The Italian civil engineer from Naples Count Roberto Piscicelli (1863-1926) was a prolific inventor with 34 patents to his name, which he received in Italy, Great Britain, Denmark, France, Austria, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the USA in the beginning of 20th century for railway-ticketing machines (machine for printing and issuing railway-tickets, ticket-punches, and drilling machines), transportation system (electric telpher postal system and electric dispatch-box for overhead lines), automatic piston apparatus, concrete slab buildings, and others.
Most interesting for us are Piscicelli’s calculating machines (cash registers and adding/multiplication machines), the first of which he invented in the early 1900s (see US patent No. 872845 from 1907), and its rights were later sold to the famous NCR Co. One of his designs for a calculating machine was implemented in the 1910s by the Dutch/French businessman Nico Sanders in his company Société Industrielle des Téléphones, Paris, which machines were produced and sold under the names “L’Eclair”, as the machine was first called, and later “La Calculatrice Electrique Sanders”, and “Ellis bookkeeping machine”. It was one of the earliest practical electromechanical calculators, after the Autarith of Alexander Rechnitzer.
Sanders calculating machine (see the nearby image) is based on Taeggi-Piscicelli patents GB191210148, AT62199, US1416974, and FR430730, the last of which has an application date of April 1911. It has a remarkable pinwheel construction with electric drive, a capacity of 9 or 12 input pins x 7 x 12, and was in production from 1912 until 1929. It was a multiplying and adding machine, the multiplication being made by repeated additions and the addition by adding the different products obtained.
Biography of Roberto Piscicelli
Count Roberto Maria Giacomo Sabino de Vito Piscicelli Taeggi (shortened usually as Roberto Taeggi Piscicelli) was born on 30 December 1863 in Napoli, Italy. He was an heir of three noble families—the De Vito family, attested since the 14th century, originally from Gaeta, and the Piscicelli family, originally from Naples (the first known ancestor is Leodoro Piscicello, who was, in the year 997, cavalry general of the Emperor Basil II Porphyrogenitus). The two noble families were united by the marriage in 1684 of Giulia Piscicelli, the last heir of the family, to Francesco De Vito. The descendants of De Vito Piscicelli, who returned to Naples towards the end of the 18th century, were commonly referred to with the sole surname of Piscicelli. The branch of the De Vito Piscicelli Taeggi family was founded in 1822 by the marriage of Carlo De Vito Piscicelli to Maria Rachele di Giacomo Taeggi, from Milan. Roberto was (most probably) the son of Carlo’s son Pietro de Vito Piscicelli Taeggi (born 1827 in Naples), who married in 1855 Maria Teresa Revertera (1826-1901), from another Neapolitan noble family.
We don’t know anything about Roberto’s youth, except that he graduated in 1886 as a civil engineer, but in early 1903 we can find him in London, trying to establish the implementation of his Electric Post transportation system, which came to notice of the local press (see its presentation in Timaru Herald of 7 Feb. 1903). In the early 1910s, Piscicelli lived in Paris, where he tried to organize the manufacturing of his calculating machines, but upon the beginning of WWI, he sold his patent rights to Dutch/French businessman Nico Sanders and returned to Italy.
Roberto Piscicelli was not only a nobleman and engineer but also a political activist and economist. In November 1900, we can find him speaking to the Provincial Council of Naples, on the economic development and industrialization of the province. He published a book on the banking sector in 1922 (The Truth About the Italian Discount Bank), and another one in 1924 (Judicial Actions, a publication relating to a judicial dispute).
Roberto Taeggi Piscicelli died on 22 June 1926 in Rome.