George Fowler

Yet another Fowler, this time the American George B. Fowler (1834-1891), wrote his name in the history of computing devices, after the Englishman Thomas Fowler, the creator of a unique ternary calculating machine in 1840. George Fowler’s machine from 1863 was a simple stylus-operated adding device without a carrying mechanism, which was in serial production in the second half of the 19th century, although in small quantities.

His first patent for adding machine (US patent 39222) George Fowler, living at that time in Chicago, Illinois, got on 14 July 1863. 27 years later, on 15 July 1890, George Fowler received a second patent (US patent 432266) for an improved version of his device. The patent model (located in the Smithsonian Museum, Washington) and several production models of Fowler’s instrument survived to our time.

Fowler's adding machine
George Fowler’s adding machine

In the 1860s the machine was advertised in several journals ( e.g. in Scientific American) as the only practical and reliable adding machine in the world 🙂, and was reported to be on the market since 1869, produced by the company of its inventor—Geo. B. Fowler & Co., Chicago, IL (see the nearby photo). Fowler garnered testimonials from lumber dealers, bookkeepers, and insurance companies, and hoped to find agents who would pay substantial sums to market his machine, but there is no indication that this occurred. Later on, Fowler moved to New York and founded a new company—Fowler Adding Machine Co., New York, which produced the device. When launched to the market, the device cost $5. In the 1890s the device was sold for $8 by the Universal Adding Machine Co., under the name Universal Adding Machine. Fowler’s Adding Machine was successfully imitated around the turn of the century in the form of the Locke Adder (US Pat. No. 689680) which was also sold initially for $5 and later for $10. In Europe, the Universal was sold as “Bamberger Omega”, manufactured by the company of Justin Wilhelm Bamberger of Munich, Germany.

The patent drawing of Fowler's Adder
The patent drawing of Fowler’s Adder

The adding machine of Fowler (see the nearby drawing from the first patent) was a slide bar adder, operated by pin or pencil. It was a wood and metal device, with measurements: 1 cm x 22.5 cm x 11.5 cm, and a weight of 300 g.

The wooden frame, covered on the left and the right with black zinc plates (holding the bars in place and also folding over the left and right edges of the device to form the sides), has slots for 8 sliding bars (there are also 6-digit models). The upper slide represents the units, the next the tens, etc. Each bar has a series of regularly spaced holes. The wooden pieces that form the slots are stamped from right to left 1 to 9. Numbers are entered by moving the bars from left to right. Totals are visible on the back of the device.

If it is desired to add two numbers, for instance, 251 and 185, the pin is inserted into the hole opposite Figure 1 on the first slide, and said slide is pushed toward the right until the pin strikes the cap D’. Then the pin is inserted into the hole opposite the figure 5 on the second slide, and so on for all digits of the addends. If the hole is on the dark portion of the slide, then the said slide has to be moved leftward, instead of rightward. The result of operation is ascertained by turning the platform A upside down and noticing the figures appearing on the underside of the slides opposite to the apertures b (see the lower image) in the platform.

The result apertures of Fowler's Adder
The result apertures of Fowler’s Adder

Biography of George Fowler

George Benedict Fowler was born on 26 July 1834, in Flushing, Long Island, New York. In the early 1860s, he was a resident of Chicago, Illinois. By 1864 he returned to New York City, opening a company to produce his adding device (Fowler Adding Machine Co., No. 37 Park Row, New York). In the late 1860s, Fowler used to work as a patent agent in Brooklyn. Besides the above-mentioned two patents for adders, he went on to patent a variety of other devices, including: a clothes and hat hook (US40923), a wood-splitter (US53289), a game-box for ten-pins (US107030), a wagon-jack (US113285), a crusher and press (US136498), an eggbeater and mixer (US256310), a picture cord and hook hanger (US357312), combined cane and cigar case (US368823), a hand grip tester (US344095), a clam roaster (US424875), etc.

George Benedict Fowler died on 12 May 1891 (aged 56) in Brooklyn, New York, and was buried at the local Green-Wood Cemetery.