company Felt&Tarant Turck joined in 1911. Turck worked as a chief designer of the company for over 20 years and retired as late as 1953, marking at least 42 years of devoted service. Turck also wrote the famous book Origin of Modern Calculating Machines, published in 1921, used as a source for this site.

In the late 1890s Joseph Turck designed a multi-column key-driven calculating machine, which he patented in 1903. Later on, this machine was manufactured under the name Mechanical Accountant from 1902 until the mid-1920s by the company Mechanical Accountant Co. from Providence, Rhode Island (Turck assigned three patents to the company, and worked for it for several years).

The Mechanical Accountant machine of Turck
The Mechanical Accountant machine of Joseph Turck

The machine was manufactured under two variants—Mechanical Accountant Simplex and Mechanical Accountant Duplex (see the nearby photo). The difference between the two variants is, that in the Duplex variant can be used multiple rows at a time, which is impossible in the Simplex variant of the machine (in Simplex the simultaneous operation of two columns where a carry is involved results in loss of the carry).

The machine (overall dimensions: 14.2 cm x 21.8 cm x 32.3 cm) has two rows of digital wheels, which can be seen in the row of windows in the upper part of the box. In the upper row can be seen the last entered by the keyboard number, while in the lower row, can be seen the result. The big horizontal key below the digital keys (just like the Space key on a modern keyboard) is used for resetting the upper row of wheels. The lower (entry) row can be reset by means of a crank in the right part of the box.

Biography of Joseph Turck

Joseph Abraham Valentine Turck (named after his grandfather), was born on 1 August 1870, in Camden, New York, to Joseph Hiram Turck (1839-1926), and Mary Carpenter Turck (1844-1915). Joseph Hiram was a physician, born in Athens, N. Y. on 19 March 1839, to Joseph Abraham Valentine Turck (1811-1893) and Emily Matilda Dobson (born 1817), who spent the greater part of his life, practicing medicine in Elmira, N. Y., where he died on 21 Jan. 1926. He married on 9 July 1862 to Mary Carpenter Spelman, born on 15 Dec. 1844 in Providence, Rhode Island, to James Esdel Spelman and Huldah Spelman (Pond), and they had two children: Harriet Hopper (b. 1863), and Joseph Abraham. Joseph Hiram and Mary divorced when Joseph Abraham was a child, and he spent his childhood under his mother (who worked as a dressmaker) in her hometown, Providence.

Joseph Abraham Turck married on 31 October 1904, in Providence, to Florence Margaret (Meta) Heise (born on 24 Oct. 1884, died in July 1963), the daughter of Augustus H. Heise and Louisa C. Heise, and they had two sons and three daughters: Joseph Abraham Valentine Turck Jr. (b. 1911), Marie (b. 1913), Elizabeth Florence (1916-1962), Norman Abraham (1918-1977), and Anita (1925-1972).

The Mechanical Accountant, as Turck named his calculating machine, was produced in Providence into the 1920s. However, Turck chose to leave Providence Mfg and Tool Company, the makers of the Mechanical Accountant, to take a position at Felt & Tarrant. He would spend the rest of his career there. Turck held over 40 Comptometer patents and was still active after his retirement in the 1950s.

The remarkable engineer and inventor Joseph Turck died on 11 October 1956, in Dade, Florida.