Stepping back, it all adds up

By Robert Grahame


Humans have had the need to do mathematical calculations for centuries. Most of the time, calculations were made in one’s head. I’m not going into a history of calculators here, however, by 1965, a variety of devices and machines had been invented.

If you have never heard of the Chinese Abacus, where have you been living? I want to tell you about a massively complex, at least I always thought it was, adding machine that my dad used in 1965 and even well into the seventies when digital calculators were in abundance and cheap.

Take a look at this monster that debuted 1955, the year I was born, from Monroe. My dad had this sitting and taking up as much space as a large CRT (cathode ray tube) computer monitor of the 1980s, on a 200 year-old roll top desk. I still have and use the desk.


Take a close look. Can you see the add and subtract buttons. Try to find multiply or divide. If you read the ad below, it does say that the machine can multiply and divide, however, it does not seem evident how this was done. It does not even have a printed tape. The operator had to write all the numbers down.

I remember my dad using this thing. He was pretty fast at it, I thought, punching buttons that would stay depressed until he hit one of those larger buttons on the right and then there would be a loud couple of, or a series of, ker-chunket, ker-chunket. All that for just adding and subtracting.

Today, I have a smartphone that has a massively multi-functional calculator and it is only one of hundreds of apps on a telephone that fits in the palm of my hand.

Here is the original advertisement for this Monroe beast:


Note the space age references in the graphics. In 1955, radar, invented during WW II, and telecommunications were very new and futuristic. One must wonder who envisioned the idea of numbers being pulled down from outer space to a machine that would sit on an office desk and do basic arithmetic calculations. Wait, have you heard that Google is going to solve the technological divide, that is the lack of Internet connectivity in remote locations of the world, by placing balloons with Internet connectivity in low space orbit. Then anyone, anywhere in the world, will have more than just numbers coming and going, to and from space.

That’s how it all adds up when you step back in time.


Let’s talk telephone, © 2014 by Robert Grahame



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