Johan Hellström

In the middle 1870s, the Swedish machinist Johan Fredrik Hellström devised räknemaskin (calculating machine), an interesting round adding device, similar to the earlier calculators of Braun, Leupold, and Hahn. The invention was announced in the Swedish press (e.g. in the newspaper Wermlands Läns Tidning from 21 June 1878). The calculating machine of Hellström was patented in 1879 (patent 10/7, 1879). The machine was presented at the Exposition Universelle 1878 in France and was awarded, as the inventor was appointed as a member of the Académie Nationale Agricole, Manufacturiere et Commerciale in Paris.

Hellström's Räknemaskin (calculating machine) from 1879 (©
Hellström’s Räknemaskin (calculating machine) from 1879 (©

The calculating machine (räknemaskin) of Hellström (see the nearby photo) was made of brass and walnut. Dimensions: diameter 16.5 cm, height 6.5 cm. Weight: 1.1 kg.

The machine is a decimal and 5-positional device, suitable for addition of up to 5-digit figures (1–99999). It has tens carry mechanism, so required ten transfers are performed automatically.

The machine has a cylindrical wooden case and outer brass ring with 100 holes (marked with 1 on the nearby image), used to set the one- and ten-decades. A window (2) show the figures in the outer ring mechanism. (3) is a stop pin and (4) is a stop plate, used to stop the rotation of the ring. (5), (6) and (7) are square shafts, used to set the hundred-decade, thousands-decade and tens-of-thousands-decade respectively, with pointers (used during the entering of a digit) and windows (to show the result) above the shaft to show the figures.

The outer ring and the square shafts may only be turned clockwise to prevent damage of the inner mechanism.

The square shafts with the pointers (5), (6) and (7) can be rotated to max value of 9 , before to be stopped by an internal hard stop. After adjustment, the shaft rotates by springs back until the pointer arrives at the original position. (0 or 1)

The adjusted figure remains in the display, transferred by an internal ratchet mechanism.

Hellström's calculating machine without the cover (©
Hellström’s calculating machine without the cover (©

Let’s make a simple addition, for example 34367+29435=63802, using the machine.

First we have to enter the first addend:
1. Set the figure 67 in the display window of the one- and ten-decade by putting the stop pin into the hole next to the number 67 and turning the outer ring (1) clockwise, until it stops (stop pin arrives at the stop plate’s groove).
2. Set on the hundreds-decade the figure 3 in the display window by turning the square shaft (5) clockwise.
3. Set on the thousands-decade the figure 4 in the same way.
4. Set on the tens of thousands-decade the figure 3.

Next we have to enter the second addend:
1. Put the stop pin in the hole next to the number 35 and turning the outer ring clockwise until it stops. The one and ten decades are added.
2. Add in the hundreds-decade by turning the square shaft (5) clockwise the figure 4. The figure is visible on the pointer.
3. Add in the thousands-decade and tens of thousands-decade in the same way—the numbers 9 and 2.

Now, in the windows, the final result (63802) will be displayed.

Biography of Johan Hellström

Little is known about the inventor of this calculating machine. Johan Fredrik Hellström was born on 3 November 1832, in Helgona, a village nearby Nyköping, Sweden. He was the son of Carl Hellström and his second wife Anna Catharina Hellström (Malmberg). In 1857 he moved to Nyköping, where he lived until his death on 19 May 1921. His occupation was listed as machinist and fabricant.

Nels Ockerlund

In 1870 Nels Ockerlund (1837–1903), a Swedish immigrant (he immigrated to the United States in 1865 and settled in New York City, and became a citizen in 1879), patented two calculating devices—an improved rule and calculator (U.S. Patent 102034 issued 19 April 1870), and improved adding-machine (U.S. Patent 105717 issued 26 July 1870).

Ockerlund's Rule and Calculator (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)
Ockerlund’s Rule and Calculator (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)

The patent model of the first device (up to 1880, the US Patent Office required inventors to submit a model with their patent application) is still preserved in the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. (see the nearby image).

Ockerlund’s Rule and Calculator is made of wood and German silver, and has overall measurements: 3.2 cm x 17.7 cm x 4.4 cm. This combined instrument may be used to measure distances of up to 24 inches, to measure angles, to solve problems relating to ratios, to assist in finding the area of triangles when the lengths of three sides are known, and to add three-digit numbers. It is in the general shape of a four-fold rule, with a wooden core covered on both sides with German silver. A scale of inches, divided to 1/16″ and numbered by ones from 1 to 12 twice, runs along the outer edges of the arms. Along the inner edges of both arms are scales of equal parts, with 30 parts to the inch.

A protractor is at the center joint. A hollow in one arm contains two rules. One rule unfolds to reveal a 10″ scale and a scale of 30 parts per inch. The other rule has a 4-1/2″ scale and a scale of 30 parts per inch. These rules are supposed to attach to slides that move in a groove in one of the arms, allowing the solution of problems of proportion. To add numbers, one removes the longer rule from the groove, and places it alongside the scale on the arm.

Ockerlund'a Adder (U.S. Patent 105717 issued 26 July 1870)
Ockerlund’a Adder (U.S. Patent 105717 issued 26 July 1870)

A third rule slides and pivots in a hollow in the other arm. Using this rule and the two arms of the instrument as sides, one can represent a triangle. The grooved arm serves as the base and a rule sliding in the groove measures the height of the triangle, from which one can calculate its area.

For the second calculating instrument of Ockerlund—the adding device, we have nothing but the patent application (see the nearby patent drawing). This simple calculating instrument is similar to the earlier device of John Nystrom (another Swedish immigrant in the USA) from 1851.

The invention has for its object to furnish a simple and convenient machine, by means of which numbers may be added and subtracted quickly and accurately, and which will enable the several amounts or differences to be registered as obtained. It has a plate, circular in general form, which has a wide circular groove formed in its face, in such a way as to leave a narrow rim around its outer edge, and a small circle at its center.

William Briggs

On 2 December 1879 William Briggs (1813-1887), a farmer and miller of Stoughton, Massachusetts, received a patent for arithmetical calculator (see US patent Nr. 222126). The patent model of the device (up to 1880, the US Patent Office required inventors to submit a model with their patent application) is still preserved in the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. (see the image below). In his patent application Briggs mentioned previous patents of Strode (US Patent Nr. 74170), Hudson (Nr. 45829), and Parmelee (Nr. 99226).

The quick and sure reckoner of William Briggs (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)
The quick and sure reckoner of William Briggs (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)

The calculator of William Briggs (he called it quick and sure reckoner) is a wood, metal and paper device with overall measurements: 2.2 cm x 15 cm x 15.4 cm.

The calculator of William Briggs is an adder with a square wooden frame. On top is a piece of paper printed with the numbers from 1 to 100 and a rotating tin disc. The disc has 100 holes and is covered with another piece of paper, with the digits from 1 to 100 printed around the edge. Atop this disc is a second, smaller wooden stellated wheel (disc) with 10 serrations around the edge.

The carry mechanism is implemented by means of a fixed metal arm which reaches over the 100 disc on the outside paper. This arm advances the smaller disc at every rotation of the larger disc.

Briggs suggested that further wheels could be introduced to indicate thousands, ten thousands, etc., but he didn’t include these wheels on the simple wooden and paper model he sent to the US Patent Office.

James Ritty

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.
Pema Chödrön

James Ritty (1836-1918)
James Ritty (1836-1918)

In 1878 one James Ritty, a 42 years old saloon keeper from Dayton, Ohio, was brooded so much over the peculations in his business, that he suffered a breakdown and decided to take a steamboat vacation trip to Europe. His business seemingly flourished, but he lost money, and he knew the reason—like every other retail business of the day that handled money over the counter, the only receptacle for receipts, save the pocket of the owner, was a cash drawer. It could be easily opened with the result that barmen were able to hold out as much cash as they desired. A constant turnover of barmen brought James Ritty no relief.

Having been trained as a mechanic, during the trip Ritty became interested in the machinery of the ship and made friends with the Chief Engineer. Soon he had the opportunity to examine the engine room, where he saw pistons and governors and drive shafts and steam gauges, but something else caught his eye—he became fascinated before the automatic mechanism, that recorded the revolutions of the ship’s propeller. Ritty thought: If a device could be made to count the revolutions, why not one to count transactions? There is a great field for a machine that can do this work.

From that inspired moment, amid the din and clash of the engine room, the idea of the cash register began to take shape in his mind. Ritty became so obsessed with his idea that he cut short his stay in Europe and returned to USA.

Back in Dayton, James immediately tossed the question to his brother John. Two of James’ brothers (there were five brothers), Sebastian (1827-1891) and John (1834-1913), also were of an inventive turn of mind. The eldest brother, Sebastian, took out a number of patents on farm implements. John, who was a mechanic by trade, carried on the inventive tradition of the family. Among other things (like a wheel, railroad car coupling, etc.), he patented several machines for the hulling of green corn and set up a canning factory in which they were used.

The first model of James Ritty's cash register
The first model of Ritty brothers cash register

Ritty brothers started their work in a small room on the second floor over the James’ cafe at 10 South Main Street, Dayton. In the middle of 1879 they already had a working model, but it was a total failure, being inaccurate. The cash register of Ritty was essentially a keyboard adder, and these type of machines were known in the USA and the world from decades, e.g. the machine of Caroline Winter from 1859. Like the machine of Winter, the first model of Ritty cash register (see the nearby image) looked like a clock with a keyboard. It had two rows of keys along the lower front, labeled with cents in five cent increments from 5 to 95 cents and dollar amounts from 1 to $9, and had no cash drawer. Pressed down, each key represented the individual amount of money to be recorded. The sales were registered on large dial, probably resembling the one on the ship, with two sets of numbers (the outer circle of numbers showed cents and the inner one dollars) around its circumference and two hands operated by the keys.

The second model wasn’t all that better. It resembled the first in all details with one exception—instead of adding disks the brothers designed a series of adding wheels mounted in the back of the machine.

The above-mentioned second model was patented on 4 November 1879 (see the lower patent drawing of US221360) as Cash Register and Indicator. It was the first US patent ever issued for a cash register. However, neither of these two models was put on the market.

Cash Register and Indicator of Ritty (the patent drawing)
Cash Register and Indicator of Ritty (the patent drawing)

Obviously dissatisfied with their first models, Ritty brothers began a new line of development. In the third machine, called Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier, instead of the dial type of indication they substituted a tablet form with pop-up numbers. The tablet indicators were small plates bearing the same money values engraved on the top of the keys, and were connected with the indicators by vertical sliding rods. As a key was depressed the indicator rod, resting on the key, was elevated until the indicator showed through a glass-covered opening in the upper part of the machine.

This seemed to be an important improvement because the amount of the sale was revealed to both cashier and client, thus providing increased protection for the merchant, because it shed the light of publicity on every transaction. There was still no cash drawer in the machine, and this model was also not sold to the public.

The paper roll machine of James Ritty
The paper roll machine of James Ritty

In their fourth machine, which came to be known as the paper roll machine (see the nearby image), Ritty mounted a paper roll horizontally above and across the keys inside the box. Each key carried a sharp pin, and when the key was depressed, its pin pricked a hole in the paper roll just above the key. At the same time the paper roll would be advanced one step. The result was that at the end of the day the owner could remove the roll of paper, tear the portion representing the daily sales, and count the holes in each column. If for example there were 100 holes in the 25-cent column at the end of the day, the merchant knew he had done $25 worth of business in 25 cent sales. Thus the register not only told the owner the exact amount of the day’s business, but also the total done in each price range. There was a bell to “ring up” sales.

The paper roll machine was the first to be put on sale, and several sales had been made to bar and cafe owners. Soon John Henry Patterson (1844–1922), an eccentric and aggressive businessman from Dayton, who was mainly in coal and railroad affairs, but also had a grocery and general store, bought a couple of the machines for his store. Before very long Patterson was to become the pioneer of cash register production and to make his name synonymous with its development and distribution.

Let’s see how Patterson described why cash registers became a necessity for his business:
We were obliged to be away from the store most of the time so we employed a superintendent. At the end of three years, although we had sold annually about $50,000 worth of goods on which there was a large margin, we found ourselves worse off than nothing. We were in debt, and we could not account for it, because we lost nothing by bad debt and no goods had been stolen. But one day I found several bread tickets lying around loose, and discovered that our oldest clerk was favoring his friends by selling below the regular prices. Another day I noticed a certain credit customer buying groceries. At night, on looking over the blotter, I found that the clerk had forgotten to make any entry of it. This set me to thinking that the goods might often go out of the store in this way—without our ever getting a cent for them. One day we received a circular from someone in Dayton Ohio, advertising a machine which recorded money and sales in retail stores. The price was $ 100. We telegraphed for two of them, and when we saw them we were astonished at the cost. They were made mostly of wood, had no cash drawer, and were very crude (Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier). But we put them in the store, and, in spite of their deficiencies, at the end of twelve months we cleared $6,000.

Ritty's first factory in Dayton
Ritty’s first factory in Dayton

In late 1879 the Rittys established a small factory in Dayton to manufacture their cash registers (see the nearby photo). John Ritty was foreman, and factory staff numbered ten men. Since the first machines, that were launched to the market were largely constructed of wood, most of the employees were carpenters and cabinet makers, a trade which James Ritty had followed in the past (James Ritty had been a carpenter and a shingle maker before he opened his first saloon about 1868).

James Ritty launched the cash register business under the name of “James Ritty’s New Cash Register and Indicator”, but his company did not prosper. In the end of 1881, he became so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of running two businesses (he still conducted the cafe which demanded the major part of his time), that he and his brother John decided to sold all his interests in the cash register business, including the original patent to Jacob H. Eckert of Cincinnati, a glass and silverware salesman, for only $1000. In 1882, James Ritty, together with John Birch, a machinist and brother-in-law of Jacob Eckert, applied for another patent for cash improved register (US271363), assigned to Eckert. The new register had a drawer and a bell that rang when the key was depressed and the drawer opened. The indicator showed the customer the amount registered on the sale. The proprietor was assured that the amount registered was placed in the cash drawer, and that the proper record would be made by the adding mechanism. Publicity joined with protection in safeguarding receipts.

A new company was established to manufacture and sell the first mechanical cash register—National Manufacturing Company of Dayton, Ohio. Eckert soon realized that one man couldn’t do the job, from the standpoint of either time or money and organized a stock company, capitalized at $10000 and sold something less than half the shares to four other men (between them John Patterson and his brother Frank), keeping controlling interest. John Patterson became majority owner in 1884, and the company was renamed National Cash Register Company.

Despite of the fact, that did not derive much benefit from his invention, James Ritty was not resentful and maintained most friendly relations with John Patterson and his brother Frank, who many times invited Ritty to attend various NCR meetings and conferences and admitted his pioneering role.

Patterson formed National Cash Register Company (NCR) into one of the first modern US companies, introducing new, aggressive sales methods and business techniques (although in 1912, the company was found guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. and Patterson, Thomas J. Watson (the future president of IBM), and 26 other NCR managers were convicted for illegal anti-competitive sales practices and were sentenced to one year of imprisonment.) Patterson established the first sales training school in 1893, and introduced a comprehensive social welfare program for his factory workers. NCR had a glorious history and survived up to our time.

Biography of James Ritty

James Jacob Ritty was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 29 October 1836, in the family of Leger (Ledger) Ritty (1792-1869) and Mary Ann Ritty (1800-1880). The family already had three boys: Sebastian (1827-1891), Peter (1831-1888), and John (1834-1913), and there will be another boy after James (Joseph, who was killed in an accident when still a youth), and a daughter (probably adopted) Louise (born 1853).

Leger and Mary Ann Ritty were emigrants from the German-French area of Alsace-Lorraine (they were from German speaking part). Leger was born on 1 April 1792, and in 1819 entered the army, where he served for 8 years. In 1828 Leger with his wife Mary and just born son Sebastian and several friends emigrated to America, in order to seek a home in the new world. They settled initially for a year in Philadelphia, then in Pittsburg, where the family was reduced to poverty by Leger’s drunkenness and protracted sickness.

In 1833 Leger turned to God, refused drinking and purged from his sins and diseases removed to Ohio (initially to Cincinnati), where he worked as a colporteur, and later built up a considerable practice as a botanic physician (known as “Dr” Ritty), or dispenser of herb drugs, for the rest of his life. Leger was a strong man, but on 21 May 1869, he became so much depressed in spirits, complaining of asthma, erysipelas and other diseases, that he shoot himself through the heart with his large sized Smith & Wesson revolver.

In 1840 Ritty family moved from Cincinnati to Dayton, Ohio, where James attended the grade schools and the high school. He even went to medical college for a time, to study medicine, but with the American Civil War’s outbreak in early 1861, he left the college and enlisted in the Fourth Ohio Volunteer Cavalry as a first lieutenant. He served honorably for three years, leaving the Union Army in 1864, having attained the rank of captain.

After the army James didn’t return to medicine (probably by financial reasons), but worked some time as a carpenter and a shingle maker (as his brothers John and Peter), and in 1868 he opened his first saloon at 5 Market St. in Dayton. In 1871 Ritty opened another restaurant and saloon, then a wine house and saloon, and then was a wholesale and retailer dealer in whiskies, wines and cigars.

In 1877 he was already owner of James R. Ritty’s Empire Saloon (In the same year, his brothers John and Peter opened their own restaurant and saloon not far from James’ Empire Saloon). It was about this time, according to legend, that to his head came a business problem, which will make him famous, creating the first cash register.

The family vault of James Ritty at Dayton's Woodland Cemetery
The family vault of James Ritty at Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery

An open-minded and intelligent man, James (better known as “Jake”) Ritty was a good mixer and a man about town. He was of medium height, stocky build, with alert eyes and a drooping moustache, and was invariably well turned out, sporting an elegant silk hat.

James Ritty married in 1861 to Susanna M. Norris (1844-1924) from Dayton.

In early 1900s James Ritty retired from the bar business. He died of heart trouble in his downtown Dayton Arcade residence on 29 March 1918, and was entombed with his wife Susanna and his brother John in his family vault at Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery (see the nearby image).

Milton Hinkle

In 1877 Milton W. Hinkle of Memphis, Tennessee, invented a simple adding device, which he patented on 5 March 1878 (US patent Nr. 200911). The machine was somewhat similar to the earlier devices of his compatriots Jabez Burns, John Ballou, Joseph Harris, and Milton Jeffers. Only the patent model of the device survived to our time and is kept now in the collection of National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Milton Hinkle's adding machine (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)
Milton Hinkle’s adding machine (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)

The object of the invention is to furnish an improved machine for use in adding columns of figures and in keeping the tally of things
to be counted, which shall be simple in construction and accurate in operation, and which may be operated very rapidly.

The patent model (see the nearby image) has wooden sides and a brass strip that covers the front, bottom, and back. The top of the instrument is curved at the front to the shape of two wheels that rotate inside it. A strip of wood between the wheels has the digits from 1 to 9 marked on it. Each wheel has the digits from 0 to 9 marked on it three times. A pin protrudes from the wheel between each digit, and each tenth pin is slightly longer than the others. The spacing of the digits is the same as that on the case. The large wheels are linked to two smaller toothed wheels at the back of the instrument. These smaller wheels are marked with the numbers from 0 to 13, and are meant to move forward every time the large wheel passes a longer “10” pin, recording numbers that should be carried. These very simple adding device even doesn’t have separate wheels for registering results.

The operator places his finger upon the pin of the wheel (marked B on the patent drawing) opposite the index-number representing the figure to be added, and turning the said wheel until his finger strikes the finger-plate, all the wheels being adjusted before beginning with their zeroes in the first place above the plates D E.

Almost nothing is known for the inventor. Milton Washington Hinkle Jr. was born on 8 January 1848, in Carrollton, Carroll County, Kentucky. He was a son of Milton Washington Hinkle (born 1810) from Louisville, KY, a steamboat owner on the Ohio river.

Borland and Hoffmann

In 1878 William Patterson Borland, native of Baltimore, who lived in Leavenworth, Kansas, and Herman Hoffman, a watchmaker in Leavenworth, patented a one-column key adder (see US patent 205993), similar to the earlier Adder of Marshall Cram and to the later Centigraph of Arthur Shattuck.

The patent drawing of adding machine of Borland and Hoffmann
The patent drawing of adding machine of Borland and Hoffmann

Besides the patent, nothing survived from this device, so obviously it remained only on paper and had not been implemented in practice. Let’s examine the mechanism of the device, using the patent drawing (see the nearby drawing).

The object of the invention is to furnish an improved machine which shall be so constructed as to enable the user to add up a column of figures quickly and accurately, and without it being necessary for him to look at the machine, so that no time may be lost in looking from his machine to the column of figures to be added, and which at the same time shall be simple in construction, accurate in operation, and may be used with great

The units and tens of the numbers added are indicated by the pointer (marked E on the patent drawing), and the hundreds are indicated by the pointer C’.

The levers O are raised into their normal position after being lowered by the operator by means of springs G’ attached to the base A, and which rest against the lower side of the levers O. As the levers O are raised by the springs G’ they strike against a pad, H’, of rubber or other suitable material, attached to a bar of the keyboard frame, so as to prevent any jar or noise when the said levers return to their places after being operated.

Biography of Borland and Hoffmann

Almost nothing is known for Herman A. Hoffmann—he was a local watchmaker in Leavenworth and died on 13 October 1889. However, for the other inventor—William Borland, there is some information.

William Patterson Borland was born on 27 February 1827 in Baltimore, to Thomas Borland and Catherine Ogle. Thomas Borland was a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian, who came to Baltimore from the north of Ireland about 1800 and was naturalized in 1805. He came to USA on the death of his parents and was adopted by his mother’s brother, William Patterson, a super-cargo merchant of Baltimore, owning a line of sailing vessels and trading in the East Indies, dealing principally in tea, sugar, spices and molasses. Thomas Borland later became a partner in the business, the firm being Patterson and Borland. Patterson Park in Baltimore was named for this William Patterson, but his chief claim to fame is that he was the father of Elizabeth, “Glorious Betsy”, who married Jerome Bonaparte.

William Patterson Borland, Jr. (1867-1919)
William Patterson Borland, Jr. (1867-1919)

In 1818 Thomas Borland married Catherine Hall Ogle of Cecile County, Maryland (Ogle family were early settlers of Maryland, and had in it several Revolutionary soldiers). They had two sons, Thomas Borland and William Patterson Borland.

Thomas died young, while William Patterson, our hero, worked as a merchant in Benton County, Lindsey Township, Missouri, in early 1850s and married Elizabeth Hasson, also of Baltimore, in 1856. They moved to Warsaw, Missouri, where William served as a cashier in Mechanics Bank of St. Louis, Warsaw branch. In 1858 they moved again, this time to Leavenworth, Kansas (then it was a separate town, but now is part of the Kansas City metropolitan area), where they lived until 1880, when moved to Kansas city. They had five children—Thomas (1857-1892), Mary, Katharine, Elizabeth (1862-1941) and William Patterson Borland, Jr. (1867-1919) (who became a famous US Congressman from Missouri, see the nearby photo).

William Patterson Borland died on 29 October 1885 in Leavenworth, Kansas, and was buried at the local Mount Muncie Cemetery.

William Hart

Hart's Mercantile Computing Machine
Hart’s Mercantile Computing Machine

The William Hart’s story had many twists and turns. He was a watchmaker, jeweler, businessman and prolific inventor. Hart had quite a few patents for various instruments and devices, but it seems these devices were never used. That’s not the case however with his calculator, known as Hart’s Mercantile Computing Machine, US patent No. 199289 from 15 January 1878 (the witnesses of Hart’s patent were Abraham Slingerland, a wealthy Kirksville lawyer, and Albert Dutcher, his partner in jewelry business).

The device was patented as a Calculator and Improvement in Mechanical Accountants, but was sold under the name Hart’s Mercantile Computing Machine (see the nearby photo). There are several of these calculators known to exist now. One of Hart’s calculators is on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (see the image below). According to a local newspaper, Kirksville Missouri Democrat for 16 July 1888, by then Hart had sold 3500 of these devices and he lately ordered one thousand more. Smithsonian’s calculator indicate Scovill Manufacturing of Waterbury, Connecticut, and a company by the name of J. W. Strange, Bangor, Maine, made it. Scovill was a maker of brass products, Strange was an instrument maker.

Hart's Mercantile Computing Machine in its wooden case (© Smithsonian National Museum)
Hart’s Mercantile Computing Machine in its wooden case (© Smithsonian National Museum)

The calculator of Hart is similar to the earlier devices of his compatriots Amos Mendenhall, Alonzo Johnson, and Elmore Taylor. It is housed in a cylindrical wooden case (with cover), with diameter 13.5 cm and height is 5.5 cm, its weight is 155 g. The instrument itself is made by steel and brass, and has a wooden handle.

The calculating device of Hart consists of three concentric brass discs, a brass marker, a steel stop, and a long wooden handle with a pointer coming down from its end, which rotates the upper disc over the lower one to add numbers up to 99. Each brass disc has the numbers from 0 to 99 stamped around the edge. The two inner discs both have a circle of 100 holes just outside the numbers. The inner holes are used to add the last two digits of a number by rotation. Any hundreds value in the sum carries to the second set of holes, which are used to add hundreds and thousands places. When the total exceeds 99, a hand like the short hand of a watch automatically advances one to indicate the hundreds value (the adder has a single carry). Sums of up to 9999 can be indicated.

Biography of William Hart

William Henry Hart (1829-1907)
William Henry Hart (1828-1907)

William Henry Hart was born on 15 July 1828, in Lodi, a village in Seneca County, New York, United States. Until the Civil War Hart and his family lived in Dodge County, Wisconsin (Leroy, Williamstown, and Mayville). In 1867 Hart family moved to Kirksville, Missouri, where Hart became one of its prominent and most trusted business men, and opened a jewelry store in the square, doing business as W. Hart Jeweler. In 1874 Hart ran for City Council but lost. In 1875 he entered a partnership with Albert Dutcher, a local jeweler, and then sold his share of the firm to Dutcher. Because of declining health, Hart said that he wanted to take up something giving more outdoor exercise.

In 1850 William Hart married to Elizabeth Davidson (1831-1894) from Pennsylvania. They had eight children: Emma Delilah (1851-1928), Rosalie (1853-1942), Henry (1855-1930), Sarah Sadie (1861-1924), twins Lawrence and Clarence (b. 1866), Volney (1872-1890) and Waren (1873-1877).

The 1880 Federal Census shows Hart’s occupation as a watchmaker. In 1886 Hart went back to jewelry business in the firm of Hart & Miller, and then as a owner of Hart’s Jewelry Store. In December, 1890, in a fire, which destroyed the store of Hart, his son Volney died, William Hart barely survived with a broken right leg and burns on the hands and face. By 1892, Hart was back in the jewelry business again, known now as Hart & Son, with his son Lawrence who later became an osteopath.

William Hart obviously was a very good mechanic and prolific inventor, because he had at least 13 patents for various instruments and devices, let’s mention only: second-hand holder and screw-end finisher (US patent 264532), graphophone-reproducers (US665601, US648406, US644981, US651308 and US817062), clock-escapements (US33990, US326292 and US106815), hammer for posting bills and cards (US217101), ruby-pin and pallet setter (US264533).

In 1884, William Hart (together with his wife) was one of the incorporators of the Spiritual and Liberal Association, which believed that certain spirits of a deceased manifested themselves and, in some instances, conversed with their friends on earth.

After the death of his wife on 27 January 1894, Hart continued his work and inventing, but eventually he leaved Kirksville and USA, and relocated to Mexico, where two of his children (Henry and Rose) lived. Hart remained in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico (a town, founded by a group of American utopian socialists), until his death on 2 April 1907.

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.

George Phineas Gordon

George Phineas Gordon (1810-1878)
George Phineas Gordon (1810-1878)

George Phineas Gordon (1810-1878) was a famous American inventor (with more than 50 patents on his name), printer and businessman, who developed the basic design of the most common printing press ever, the Gordon Letterpress. At the end of his life, in middle 1870s, he was obviously so wealthy, that decided to produce an adding device, to keep accounts of his money :-).

The adding machine of Gordon, similar to several earlier devices (like these of Henry House, Elmore Taylor, Calvin Holman, and others), has never been patented but it was in production in late 1870s, although in small series (more than 30 devices were produced).

The adding device of Gordon is a stylus operated circular adder with capacity up to 9999. It measures approximately 23 cm in diameter/2 cm thick, with a very early bakelite and thermoplastic base with heavy nickel plated top mechanism. The machine may be used on a desk or screwed to the wall.

Let’s see the operation of the device, using the directions, printed on the box (see the image below).

Gordon's circular adding machine
Gordon’s circular adding machine

1. Place the adder so that the bar crossing the index ring will be at the right.

2. Place the pointer in the hole in the red on the outer ring and move the ring till the pointer is stopped by the LOWER PART of the bar. The figures 00 on the ring will then be seen at the opening. Then move the inner ring in the same way and the figures 00 on that ring will also be seen at the opening. The adder is now ready for use.

3. Place the pointer in the hole opposite any number you wish to add and move the ring as before. That number will appear at the opening. Do the same with the next chosen number and the SUM of the two numbers will appear, and so on to any extent from 1 to 10000.
The outer ring adds units and tens; the inner ring adds hundreds and thousands; or the outer adds cents and the inner adds dollars.
When the total is found, the hole in the red on the outer ring will be at a a number which will be the balance of 100. If, for instance, the number on the outer ring is 47 at the opening, the hole in the red will be at 53, and shows the cents of the change to be given if the amount received has been one dollar.
Add the cents first. About three sums of cents can be taken at a glance. If needful, thus—24, 36, 19 and the like. The carrying being AUTOMATIC, the result is ALWAYS CORRECT if the right figures are moved.

Note: Always hold the pointer vertical.

Biography of George Phineas Gordon

George Phineas Gordon was born on 21 April 1810, in Salem, New Hampshire, where his family had lived for more than 150 years. He was the second son of the merchant Phineas Gordon (1781-1850), and Mary (White) Gordon (1780-1852). The family had seven children: Louisa, Mary, Cuthbert, George, Wealthy, Adeline (1820-1899), and Edward.

Phineas Gordon was fifth generation heir of the early settler Alexander Gordon (Gorthing) (1630-1697). Alexander was a young Scotsman, a soldier in the Scottish army of 1651, which came into England with the design to place King Charles II on the throne, but was captured at the Battle of Worcester, became a prisoner of war, and with several thousand of his countrymen, was held in prison camp. In 1652 300 of these Scotch prisoners were selected for transportation to New England, where they would be sold to planters and mill owners, the usual terms prevailing as to price and length of service (six years). In New Hampshire Alexander worked as a miller, planted and farmed, and raised his family.

George Phineas Gordon was educated in Salem, NH, and in Boston, Massachusetts, where the family lived in 1820s. After leaving school George became an actor for a short time, but failing to achieve a livelihood at this, in early 1830s he moved to New York, where he became an apprentice printer.

The Franklin press of George Phineas Gordon
The Franklin press of George Phineas Gordon

Upon learning the trade, Gordon opened a job printing shop of his own, and around 1834 he began to experiment in press design. In the middle 1830s he is recorded as inventing a speedy card press, but he got his first patent (US patent No. 7215) for a printing press (it was a job-press—a relatively small press, called also jobber) as late in March, 1850, and manufactured it as the “Alligator”. It had many flaws, and was soon replaced by the “Yankee”, then by the “Turnover” (patented in August, 1851), and then by the “Firefly”, which could produce 10000 printed cards an hour. In 1858 he introduced the successful “Franklin” press (Gordon was a spiritualist and claimed that Benjamin Franklin had revealed the basic design of the press to him in a dream, but actually the “Franklin” press was based on previous inventions), which has ever since been known as the Gordon Jobber.

The “Franklin” press (see the nearby image) was strong, well built, and easy to operate machine. It solved the problem of clam-shell presses (which previously had “snapped” and endangered pressmen’s fingers) by having the platen open on cams, so that it was flat and lagged for the pressman as he fed the sheet, before closing parallel to the type bed.

Gordon ultimately built more than 100 kinds of presses. Initially his machines were made for him by outside machine shops. At the height of the Gordon Jobber popularity, however, in the second half of 1860s, he decided to began manufacturing presses himself. Thus he established a workshop in Rhode Island, and in 1872 he built his own factory in Rahway, New Jersey (see the lower image), with a capacity of 600 presses a year. The factory closed down in 1909.

Gordon Printing Press Works in Rahway, New Jersey
Gordon Printing Press Works in Rahway, New Jersey

George Phineas Gordon was twice married. His first wife was Sarah Elizabeth Cornish (1824-1851). They married in 1846, and had a daughter, Mary Ann (b. Sep. 1847 in New York), but Sarah died only 26 years old, on 5 April 1851, in New York. Later Gordon married to Lenor May (b. 1830 in Connecticut).

George Phineas Gordon died of disease of the heart, on 27 January 1878, at his residence on Freemason street, Norfolk, Virginia, and was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

Gordon left a fortune that was estimated at almost a million dollars, a huge sum for the time. His will was known to exist, but it took his family twelve years to find it. His real legacy was a printing press that became almost universal in printing offices for a more than century.

Heinrich Esser

In early 1890s, the German civil engineer Heinrich Esser (1845–1906), who lived in Aachen, where he worked as municipal police building inspector, invented as a hobby and in his spare time a mechanical calculating machine, which he later patented in Germany (patent №82965, 10 December 1892), and USA (patent No. 561099, 2 June 1896) (he took a vacation in June 1892 to register his invention at the imperial patent office in Berlin).

The Esser calculating machine (© Arithmeum, Bonn)
The Esser calculating machine (© Arithmeum museum, Bonn, Germany)

The Esser calculating machine is a four-species device, i.e. it is capable of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Only one example of the machine survived to the present, and it is kept in the collection of Arithmeum museum in Bonn, Germany (see the nearby image).

Interestingly, the comparison of the patent and the exhibited in Arithmeum machine shows that the latter is an older prototype, as several essential details of the patented machine are missing. The Esser machine in the Arithmeum does not have tens-carry in the revolution counter, which is necessary in order to be able to do abridged multiplication and division. There are also other missing features which mark this machine out as an early model: the main crank has no rest position lock, and there is no bell to signal an overflow of the result mechanism. The inventor must also have envisaged the mass-production of his machine, as it consists of modules that can easily be exchanged (which was absolutely unusual at the time), to meet the individual needs of customers with respect to capacity. Let’s examine the Esser calculating machine, using the patent drawing (see the image below).

The Esser calculating machine (patent drawing from US561099)
The Esser calculating machine (patent drawing from US561099)

The Esser calculating machine comprises three indicators, which may be designated as “operating-indicator” (marked with A on the drawing), “product-indicator” (marked with C), and “quotient-indicator” (marked with B), because by setting a number as multiplier in the quotient-indicator and a number as multiplicand in the operating-indicator the product-indicator, after manipulating with the operating-indicator in one direction, shows or indicates the product of the multiplication, and, vice versa, by setting a number on the product-indicator as the dividend and a number in the operating-indicator as the divisor and manipulating the operating-indicator in a reverse direction the quotient-indicator will show or indicate the result of the division.

The main advantage of Esser calculating machine over the other calculating machines of the time was during the multiplication, when an abridged method may be employed by which considerable time and labor are saved. If a large number (say 33333) is to multiplied, for instance, with the number 2479, the operation may be performed on this machine in the same manner as is employed on the other machines—i.e., the multiplication of two factors may be carried on in the usual way, in which the main shaft is to be turned 9+7+4+2=22 times (according to the digits of the multiplier). However, the Esser machine allows an abridged method to be employed, in which the main shaft is to be turned only 10 times. What a great improvement!

Biography of Heinrich Esser

Little is known about Heinrich Esser. He was born in Pingsheim in the Euskirchen district in 1845. After graduating from high school in Düren, Esser studied civil engineering in Berlin and at the Technische Hochschule Aachen, where he passed the construction manager examination in 1874. He was a government builder at the Royal Railway Directorate in Cologne and later a municipal police building inspector in Aachen, where he died in 1906.