James Walsh

James Walsh's Calcumeter and Standard Desk Calcumeter
James Walsh’s Calcumeter and Standard Desk Calcumeter

On 17 December 1901 James J. Walsh (1863-1942) from Elizabeth, New Jersey, took out the US patent No. 689255 for an adding machine, type dial adder, which will become popular later as Calcumeter. This stylus-driven cogged wheel adder (see the nearby image) was manufactured from 1903 until 1905 by the company Morse & Walsh Co., Trenton NJ, (a property of James Walsh and Herbert North Morse, as Walsh was the inventor and Morse apparently managed the business), later Herbert North Morse Co.

In 1907 Walsh applied for a new version of his adder, this time with resetting device (US patent No. 897688), which went into production under the name Standard Desk Calcumeter.

The device was sold with remarkable market success (in 1904 the five-disc model was sold for only 10 USD, while the larger machines like Comptometer or Burroughs cost some 400 USD), prospered for a while, and then disappeared by 1920 (before its demise, more than 100000 adders may have been made), facing the competition of similar, but cheaper adders like Lightning, and full size calculating machines. Many variants of Calcumeter exist, ranging in size from 5 to 12 number dials, with or without reset wheel, and/or with larger wheels for pounds/shillings/pence/farthings or feet/inches/sixteenths, and/or foldable legs that allow it to stand at a 45-degree angle for ease of use, etc.

The Calcumeter, an ad from 1904
The Calcumeter, an ad from 1904

The original Calcumeter was portable steel, brass, and German silver made (for wheels) device, with measurements (for 5-dial adder): 1.8 cm x 16.3 cm x 5 cm, and weight 350 gram. The Calcumeter was widely advertised in the beginning of the 1900s (see the nearby ad from 1904.)

Unfortunately, the Calcumeter can be used easily only for addition, because its tens carry mechanism is too simple and forces the dials to only move clockwise, thus subtraction must be performed by adding the tens complement. However, the complementary digits are not shown anywhere (only very early versions of the Calcumeter show them). So, to enter a complementary digit, the operator should put the stylus at the 9 (just to the left side of the stop), and rotate until reaching the digit needed to subtract. For example, to subtract 53, one must put the stylus at the 9 of the units dial and rotate it till the stylus reaches the number 3, then to put the stylus at the 9 of the tens dial and rotate it till reach the 5. Then to continue by subtracting 0 from each of the remaining dials (i.e. move the stylus from 9 to 0 on each dial) so that to have added the nine digit-wise complement of 000053, i.e. 999946. After that, add 1 to the units dial to get the correct answer. The end result is that we have added 999947 = 1000000-53, which on the 6-digit display is equivalent to just subtracting 53. Quite a cumbersome task for simple subtraction, not to mention what we’ll have to do for multiplication and division.

In several sources is mentioned, that some of the models of Calcumeter had so-called stored-energy carry (however, this feature is not mentioned in the patents), which is not common on small adders. The stored-energy carry in a sense winds a spring as a given dial is turned. When the dial is turned to position 9, the spring is fully compressed. When the dial is turned one more position to 0, then the spring is released causing it to add one to the position to the left. With a long carry, the carries will ripple across to the left one after another without a great deal of effort on the part of the user other than inputting the single unit on one dial.

Biographies of James Walsh and Herbert Morse

Unfortunately very little is known about these men. About James J. Walsh (1863-1942) we only know his birth/death years, and that besides the abovementioned two patents for calculating machines, he was a holder of another patent—for washing machine (US patent No. 1228149 from 29 May 1917).

About Herbert Morse there is some info: Herbert North Morse Sr. was born on 16 June 1872 in Hammonton, Atlantic County, New Jersey. He was the son of Silas Rutillus Morse (1840-1928) and Mary Jane North (1845-1909). Herbert Morse married in 1899 to Gertrude May Crosland (1871-1946). They had one son, Herbert North Morse Jr. (b. 1907).

Herbert graduated from Pierce Business College in Philadelphia in May 1896. He was appointed State supervisor of the school census in 1898, and Chief of the bureau of statistics of the department of public instruction of the State of New Jersey. In 1903 he became the majority stockholder and president of the Morse & Walsh Co., a manufacturer of adding machines, but from December 1905 it became just “H. N. Morse Co.”. In the late 1920s, Herbert Morse was the assistant commissioner of education for New Jersey.

Herbert North Morse died on 3 Aug 1934 (aged 62) in Wayne, Kennebec County, Maine.