February 5, 1887 — Dorr Eugene Felt (1862–1930) of Beloit, Wisconsin began manufacturing his comptometer today, taking the adding machine to new heights.
It was an invention 220 years in the making, for the original creators of adding machines were Blaise Pascal and Wilhelm Schickard, who in 1642 built the first mechanical calculator. Pascal came up with an adding machine that could perform additions and subtractions directly and multiplication and divisions by repetitions. Schickard’s machine, invented several decades earlier, was supported by a mechanised form of multiplication tables.
These two were followed by a string of inventors and inventions leading to those of Thomas de Colmar who launched the mechanical calculator industry in 1851 when he released his simplified arithmometer. It took him thirty years to refine his machine, patented in 1820, into a simpler and more reliable form.
However, the machine didn’t gain widespread use until Felt and Chicago businessman Robert Tarrant partnered two years later. On Jan. 25, 1889, they incorporated the Felt & Tarrant Manufacturing Company, and sales took off.
Felt later went on to invent more devices and acquired 46 domestic patents and 25 foreign ones. The original macaroni box prototype and the first Comptograph ever sold are now part of the Smithsonian Museum collection of antique calculators. Felt was awarded the John Scott Medal of The Franklin Institute in 1889. He also was the first ambassador for the Department of Commerce formed to study labor abroad after World War I.
Words of Wisdom for February 5, 2017
“Watching the planer-feed set me to scheming on ideas for a machine to simplify the invention hard grind of the bookkeeper in his day’s calculation of accounts. I realized that for a machine to hold any value to an accountant, it must have greater capacity than the average expert accountant. Now I knew that many accountants could mentally add four columns of figures at a time, so I decided that I must beat that in designing my machine.”
— Adding machine inventor Dorr Felt, 1885