William and Hubert Hopkins

Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.
Richard P. Feynman

William Wallace Hopkins (1850-1916)
William Wallace Hopkins (1850-1916)

The Hopkins brothers, William and Hubert, from Saint Louis, are the holders of more than 30 patents for adding machines and calculating mechanisms, mainly for 10-key calculators. Naturally, Hopkins’ remarkable contribution to the field of mechanical calculators had been started as early as the 1870s with the older brother, William Wallace Hopkins (1850-1916).

William Hopkins used to work as a minister, but was interested in mechanics since his youth. Interestingly, there are quite a few ministers and inventors of calculating machines, let’s mention only Wilhelm Schickard, Philipp Matthäus Hahn, Johann Reichold, and Michael Bouchet.

William Hopkins’ first patents were granted in the 1870s, and one of the early patents was namely for an adding machine (pat. No. US203151 from 1878, not for a key-driven, but for a chain-driven device), but he had also patents for other machines. The chain adder was intended for both addition and subtraction and had a carry mechanism. However, the patent does not mention any mechanism for borrowing numbers, which may have discouraged both users and investors. William Hopkins moved to St. Louis in 1885, continuing to invent during those years and trying to find better ways to make an advanced adding machine.

It seems at the end of the 1880s William Hopkins saw the Burroughs Registering Accountant and decided to design a simpler, cheaper, and more sophisticated, but easier-to-use keyboard calculator. In any event, it was in 1890 that Hopkins made his first rough sketches of a printing desktop adding machine. He filed his first patent for a key-driven adding, subtracting, and recording machine on 4 October 1892. The patent (see the patent of Hopkins No. US517383) was granted in March 1894.

William ordered the first model of his keyboard calculator to be built by his brother Hubert and another machinist, and then he showed it to St. Louis patent attorney A.C. Fowler. Fowler was much impressed and, in turn, showed it to officials of the St. Louis Mechanics’ Bank. They thought that the idea had possibilities, but that a commercially successful machine would require a way of setting the place value of digits automatically. Hopkins then designed a set of tabulating or order keys. Operators pushed a key to shift the carriage to the appropriate leftmost position and then started setting digit keys. In the spring of 1891, Hopkins hired James Whitelaw, another St. Louis machinist, to build a model based on his new design. Whitelaw completed it in January 1893 at a cost of 1000 USD, which the stockholders of the Standard Adding Machine Company (a company founded by William in 1892) paid. For the next year or so, Mechanics’ Bank used the machine on a trial basis.

Standard Adding Machine, Model B, from 1907
Standard Adding Machine, Model B, from 1907

Standard Adding Machine Co. became the first company to release to the market a successful 10-key adding machine, but it needed quite a few years to achieve its goals (the first popular model was launched in 1901). In 1903 the company moved to a new building on Spring Avenue, St. Louis. The first model soon became quite popular and was followed by others (see the nearby image). The Standard was the first 10-key, visible printing adding machine to achieve wide distribution.

The machine of Hopkins had only 10 number keys (compared to 81 on the Burroughs machine), subtracted as well as added, and printed the numbers entered and the results on a paper tape visible to the operator. The Hopkins’ original construction won an international grand prize during the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair and was heralded as a modern life preserver in an office journal.

The ten keys are placed in one horizontal row, underneath which are the nine tabulator keys. In order to enter a number, the corresponding tabulator key must first be pressed. For example, if the amount to be added has four places, then first the tabulator key marked 4 must be pressed. The amount is entered from left to right. For example, if the amount is 743.10, then the digits 7, 4, 3, 1, 0 are typed one after another exactly as they would be typed on a typewriter.

Standard Adding Machine
Standard Adding Machine

The machine was produced in relatively large numbers between 1903 and 1913 (e.g. by the beginning of 1905, the company had already sold over 3400 machines), and initially, Standard Adding Machine Co. prospered and achieved a big success because its machines were much less expensive to manufacture and simpler to use. However, later several other companies released more advanced machines. By 1907, the company sold models that would add fractions as well as whole numbers and that would subtract, multiply, and divide as well as add. Prices ranged from $185 to $250.32. When in 1916 William Hopkins died, Standard Adding Machine Co. began to decline, to be closed in 1921.

In the early 20th century, as William Hopkins took out patents for brakes, his younger brother Hubert turned his attention to inventing a combination adding machine and typewriter. In January 1902, he demonstrated his quite advanced 10-key adding-printing machine to St. Louis patent attorney John D. Rippey and to James L. Dalton, a successful merchant from Poplar Bluff, Missouri. They were sufficiently impressed that Dalton agreed to become president of the Addograph Manufacturing Co., which was established in St. Louis that December. Rippey set about applying for patents. Simon Lederer served as vice president of Addograph and Hopkins as treasurer. However, after the patent application was filed in 1902 and 1903, a lengthy patent infringement suit was initiated by the competitors, so the patent was granted as late as 1912 (patent No. US1039130). Meanwhile, Addograph Manufacturing Co. disintegrated (Lederer and Hopkins were hired by a competitor), so the patent was implemented in the quite popular Dalton adding machine, which proved to be the most important of the printing, 10-key adding machines.

Moon–Hopkins billing machine
Moon–Hopkins billing machine

William Hopkins didn’t take part in Addograph, but he had his own interest in combining an adding machine and a typewriter. In May 1904, he applied for a patent for a “multiplying and typewriting machine” (Patent #844519, granted 19 February 1907). With the backing of John C. Moon, president of the Moon Brothers Carriage Company of St. Louis, William and Hubert Hopkins organized the Moon–Hopkins Manufacturing Company of Missouri. Hubert Hopkins took out a series of patents for machines that would type letters, add, subtract, multiply, and round off the results of multiplication to the nearest cent (the key pressed for this last operation was known as the “decimating” key). In 1906 or 1907, the firm reorganized as the Moon–Hopkins Billing Machine Company and soon began production of a remarkable calculator—Moon–Hopkins billing machine.

Moon–Hopkins machine might well be described as the apotheosis of St. Louis adding machine maker’s art. It was a large, heavy, glass-encased machine that was designed specifically to do the routine work of billing. For this purpose, it not only carried out the functions of adding machines but incorporated other functions. Like Burroughs, it added and printed the results of the addition. Like the Standard and the Dalton, it had only 10-digit keys for entering terms to be added. As with the Dalton, digits were entered only by pressing digit keys, with no separate key or keys required to indicate the place value. As with the Universal, one could type out several parallel columns of numbers. Indeed, on the Moon–Hopkins, the digits added or multiplied could be printed going across the page rather than in columns. The machine initially was driven by a hand crank. However, by 1911, it came equipped with an electric drive. Moreover, the Moon–Hopkins combined an adding machine with a typewriter and also could multiply digits together directly, rather than by repeated addition.

Biography of William Hopkins

William Wallace Hopkins was born on 16 November 1850, in Boone County, Indiana, USA, to Albert Hopkins (1818-1905), a farmer, and Margaret Ann Caldwell-Hopkins, both from Nicholas, Kentucky. Margaret was born in Carlisle, Nicholas, Kentucky, on 21 December 1830 to Alexander Caldwell (1805-1865) and Martha Coshow (1802-1894). Albert and Margaret spent their last years at the house of his son William in St Louis, Missouri, where Albert passed away on 21 Apr. 1905, and his wife on 19 May 1907.

William was the first child of the family, and he had four brothers—Edgar Thomas (1854-1928), Hubert (1859-1930), Charles (1864-1865), and Frank (1869-1922), and three sisters—Martha Alice (1852-1914), Myra Vietta (1857-1939), and Addie (1862-1877).

William was raised on the farm of his parents in north central Indiana and had attended Butler College in Indianapolis in 1868, but ill health forced him to leave before graduation. He was interested in mechanics and construction of machines since his youth, but became a missionary of the Christian Church, working first in Minnesota and then in Wisconsin. The Christian Church was a Protestant denomination that had emerged from dissident Presbyterian congregations in the 1830s and flourished on the U.S. frontier. The church had no formal ecclesiastical structure, and pastors often were not paid.

William Hopkins was no exception. He first supported himself largely by teaching. Hopkins’s parents, sick and in financial difficulty, asked him to return to Indiana in about 1875. He settled in Thorntown, a hamlet not far from his birthplace. Hopkins had never been in robust health, and illness forced him to walk with a cane for most of his life. Perhaps, for this reason, he considered invention as a source of sustenance.

Hopkins’ first patent, taken out in 1878, was for a small chain-driven adding machine. William Hopkins had somewhat more success with his 1879 patent for a knockdown chair and with several patents for scales he took out between 1880 and 1882. He assigned the chair patent to the Fort Madison Chair Company of Fort Madison, Iowa, and the scale patents to the Hopkins Improved Scale Company of Thorntown.

The Hopkins Improved Scale Company did not prosper, and the Hopkins family soon migrated to Kansas in search of a new home. In the late 1870s, Rev. William Hopkins lived in Bourbon County, Kansas, where he worked as an evangelist and pastor, before moving with his family to St. Louis in 1885, accepting the position of a chaplain and then a pastor of St. Louis Second Christian Church. He continued to invent during those years, trying to find better ways to make an adding machine. In the mid-1890s, Hopkins left Second Christian Church and became assistant editor of the company, that published the weekly newspaper The Christian Evangelist.

In St. Louis William Hopkins joined B. H. Ward and J. A. Butts in starting a short-lived mathematical instrument firm known as W. W. Hopkins & Co. In 1887, William Hopkins’s brothers, machinists Frank and Hubert, moved to St. Louis. Hubert Hopkins would also become an inventor of computing devices. During these years, William Hopkins continued to invent, taking out two patents for an electric railway in 1888.

In the early 1890s (the first records are from 1892), William Hopkins founded Standard Adding Machine Company in Illinois, later re-based on Spring Avenue, St. Louis (later became New Standard Adding Machine Company), which was the first company to release to the market a successful 10-key adding machine, launched in 1902. The Standard machine achieved a big success because it was much less expensive to manufacture and simpler to use.

The building, built in 1903 to house Standard Adding Machine Company, now Aquinas Institute of Theology
The building, built in 1903 to house Standard Adding Machine Company, now Aquinas Institute of Theology

Around 1900 William Hopkins turned his attention to brakes, taking out several brake patents between 1902 and 1904 and establishing the short-lived Hopkins Brake Company.

William Hopkins married in April 1874, in Hersey, St. Croix County, Wisconsin, to a local girl—Tamara Losina Adams (1855-1931), a daughter of Sarles Travers Adams (1812-1882), and Mary Harrison (1813-1883). The couple had five children: Albert Addison (1875-1936), William Francis (1877-1964), Nellie (1880-1962), Ethel (b. 1883), and Minnie (1888-1974).

William Hopkins was a holder of ten patents for calculating machines. His younger brother—Hubert H. Hopkins (born 1 Nov. 1859 – died 27 Feb. 1930), joined him in St. Louis in 1887 and worked as a machinist, becoming also a famous inventor of calculating machines.

William Wallace Hopkins died on 10 November 1916, in Saint Louis, Missouri, and was buried in Zion Cemetery.