Reuben Rodney James

On 5 November 1878, Reuben Rodney James (1826-1904), a farmer from Rising Sun, Indiana, took out a US Patent №209690 (see the patent of R. R. James) for a simple adding machine, similar to the earlier calculators of his compatriots Jabez Burns, John Ballou, Joseph Harris, and Milton Jeffers. It seems the device never went into production, and only the patent model survived to the present time (property of Smithsonian National Museum).

The patent model of Reuben James' adding machine (© Smithsonian National Museum)
The patent model of Reuben Rodney James’ adding machine (© Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.)

The Reuben James’ adding machine (which he called Automatic Arithmeter) has simple and inexpensive construction. It is a wood, metal, cork and paper device, with overall measurements: 21.5 cm x 20.2 cm x 20.2 cm.

The machine has eight toothed revolving counting wheels, loosely mounted and rotating on a common axis. Around the periphery of each wheel, the digits from 0 to 9 are inscribed repeatedly. Attached to each cylinder is a toothed revolving disc. The device has a wooden case with a tin cover over the wheels. On the cover, next to each wheel, there is a slip of paper labeled with the numbers from 1 to 9. To enter a number, the operator places his finger at the tooth next to the digit on the appropriate paper slip, and rotates forward to a stop on finger-board. The sum appears in slots or apertures in the metal cover, near the top of the machine.

Each counting wheel has four lateral inclines or cams linked to a weighted pawl-lever, to engage the next wheel on the left, so as to carry ten when the numbers added on the wheel on the right exceed ten.

Biography of Reuben Rodney James

Reuben Rodney James was born near Rising Sun, a small town along the Ohio River, in Ohio County, Indiana, United States, on 21 August 1826, to Henry James (1797-1880), native of Maryland, and Rebecca Hatch Athern (1805-1834). Reuben was the first survived child in the family, after Lucian Abram (b. 1824), who died as a baby, and before Ann Eliza (1829-1867), Rebecca Marian (b. 1831) and William (b. 1834). After the early death of his mother Rebecca in August, 1834, his father married again to Amelia Maria Disney (1814-1872) and had four more children.

According to US Census records, Reuben James was a farmer (1850, 1860) and then a proprietor of a woolen mill (1870) in Rising Sun, Indiana.

Reuben James and his fellow Rising Sun resident Mirabeau Norman Lynn (1834-1893) took out a patent (US Patent №238122) for a grain meter in 1881.

In 1857 Reuben Rodney married to Rebecca Moore (1832-1907) and they had six children: Harry (1858-1885), Carrie (b. 1860), Mary Mollie (b. 1863), George Henry (1869-1950), Nellie (b. 1873), and Fanny (b. 1874).

Reuben Rodney James passed away on 25 January 1904, in Rising Sun, Indiana, and was buried at the local Union Cemetery.