Emory Ensign

Ensign Electric Calculating Machine is a highly developed, electrically driven adding and subtracting machine, particularly suited for multiplication (by repeated addition) and semi-automatic division (subtraction and division are done by complementary addition).

It was devised and patented by the young engineer from Illinois Emory Seymour Ensign (1878-1944), at the beginning of the 1900s. The first patent Ensign received in 1904 (U.S. patent №773632), as half of the patent is assigned to Frederick Hardenbergh, a selling agent of office equipment in New York. Later on, Ensign obtained seven other US patents for calculating devices, as well as similar patents in England, France, Canada, Austria, and Germany.

Ensign Electric Calculating Machine, advertisement from September 1913 issue of the magazine SYSTEM
Ensign Electric Calculating Machine, advertisement from the September 1913 issue of the magazine SYSTEM

The calculating machine was manufactured from 1909 until 1924 by Ensign’s own company (Ensign Manufacturing Company was initially located in Waltham, Massachusetts, but later moved to Boston, then in 1918 moved again to Queens, New York), and was widely advertised during this time (see the nearby advertisement from 1913).

The price of the first models (from 1910) was $400 (Model E, 12 places for results), and $450 (Model F, 16 places for results). The 1924 price was $450 (Model 75), and $500 (Model 90). The machine was extremely cumbersome to operate, but in 1924 it was still available in two versions. It was sold only in the USA and in small numbers.

Ensign Electric Calculating Machine (see the lower image) is very heavy, with the cast iron case off, it still weighs some 30 kg, with overall measurements: 20 cm x 53 cm x 38 cm. On the exterior, there is a full keyboard, containing complementary digits for subtraction and division. At the right of the keyboard, there is a long adding key, further to the right is the division key, and finally the multiplication keys, marked 0 to 9. To the left of the keyboard is a key that allows the value entered on the keyboard to be locked in place. At the top left is the revolution counter, and above this, within the carriage, is the result mechanism with a sliding decimal marker and the carriage handle. The keys are self-correcting. The hook on the extreme left is the lever for clearing everything from the machine. The Ensign was advertised as the only machine giving proof of operation that automatically clears the keyboard, proof meter, and result dial by pulling the clearing lever once.

Ensign Calculating Machine
Ensign Calculating Machine, one of the first models

Addition: The first number on the keyboard is entered, then the long adding key to the right is depressed, and this transmits the number to the result mechanism. Any number of additional items may be added in this way. The added items are counted in the revolution counter. In order to set the machine to zero, the carriage must be placed to the extreme left. Then the small lever (to the left of the revolution counting mechanism) is quickly depressed into the machine, and both counting mechanisms are cleared. The keyboard may be divided so that two rows of items may be simultaneously added by the machine (for instance, debit and credit items).

Subtraction: The operation is the same as during addition, but the numbers are entered by using the small complementary digits, inscribed on the keys.

Multiplication: The multiplicand is entered on the keyboard. If it is intended to multiply it by 734 for example, the digit 4 of the multiplier keys is first pressed, then 3, and finally 7. The result can be read in the result mechanism. The multiplier can be read in the revolution counter and the multiplicand in the keyboard, which provides a check on the operation.

Division: Firstly the division key is pressed, then the zero of the multiplication keys is kept depressed until the carriage is positioned to the extreme right of the machine. Then the dividend is entered, and the long adding key is pushed, which transmits this amount into the result mechanism. The digit 1, which appears in the revolution counter because of the above action, is cleared, and the divisor minus 1 is set into the keyboard, by using the complementary digits, in such a way that the left-hand digits of the values are aligned. All the keys to the left of the divisor must be set to nines. An estimate is then made as to how many times the divisor is contained in the dividend: if, for example, the estimate is four, then the 4 key of the multiplication row is depressed, the machine commences operation, and the digit 4 appears in the revolution counter. The carriage is now shifted by one place to the left and the division is continued in the manner explained.
The result can be seen in the revolution counter, a repetition of this quotient on the left of the result mechanism, and the undivided remainder, if any, in the right portion of the result mechanism (separated from the other numbers by zeros).

Ensign Calculating Machine, ad from 1910
Ensign Calculating Machine, advertisement from Typewriter Topics magazine, 1910

Biography of Emory Ensign

Almost nothing is known about the inventor of this beautiful calculating machine—Emory Seymour Ensign. He was probably a descendant of the early settlers James (1606-1670) and Sarah Ensign, who came to Cambridge, Massachusetts from Great Britain, in 1633. Emory Seymour Ensign was born in Illinois, in 1878. Emory married Rose R. Ensign (nee Fisher) (b. 1881) and they had two daughters: Dorothy (b. 1905) and Barbara (b. 1911).

Besides the abovementioned numerous patents for calculating machines, Ensign was a holder of quite a few other patents for various devices like: automatic driving machine, pleasure railway, eyeleting machine, window lock, chip-receptacle, lock washer, paper clip, blade grinder, antitheft plate for automobiles, valve cap for tires, antiglare screen, control system for refrigerator, etc. According to the patent applications, he lived in Boston, Mass. (1904); Cambridge, Mass. (1905); Cambridgeport, Mass. (1906); Newtonville, Mass. (1908); Brighton, Mass. (1914); East Orange, NJ (1918); Rockford, Illinois (1921); New Haven, Conn. (1928). Emory Seymour Ensign died in 1944.