Accounting – meat skewers in a macaroni box?

On this day in 1889 – Felt & Tarrant released the first printing desk calculator – the Comptograph.

Extract from The PC Pioneers

William Seward Burroughs I had launched the Burroughs calculator company around the same time but it was Dorr Eugene Felt who first developed the Comptometer in 1886.

At the age of fourteen he had worked in a local machine shop, but then moved to Chicago, finally taking a job as a travelling sewing machine salesman.  He subsequently returned to working in a machine shop when he concluded that he did not much enjoy the nomadic life.

His prototype of the Comptometer was fabricated in a macaroni box with wire and meat skewers, string and rubber bands but it was designed to be operated only by keys and needed no lever to activate the calculation.  He received patents for this in 1887. He joined with Robert Tarrant, a financier, to form the Felt & Tarrant Manufacturing Company in January 1889.

They made a slow start, producing only eight machines in the first year, four of them purchased by the US Treasury Department.  One of the barriers to business was the fact that the Comptometer needed a properly trained operator. Felt then developed a printing version which he called the Comptograph, a recording-adding machine.

The two partners parted company in 1902, with Felt proceeding with the Comptometer and Tarrant forming the Comptograph Company; this latter operation only lasted until 1914.

In 1915 the improved Comptometer Model F was issued with features for error detection and correction. This version sold twice as many units as all the previous designs, over 40,000 by 1920.  Felt had amassed seventy patents, mostly based around the Comptometer, which stayed in general use until the 1960s with some persisting into the 1980s.

The company was merged with Victor Comptometer in 1961 and entered the cash register business, initially putting an adding machine on top of a cash drawer.  Victor became the North American distributor for Hugin Cash Registers in 1966.  Later it entered the business computer market too; this division was eventually sold on to the Tandy Corporation.


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