Cathrinus Collett

Cathrinus Collett (1841-1921)
Cathrinus Collett (1841-1921)

In the late 1860s, Cathrinus Nikolay Arbo Collett, a young Norwegian civil (railway) engineer, at that time working as an assistant and later a chief of the investigations department of Norwegian State Railways in Kristiania (Oslo), devised a simple keyboard-adding machine with ten keys. It was one of the early European column adders, after the pioneering machines of James White, Luigi Torchi, Jean-Baptiste Schwilgué, Ernest-Narcisse Lobbé and Jacot des Combes.

The adding machine of Cathrinus Collett was patented in 1869 in France (patent number 86067 for Machine à additionner, from 16 June 1869, granted for 15 years), see the lower patent drawing. In April 1870, a patent application was entered at the British Patent Office in London (the application was communicated by the Swedish engineer and inventor Axel Petersson, who obviously knew Collett from his work in railways), but it seems it remained only provisional and British patent had not been granted.

There is not any other information about the adding machine of Cathrinus Collett, so most probably it remained only on paper and even a prototype had not been manufactured and demonstrated.

The French patent of Collett (upper view of the machine)
The French patent of Cathrinus Collett (upper view of the machine)

Biography of Cathrinus Collett

Cathrinus Collett (1841-1921)
Cathrinus Nikolay Arbo Collett (1841-1921)

Cathrinus Nikolay (also spelled Nicolai or Nikolai) Arbo Collett was born on 30 March 1841 (baptized 22 August 1841 at the Modum Church), in Buskerud hovedgård—the manor of his family near Åmot in Modum municipality, Norway. He was the first child of John Collett (2 Sep 1807-13 Apr 1891), a Norwegian landowner, and Antoinette Johanne (Smith) Collett (15 Dec 1811-15 Oct 1874). John and Antoinette (see the lower paintings) married in March 1840 and had three children: two boys—Cathrinus (Nikolai Arbo), Albert (Peter Severin) (1842–1896), and a daughter—Karen (Elise Theodora) (1844–1926).

John Collett was a descendent of the famous Scandinavian (with branches in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden) family of English origin Collett (also spelled Collet), descended from English-born merchant James Collett (born 1655 in London, died 1727 in Kristiania), who settled in Kristiania in 1683. Antoinette was a daughter of Elias Elieson Smith (1788-1861), a Norwegian merchant, landlord, and politician, and his wife Karen (Von Cappelen) Smith (1789-1863), and grand-daughter of Caspar von Cappelen (1762-1823), a Norwegian merchant and landowner.

John Collett had agricultural education and managed successfully his family farm Buskerud. The property had originally been purchased by Peter Collett, John’s grandfather, in 1762, and had been handed down through his son Peter. Today the property is used as a vocational high school and the original farm buildings are still well maintained into the twenty-first century.

John Collett (2 Sep 1807-13 Apr 1891) and Antoinette Johanne (Smith) Collett (15 Dec 1811-15 Oct 1874)
John Collett (1807-1891) and Antoinette Johanne (Smith) Collett (1811-1874)

John Collett obviously wanted to provide good education to his children, thus Cathrinus enrolled at the Polytechnic in Hanover, Germany (Höhere Gewerbeschule/Polytechnische Schule) in 1859. He graduated in 1864 as a Civil Engineer.

After graduation Cathrinus worked for a couple of years as a surveyor at the building of the railway Ystad-Eslöf in Sweden in 1864-65. Then he returned to Germany, working as an officer at the Württemberg State Railways in 1865-67. Later on, he relocated for several years to Kristiania, working as an assistant and later a chief of the investigations department of Norwegian State Railways in Kristiania in 1867-72. During this period he devised his keyboard-adding device.

In 1872 Cathrinus moved to Sweden (in 1883 he was naturalized as a Swedish citizen), accepting the position of a station operator and then a district engineer during the building of the railway Stora Bergslagsbanans (from Falum to Goteborg). In 1880 he became a traffic chief (manager) at the railway company Nora-Karlskoga, keeping this position until his retirement in 1903, as the last 12 years he was elected head of the company’s board of directors.

Buskerud hovedgård (the birthplace of Cathrinus Collett) around 1860
Buskerud hovedgård (the birthplace of Cathrinus Collett) around 1860

Collett also participated in communal life of Nora, planning the device and building of the city’s water pipeline and building for that supply of electric power. He was also elected to the city’s finance committee, for which he served as rapporteur for some years and finally he served four years as landlord of this city.

On 28 December 1872, Cathrinus Collett married in Kristiania to Josephine Lucie Holmsen, born in that town on 27 October 1853, and a daughter of the merchant Hom Holmsen and Josephine Neislen. They had four children: Peter John James (1873-1914), Agnes (1875-1879), Karl Albert (1877-1939), and Alice Maria Sophia (1878-1960).

After his retirement in 1903, Collett has been living in various places in Sweden forests, in a villa near Saltsjøbaden in Stockholm, later at Engelhom in Skaane, and then again in Nora, where he built in 1910 a new villa in Solbacken.

Cathrinus Collett is considered to be the founder of the Swedish branch of the Collett family. He died on 12 April 1921 in Nora Stadsförsamling, Örebro, Sweden, and was buried in Nora Södra kyrkogård, Örebro. He was followed four years later by his wife Josephine, who died on 28 June 1925.