Michael Bouchet

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
Albert Einstein

Michael Bouchet (1827-1903)
Michael Bouchet (1827-1903)

Michael Bouchet (1827-1903) from Louisville, Kentucky, USA, was a holder of two USA patents for single-column adding devices (known also as single digit adders)—Patent №251823 from 1882, and Patent №314561 from 1885. According to his biographer, Bouchet was responsible for the financial affairs of his diocese in the 1860s and he devised an adding machine to assist in keeping these accounts but applied for patents many years later. Moreover, in the 1890s Bouchet (in collaboration with Dr. A. C. Schumann, of Louisville, a builder of various instruments, such as compasses, microscopes, and calculating machines) invented another machine, which adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides.

The first patent of Bouchet (from 1882) was assigned 1/2 to Bennett Downs Mattingly (1854-1891), a well-known local distiller, who obviously financed the development of the machine. The second calculating device of Michael Bouchet was in fact an improved version of the first. Later on, Bouchet deeded 1/3 of the rights of his second Patent №314561 to M. F. Madden, owner of the company M. F. Madden & Co of Louisville, Kentucky, which advertised, produced, and sold (for $17 each, quite a reasonable price for this time) devices from 1887 until 1890 by the name Madden Adding Machine (see the photo below).

The adding machine of Bouchet was a metal, brass, and plastic device, with dimensions: 5.3 cm x 13.3 cm x 8.5 cm.

Madden Adding Machine from 1887
Madden Adding Machine from 1887

The nine keys with plastic key covers for entering the numbers are arranged in two rows and are attached to the levers, which have from 1 to 9 teeth. When a key is pressed, these teeth will be engaged with the openings of a rod, which is placed to the length of the box, and the rod will be rotated to an angle, according to the number of the teeth. To this rod is attached a digital wheel. The tens carry mechanism can perform a carry to the second and third wheel, so the result mechanism is 3-positioned with a maximum value of 999. Left of the wheels is a lever-driven tack and pinion zeroing mechanism.

The segmental gear racks L, are normally out of mesh with the pinion I, and are fast to the key levers E, in such a manner that the first depression of the key causes its rack to rock forward and engage with the pinion I, and further depression moves the rack upward and rotates the pinion and units numeral wheel.

The patent drawing of the Bouchet's machine
The patent drawing of the Bouchet’s machine

The Bouchet’s machine was manufactured and sold to some extent, but never became popular, as it lacked capacity. Machines of such limited capacity could not compete with ordinary accountants, much less with those who could mentally add from 2 to 4 columns at a clip. Aside from the capacity feature, there was another reason why these single-order machines were useless, except to those who could not add mentally. Multiple forms of calculation, that is, multiplication and division, call for a machine having a multiplicity of orders. The capacity of a single order would be 9×9, which requires no machine at all, as every 7 y.o. child knows that. Multiplying multi-digital numbers, however, is a different thing, and it requires a multiple-order calculator.

After the three first key-operated calculating machines in the world, invented in Europe (see machines of James White, Luigi Torchi, and Jean-Baptiste Schwilgué), there are a number of patents issued in the United States on machines of this class, besides the devices of Parmelee from 1850, Hill from 1857 and Winter from 1859, already examined in this section.

All of these machines varied in construction, but not in principle. Some were really operative and others inoperative, but all lacked what may be termed useful capacity. Some of them are even preserved to the present time. Such machines, of course, never became popular because of their limited capacity, which required many extra movements and caused mental strain without offering an increase in speed of calculation as compared with expert mental calculation.

It seems strange that up to 1887 the only operative key-driven machines were single-digit adders and nobody managed to invent and produce a multi-column device. It is folly to think that all these inventors never had the thought or wish to produce such a machine. It is more reasonable to believe there was not one of them, who did not have the wish and who did not give deep thought to the subject. There is every reason to believe that some of them tried it, but there is no doubt that if they did it was a failure, or there would be evidence of it in some form.

Biography of Michael Bouchet

Michael Bouchet (1827-1903)
Rev. Msg. Michael Bouchet (1827-1903)

Monsignor Michael Bouchet must have been an interesting character, a natural mechanical genius, in addition to his great ability as a churchman. He was a Frenchman, born in the farm of his parents Michael and Jeanne Saby-Bouchet in Le Milliazeix, Miremont, Auvergne, on 23 August 1827. At the age of 15 Bouchet began his studies for the priesthood, and two years later entered the College of Billion, where he spent one year.

For the next three years, he studied at the Petit séminaire de Clermont (Clermont-Ferrand, Puy-de-Dôme), where he continued for five terms. In the early part of 1853 he, with eight others, was invited by Bishop Spalding, at that time Bishop of Louisville, who was in France seeking clerical candidates for his Diocese, to come to America.

Bouchet immigrated to the USA in May 1853, studied and served in several places in Kentucky (Union county, and then in Kelson county), and remained there until 1860, when he settled in Louisville, Kentucky, to serve the local Catholic community. Here he became not only a renowned pastor and an early ecumenist, but also a linguist and inventor. Bouchet was Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Louisville from 1871 until his death in 1903, and rector of the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption.

Father Michael Bouchet was a small, lively man, with an inventive turn of mind, devising automatic snakes to frighten his acolytes, and a folding bed (1860) and fire escape for his own use. He devised also a refracting telescope, which is preserved and still functional. He also invented a candlestick in which the candle is raised automatically as it turns away at the top.

Bouchet had considerable responsibility for the financial affairs of his diocese and, according to his biographer, as early as the 1860s he devised an adding machine to assist in keeping these accounts. Of these devices, Bouchet patented only later versions of the adding machine, taking out the above-mentioned patents №251823 and №314561.

Bouchet was also a science fiction writer (he wrote a story about a trip to the Moon).

Michael Bouchet died on Easter morning, 12 April 1903, stricken with apoplexy while on his knees at prayer at night. His obituary noted, “Never was there a more singular, a more eccentric, a more contrarily gifted man who used his gifts and his winning personality so little to his own purposes… He was at once both sage and child.”