Calculators of the Past


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On: February 18, 2013

Today’s calculator is a common sight. From calculators found on cell phones and smart phones, to pocket sized calculators you take with you, this miniature adding machine sure has come a long way. Older styles of calculators were quite large, but their modern counterparts can be as thin as a credit card. The very first calculator known to man was called an abacus. This device was designed by the Egyptians as far back as 2000 BC. Also known as a counting frame, this unit is comprised of a framed structure with small poles going across, sometimes made of wire, and each pole has wooden or stone beads on it. The abacus was the main way people were able to do mathematical functions across the globe for centuries, and spanned throughout cities in Europe, India, China, Korea, and was even used by the Native Americans. For centuries, this was the most commonly used method for doing simple mathematical calculations. You can still buy an abacus today, and many use it as a simple teaching tool for children to learn math.

With the Renaissance period came a lot of new inventions including the mechanical calculator, also sometimes known as an adding machine. The first one was called Pascal’s Calculator, named after its inventor, Blaise Pascal when it was created in 1642. These large machines relied on mechanics to work in sync with the user and whatever numbers they put in. The first commercially used calculator was known as an arithmometer, and was the first successful calculator to be sold in the mass market. People in offices used it quite commonly, and for many years it was the only one of its kind available. In 1887, a machine called a comptometer used a keypad with nine digits on it. This machine was widely used in retail stores and in offices. A man by the name of Charles Babbage invented a much different type of adding machine. His calculator was so large that it needed a steam engine to work properly! This machine was known as a difference engine. Later, Babbage would work with IBM to help develop some of the first designs for modern computing.

In 1948, something was finally created that helped meet peoples’ demands for smaller, more portable calculators. The Curta Calculator, a compact hand cranked machine, was much easier to carry around, and became a popular way for people to perform various calculations. In fact, they were so widely used, that they remained the most popular form of handheld calculator until the invention of the electronic calculator in the 1970s. Before the smaller version of the electronic calculator, the digital calculator of the 1960s was large and heavy because of the volume of circuitry required to get it to light up and to work. By the next decade, calculators were lighter and easier to carry. Companies like Canon and Sharp were some of the first to mass produce these much more compact versions. Soon, everyone from students to housewives were using electronic calculators.

As the calculator developed, it became more advanced. Programmable calculators were created, and next came scientific calculators that could actually interpret and solve scientific mathematical problems. These high tech calculators can perform more complicated functions, such as figuring out calculus formulas and trigonometric solutions. Most high school and college students use these to assist in working on problems in various math classes. Financial calculators also came about during the 1980s-1990s, and included terms that could be entered in such as “pmt” for payment, among others. These calculators are helpful for bankers and loan officers in order to assist people in determining how much they can afford as well as how interest rates affect monthly payments. The modern calculator is still a simple thing to use, and is also often found on computers and cell phones as a standard feature. With so many new computer programs, just about any formula or mathematical calculation can be performed with a blink of an eye and with stunning accuracy. This adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing technological marvel has made the task of performing calculations much more efficient, easier, and faster.

The History of the Calculator

The Many Different Types of Calculators

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