Gustavus Linderoos

Science is the captain, and practice the soldiers.
Leonardo da Vinci

On 11 August 1871, Captain Gustavus Linderoos (1818-1885) from Point Arena, Mendocino, California, filed a patent application for a simple adding machine, which boasted a limited ability to run subtotals while retaining the master total. The patent (US patent No. 140146) was granted on 24 June 1873.

The adding machine of Gustavus Linderoos (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)
The adding machine of Gustavus Linderoos (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)

The adding machine of Linderoos is similar in appearance to the so-called Ciclografo from the 1650s, attributed to the Italian scientist Tito Livio Burattini. The patent model of the device (see the nearby photo) survived to our time and is kept now in the collection of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The purpose of the adding machine of Gustavus Linderoos was to be a compact, cheap, and durable instrument, to be used in practice not only as an adding device but also as a recording device. In the patent application, the inventor stated:
The object of this invention is not simply to facilitate the adding of abstract numbers, although by it any numbers the sum of which is equal or less than one hundred thousand may be readily obtained without the use of paper or pencil, and with perfect accuracy. The main purpose is to afford weighers, measurers, and persons having to keep tally where a continuous succession of small numbers is to be added-and where it is at the same time necessary that there should be no omission, or mistake, or loss through forgetfulness, by interruption or otherwise, of the sum obtained at any point—a simple, cheap, pocket instrument not liable to get out of order, and affording an easy and certain means of keeping the sum of the unity, whether of weight or measure, at any time accumulated. The special use and advantage may be illustrated by the measuring of boards-and other lumber, while an exact account of the number of feet is kept when the lumber is shipped. The person keeping the tally notes the number of feet in each plank as it passes, and, by the ordinary methods of paper and pencil, or by mere memory of items, there is always liability of mistake…

Let’s examine the adding device of Linderoos, using the patent drawings (see the drawing below).

The shield-shaped brass instrument has an overall measurement of 1.5 cm x 12 cm x 15.8 cm.

The patent drawing of adding machine of Gustavus Linderoos
The patent drawing of the adding machine of Gustavus Linderoos

The device has four disks, as the middle large disk serves as the drive. This disk is an inset rotating disc (provided with a spring underneath to keep it steady and pressed up to the face-plate) with 100 holes numbered clockwise around its edge. The outside of the disk also has 100 numbered divisions. A piece of the outer shield curves in across the disk to the center and serves as a stop during the addition.

Above the large disk on top of the shield are three smaller wheels (disks with pinions). The wheel on the right is numbered counterclockwise from 0 to 9 and labeled: 100—1000. The wheel in the middle is numbered clockwise from 0 to 9 and labeled: 1000—10000. The leftmost wheel is numbered clockwise by tens from 0 to 10 and labeled: 10000—100000. There is an ornamental pointer for each wheel.

Rotating the large central disk through 100 causes the 100—1000 disk to rotate one unit (there is a tooth for tens carry). The small wheels for 100—1000 and 1000—10000 also have tens carry teeth. The three smaller wheels also may be rotated separately, to make the zeroing easier.

Biography of Gustavus Linderoos

Gustavus Linderoos was born in 1818 in Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire. He came from an excellent family from the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland. Gustavus was educated in a Naval School in Sweden, in which he served as a tutor for some years, carrying several prizes for proficiency in mathematics and astronomy. Completing his education, he embraced the profession of a sailor, and soon rose to the rank of master and became a thorough navigator both in a practical and technical sense.

In 1849 the gold fever brought Gustavus to California. Growing weary of the sea, he made his home in San Francisco and went into various ventures with varying success.

In 1859 Gustavus went to Point Arena, a small coastal town in Mendocino County, California, where he established a general merchandise business (store Lane&Linderoos) in company with Peter Frederick Lane (1821-1908), also a native of Sweden and a prominent merchant from San Francisco at this time. Retiring from business in about a year, he was elected Justice of the Peace and Notary Public for the county of Mendocino, which offices he held for more than 20 years. He was also a postmaster of Point Arena for several years and used to take part in various public and business activities.

Captain Gustavus Linderoos died in Point Arena on 1 June 1885, after a lingering illness, the disease being cancer of the stomach.