William Gubelmann

William Samuel Gubelmann (1865-1959) was a remarkable American inventor and businessman, who held hundreds of USA and Canadian patents, mainly in the field of adding machines, accounting machines, and cash registers. In 1959 Popular Mechanics magazine called Gubelmann the father of all calculating machines in use today. The New York Times newspaper said that his inventions formed the basis of the business machine industry. Gubelmann licensed his inventions to huge companies like Remington, IBM, and National Cash Register, and was involved in substantial litigation later.

The patent drawing of Gubelmann's adding machine from 1893
The patent drawing of Gubelmann’s adding machine from 1893

For his first patent for adding machine Gubelmann applied in June 1891, and the patent was granted on 31 Oct. 1893 (US patent No. 507810). It was a simple one-column keyboard adder (suitable for adding columns of numbers), with a large registering wheel (see the nearby patent drawing), similar to the earlier adding machine of Caroline Winter.

The patent relates to an adding machine in which a registering wheel or disk containing a row of numbers and enclosed in a suitable casing is rotated by a series of key levers, each key lever being provided with a number. Upon depressing one of the said key levers, the registering wheel is rotated so as to expose, through an opening in the casing, a number corresponding with the number on the key lever, and upon depressing two or more of the key levers, successively, the number representing the numbers on all of the key levers depressed added together will be indicated on the registering wheel through the opening in the casing.

One of the most famous patents of Gubelmann was US1429201 from 1922 (Interestingly, the inventor needed more than 22 years to get this patent). It was for an adding and recording machine with a plurality of sets of totalizer wheels and an associated printing mechanism capable of printing items introduced into the sets of totalizer wheels, and also of printing totals under the control of either of the sets of totalizer wheels. It was further characterized by a mechanism whereby items introduced are printed, a subtotal may be printed, and the subtotalizer cleared, without disturbing the amount standing on a grand totalizer.

Biography of William Gubelmann

Rev. Jacob Samuel Gubelmann (1836-1919)
Rev. Jacob Samuel Gubelmann (1836-1919)

William Samuel Gubelmann (in his youth known as “Willie”) was born as Gulielmus Samuel Gubelmann in St. Louis, Missouri, on 7 July 1865. He was the son of Rev. Jacob Samuel Gubelmann (1836-1919) (see the nearby portrait), born in Switzerland, and Sophia E. Holste–Gubelmann (1843-1924), born in Germany.

Jacob “John” Gubelmann was born in Bern, and came to America at age of 12 in 1848 together with his father–Rev. Henry Gubelmann (1811-1883). Next year Jacob was converted and baptized in New York, then in 1852 entered Theological Seminary in Rochester, and finally graduated as a doctor of divinity at Rochester University in 1859. Later he served at churches as pastor for 25 consecutive years, in Louisville, KY (1860-1862), St Louis, MO (1862-1868) (where in 1863 he married Sophia Holste, and their first child William was born in 1865), and Philadelphia, PA (1868-1885). In 1885, he was called to Rochester Seminary as a teacher, this place he held for 30 years. Besides William, the family had also Bertha (b. 1867), Albert (b. 1876), and Ella Christine (1880–1950).

William Gubelmann spent his childhood in Philadelphia, PA, where he started his career as an inventor only 19 years old in 1884, when he began working on a model of the typewriter. His first patent (for a cuff retainer, US patent No. 362000) Gubelmann obtained in 1887. His patents have been challenged and claimed thousands of times, but he was one of those rarities, who got rich from patents, as his fortune was derived for some 50 years of royalties on his patents.

William Gubelmann had a passion for yachting and one of his prized possessions was a square-rig, 3 mast, 168-foot yacht called the USS Seven Seas.

William Gubelmann married Juliette E. Metz (1867-1956) in 1891, and they had three daughters: Dorothy Irene (1892–1984), Mildred (1899–1976), and Gladys (1900–1982), and a son: Walter Stanley (1908-1988), who inherited from his father the management of the family held Realty and Industrial Corporation, which was reaping his family millions of dollars.

William Samuel Gubelmann died in New York on 26 September 1959.