Halcolm Ellis

Halcolm Gordon Ellis (1867-1925)
Halcolm Gordon Ellis (1867-1925)

In 1893 Halcolm Gordon Ellis (1867-1925), a young lawyer from Springfield, Mass., was hired to work as a patent attorney for Knight Brothers in St. Louis, later joining the Office of Jury Commissioner. It seems at that time Ellis began inventing himself and soon became a resourceful and talented inventor. Only two years later, in December 1895, Ellis applied for his first patent (US No. 565069, for cotton-press).

Several years later, in 1900, while processing the documents for De Kerniea Hiett’s second adding machine (US patent No. 699320), Ellis decided to switch his inventive mind to mechanical calculators, so he contacted a friend—the mechanical engineer Nathan W. Perkins Jr. (1861-1932) and they together devised and in November 1901 applied for their first adding machine (US patent No. 707309) (the patent was issued on 19 August 1902 and was assigned to St. Louis “promoter” Charles H. Filley). Although this machine apparently was never produced, it was the start of a long and productive partnership between the two men.

In 1902 Ellis moved to Attleboro, Massachusetts, where he found a local banker who was funding his projects. Unfortunately, the banker died the next year and in 1903 Ellis moved to New York, and Perkins followed. In New York Ellis worked for the American Arithmograph Company, where he had succeeded William H. Pike as a draughtsman. Ellis broke with the AAC and formed the Ellis Adding Typewriter Company in 1905 (Perkins managed the company’s engineering division), and in 1909 he refined his new combination adding machine and typewriter Arithmograph with his most critical patent (US pat. No 1199276), which was applied for in 1909 and issued in 1916.`

Ellis Adding-Typewriter (Source: National Museum of American History)
Ellis Adding-Typewriter (Source: National Museum of American History)

The Ellis Adding Typewriter Company built and marketed its machines from 1911 until 1929. The Ellis was an adding machine designed to print on ledger cards and was supplied both with and without a typewriter keyboard. In 1913, his adding typewriter won Ellis the John Scott Legacy Medal and Premium in the category of computer and cognitive science. The award is given annually by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to the most deserving men and women whose inventions have contributed in some outstanding way to the comfort, welfare and happiness of mankind.

Ellis Adding-Typewriter was a machine, composed of about 3400 pieces, about the size of an ordinary type-writing machine (overall: 11.9 cm x 52 cm x 51 cm) and of much the same general appearance, and it is intended to perform all the functions of a type-writing machine and of an arithmometer or recording-calculator and perform these functions not only separately but conjointly. The Ellis is visible writing, has a typewriter as well as adding machine keyboard, contributing to its usefulness as an adding machine by combining the functions of a typewriter—e.g., its ability to write with a single stroke such words as debit, credit, etc. So it can be considered a complete adding and billing machine and, to a considerable extent, an accounting machine. A merchant could have a ledger card for each customer and use an Ellis machine to update a customer’s credit balance each time a purchase was made or payment was received.

Biography of Halcolm Ellis

Halcolm Gordon Ellis was born the son of a lawyer, John P. Ellis (1840-1903), and Clara C. Bell Ellis (1845–1924) in Springfield, Missouri, on 17 October 1867. As a young man, he was known to his family by his nickname, Halley. Halcolm studied at Calvin M. Woodward’s Manual Training School for boys in St. Louis. Later he got a Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of Washington, then studied mechanical engineering.

Starting his career as a patent attorney for Knight Brothers in St. Louis in 1893, Ellis got his first patent for a cotton press in 1895, then continued with inventing machines for laundering, a machine to make shoelaces, heating systems, and an automobile motor, before to focus his inventive efforts in 1900 to typewriting and adding machines, receiving a couple of dozens of patents in this area in the next two decades.

Halcolm Ellis was married to Susan Ellis and they had two daughters. At the beginning of 1925, Ellis and his wife made a trip around the world, then arrived in Paris, France, aiming to settle there permanently and oversee the manufacture of the MAP typewriter in St. Denis (Seine). There he met Nico Sanders (who manufactured calculating machines designed by Roberto Piscicelli), who was Ellis’ sales representative in Paris and actively promoted the use of office machines in France. Ellis and his wife Susan were staying in a hotel at 50 Rue Fontenelles, Sevres, at Seine-et-Oise, west of St. Denis, when, at 3 am on 26 May, Ellis suddenly died of a brain hemorrhage, aged 57.