Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Comptometer of Felt & Tarrant and Their Rival -- Burroughs

The most authoritative website on Comptometers, if you are interested, is run by Brooke Boering. Here is the link: Comptometers  Brooke actually worked for The Felt & Tarrant Co., the manufacturers of the Comptometer, in Chicago, briefly, as a service technician. That was a long long time ago. The history of the company until its demise is quite interesting. At one point they merged with the Victor Company, which also made calculators.  Eventually, all these companies making mechanical computing devices were superceded by companies making modern day computers.  You can find all this information on Brooke's website.

I have two Felt & Tarrant Comptometers:
The first is a model H, serial #221922, last patent date Nov. 2 1920, 8 columns, green painted metal (copper), with black metal cover, manufactured in the early 20's and then apparently refurbished and painted green in England after World War II (that is to distinguish it from one's manufactured in the U.S.).
The second is serial #802, last patent date Dec. 15 1891, 8 columns, mahogany wood case (see picture above), overall dimensions of the case is 19 cm wide, 36.7 cm deep, and 10.8 cm high. This is not including the 72 keys protruding from the top an additional 3 cm, and the lever mechanism on the right protruding 1.5 cm. This specific Comptometer serial number is listed as the 21st oldest known machine on Brooke's Comptometer website above.
I also have some Comptometer ancillary collectables that I have still to unpack. I will add information on those items when they pop up.

In addition to the Comptometers above I have a number of other (competitor) machines of this type.

The Burroughs Adding Machine Company had a very interesting machine that was developed at about the same time as the Comptometer, but it only performed addition.

I call it my "windows" machine because it has large beveled plate glass windows on three sides so that you can see the mechanism inside. It is a beautiful machine. 

I also have the very rare Burroughs shoebox calculator, serial # 204171, manufactured in 1912. This was issued by Burroughs to compete with the Felt and Tarrant Compometer. 

 It performed identical computations as the Comptometer and even had the same external look to it.  There was a very interesting legal fight between these two giants that ensued as a result of the introduction of the Burroughs "shoebox".  See this webpage about the legal battle to remove these machines from the marketplace Felt & Tarrant v. Burroughs.  As a result of the litigation all of these original Burroughs "shoebox" comptometers were ordered removed from the market and destroyed.   There are very few remaining.

As a follow-on to the ill fated Burroughs "shoebox" which was removed from the market Burroughs introduced yet another calculating machine of which I also have an example of:


I first met Brooke Boering at the home of Bob Otnes in Palo Alto many years ago.  I spoke to Brooke yesterday.  While the website is still functioning, Brooke informed me that he is not actively working on it much these days.  He has donated his collection of Felt & Tarrant machines and associated materials  to the Felt Mansion/Estate for display.  Due to his age, his activities have been more restricted lately.  We all wish him well.
All photos above are courtesy of Brooke Boering.

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