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Time Changes Everything: Calculators

Calculators are handy tools that today most people carry around in their pockets in the form of smartphones. However, there is a long history of tools to help people add and subtract, and later multiply and divide that predate any form of digital computing. The abacus is the earliest known form of a calculating device, first used in around 2000BCE. There was little development in this technology until the 17th century CE, when the first slide rule was developed. This allowed for more advanced calculations including multiplication and division. Slide rules were commonly used until the 1980s, when digital calculators became more common.

The next step in the development of calculators came in 1820, when the first counting machine was patented in France. These machines were used until around 1915. The development of calculators using electricity began in the Second World War. The first fully electric calculator came about in 1961. After this, developments in calculating technology were more rapid, and by the 1970s and 80s, they were similar in appearance to modern-day calculators.

Now take a look at some of the calculators in the WDM’s collection! Do you remember using any of these types of calculators?

WDM-1973-S-10578. Desk Calculator. This 1895 desk calculator used two rotating discs to perform basic arithmetic.

WDM-1979-S-123. Interest calculator.  The Meilicke calculator from around 1910 was used to calculate interest. It performed no calculations on its own but rather used a series of tables to track interest and tax rates.

WDM-1975-NB-99 1947. Adding Machine. This adding machine from 1947 used 7 dials to add numbers.

WDM-2016-S-53 1947. Slide Rule. This 1947 slide rule allowed for more complex calculations than a simple adding machine.

WDM-1988-S-18. Calculator. This “calculating machine” from 1960 could add, subtract, multiply, and divide, by using a small stylus to change the numbers on the front of the machine.

WDM-2015-S-133. Calculator. By 1972, calculators began to look similar to the ones we use today. This 1972 calculator ran off electricity.

WDM-2004-S-248. Calculator. This 1974 calculator was more compact than its 1972 counterpart.

WDM-2013-S-40. Smartphone. By 2010, smartphones were overtaking the phone market, allowing people to have a calculator with them wherever they went.

By: Kaiti Hannah, Curatorial Assistant

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