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The Ingenious Arithmachine of Henry Goldman: A Pioneering Mechanical Calculator

In the late 19th century, the world of office equipment and business machines was on the cusp of transformation, with inventors and tinkerers racing to develop mechanical devices to ease the burden of mathematical calculations. One prolific figure in this landscape was Henry Goldman, an Austrian-Jewish immigrant to the United States who created an innovative adding machine known as the arithmachine.

Goldman was born Heinrich Goldmann in Vienna in 1859 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1881 at the age of 22. He quickly set to work as both an author and inventor, publishing treatises on bookkeeping and office efficiency. But Goldman‘s most impactful contribution would be in the realm of mechanical calculation.

The Arithmachine: A Compact Mechanical Marvel

In the 1890s, Goldman invented and began manufacturing his arithmachine, a small metal calculator roughly the size of a pocket watch. Measuring just 4.5 inches long by 1.5 inches wide and 3.5 inches tall, and weighing about a pound, the device packed a remarkable amount of functionality into a compact package.

The key to the arithmachine‘s operation was a series of nine endless metal chains, each representing a different digit column. The two rightmost chains were silver in color, followed by three copper chains, then another three silver, and finally a lone copper chain on the far left. On the reverse side of the chains were numeral wheels marked with digits 0 through 9.

To perform addition or subtraction, the user would insert a stylus into a link of the desired chain and pull it down the required number of digits. This action caused the numeral wheel on the back to rotate, updating the result. The arithmachine could handle numbers up to 9 digits in length.

A sliding decimal marker allowed the user to track the location of the decimal point, while a zeroing wheel and button on the side enabled quick resetting of the machine back to zero. The top of the device featured a celluloid plate that could be marked with a pencil to note figures.

Inside the Arithmachine: A Mechanical Engineering Marvel

From an engineering perspective, the arithmachine was a triumph of mechanical design. Its internal workings were a complex array of gears, levers, springs and chains, all precisely calibrated to enable reliable mathematical operations.

At the heart of the machine was the set of nine numeral wheels, each with the digits 0 through 9 embossed on its circumference. These wheels were mounted on a central shaft and separated by spacers. Attached to each wheel was a ratchet wheel with ten teeth.

The endless chains were the key to advancing these numeral wheels. Each link on the chain featured a small pin that could engage with the teeth on the ratchet wheels. As the user pulled a chain down with the stylus, the pins caught on the ratchet teeth, causing the numeral wheel to rotate. A spring-loaded pawl prevented the wheel from rotating backwards.

Carrying between numeral wheels was handled by a series of lever arms. As a wheel completed a full revolution from 9 back to 0, it engaged a lever that in turn advanced the next wheel to the left by one increment. This "carrying" rippled down the line of digits until all necessary wheels had been incremented.

The zeroing mechanism was another marvel of mechanical engineering. Rotating the knurled zeroing wheel pulled on a shaft that ran the length of the machine. Attached to this shaft was a series of heart-shaped cams, one for each numeral wheel. As the shaft rotated, the point of each cam engaged with a lever on the numeral wheel, rotating it back to the zero position. A spring then returned the zeroing shaft back to its original position.

All of these mechanisms were packed into the arithmachine‘s compact metal housing. The chains were routed around a series of sprockets to keep them taut and aligned with the ratchet wheels. The shafts and levers were supported by precisely machined metal plates to ensure smooth operation.

The end result was a device that could perform rapid additions and subtractions with just a few pulls of the stylus. And while later electric and electronic calculators would far surpass its speed, the arithmachine stood out as a pioneering example of complex mechanical computation in a portable package.

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Marketing an Office Wonder

Goldman began producing the arithmachine in Chicago under his International Arithmachine Company in the late 1890s. The device retailed for between $24 and $48 (roughly $800-$1600 today).

The company aggressively promoted the arithmachine as an efficiency boosting marvel for bookkeepers, accountants, banks, and businesses. Marketing slogans touted the device as "labor-saving", "easily operated", and able to save an "expert‘s mental strain."

Goldman exhibited the arithmachine at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where it gained exposure in national magazines and journals. He also took out numerous advertisements in publications aimed at the banking and bookkeeping professions.

An 1899 advertisement in The Bookkeeper magazine proclaimed the arithmachine to be "The Acme of Simplicity and Durability for Practical Figuring." It listed the machine‘s price at $35 for a 6-wheel model and $45 for a 9-wheel version.

While precise sales figures are hard to come by, surviving arithmachines can be found in the collections of several technology museums, suggesting at least moderate success. However, the device faced competition from a growing field of mechanical calculators, including key-driven models like the Comptometer that offered greater speed.

The Arithmachine‘s Mechanical Design

At the heart of the arithmachine was its array of linked chains and numeral wheels, an innovative design that Goldman spent years refining. He was granted multiple patents in the U.S. and Europe for the device and its successor variations, including US patents 624,788, 617,094, 669,969, and 669,970.

The chains were the key to the machine‘s functionality. As the user pulled on a stylus inserted into a chain link, it caused the chain to rotate around a sprocket. This in turn advanced the numeral wheel on the reverse side by the corresponding number of digits. Carrying between columns occurred automatically as the numeral wheels completed a full revolution.

The arithmachine‘s zeroing mechanism was also cleverly designed. A knurled wheel on the side of the machine connected to shafts and gears inside the device. When rotated, it returned all the numeral wheels back to their zero positions in a single motion. A button below locked the zeroing wheel in place to prevent accidental resets.

While earlier adding machines like the Arithmometer of Thomas de Colmar or the Comptometer of Dorr Felt had greater capacity, the arithmachine stood out for its pocket-sized portability and ease of use. It required little training to operate and could be employed by a seated user holding it in one hand.

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The Arithmachine in Context: Mechanical Calculation in the Late 19th Century

To fully appreciate the arithmachine‘s design and impact, it‘s important to situate it in the context of mechanical calculation in the late 1800s. This was an era of rapid innovation, with dozens of inventors developing and patenting various adding machines and calculators.

The first widely successful mechanical calculator was the Arithmometer, invented by Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar in 1820. This device used a series of sliding slates and gears to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It found widespread use in Europe but was large and expensive.

In the United States, the adding machine industry bloomed after the Civil War as businesses grappled with a growing tide of paperwork. Inventors like David Carroll and Willard Bundy patented key-driven machines that could rapidly perform addition by simply pressing numbered keys.

The 1890s saw a particular flurry of activity, with inventors like William Burroughs, Dorr Felt, and William Hopkins introducing printing and key-driven calculators. These devices were aimed at office use, with large keyboards and mechanisms for printing results on paper tape.

Compared to these office behemoths, Goldman‘s arithmachine was a marvel of miniaturization. It provided basic arithmetic in a pocket-sized package at a significantly lower price point. While it couldn‘t match the speed of a Comptometer, it offered portable calculating ability for a wider range of users.

However, the arithmachine also faced some limitations common to mechanical calculators of the era. Its capacity was limited to 9 digits, meaning it could not handle larger sums. Its stylus operation was also slower than key-driven models. And its reliance on intricate metal linkages made it susceptible to misalignment or jamming if handled roughly.

Despite these challenges, the arithmachine represented a significant feat of mechanical engineering and helped expand the range of calculator designs. Its endless chain mechanism in particular was an innovation that stood out from the crank-driven wheels and ratchets of other devices.

From Arithmachine to Golden Gem: The Evolution of a Design

Though innovative, the arithmachine faced stiff competition from other adding machines and ultimately saw limited commercial success. However, it played an influential role as the direct predecessor to the more successful Golden Gem adding machine.

Patented by Abraham Isaac Gancher and introduced around 1907, the Golden Gem borrowed heavily from Goldman‘s design. It featured a similar system of chains and numeral wheels in a compact handheld form. But the Golden Gem expanded the capacity to 10 digits and incorporated some mechanical refinements.

The key improvements in the Golden Gem included a more robust carrying mechanism and a simplified zeroing lever. The numeral wheels were also spaced slightly further apart, making them easier to read. And the base of the machine featured a hinged metal cover that protected the chains and workings when not in use.

These refinements, along with a lower price point of around $10, helped make the Golden Gem a commercial success. It was marketed heavily to bookkeepers, shopkeepers, and small businesses. Ads touted it as "The World‘s Best Adding Machine at Any Price."

The Golden Gem would remain in production through the 1940s, even as electric and electromechanical calculators began to emerge. Its portability, simplicity, and low price made it attractive for users who didn‘t require the higher capacity and speed of larger office machines.

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Goldman‘s Other Adding Machine Ventures

Goldman himself continued to tinker with calculating devices after the arithmachine. In 1905, he left the United States for Berlin, where he arranged for the manufacturing of an improved device called the Contostyle by a company called Gesellschaft für Maschinenbau.

The Contostyle expanded on the arithmachine‘s design with a larger 13-digit capacity and a more traditional crank-driven mechanism. It was marketed as a "speed calculator" and sold across Europe.

Back in the U.S., the Arithstyle Company began producing a similar device called the Arithstyle around 1910 based on Goldman‘s designs. This machine competed with other small adding machines like the Rapid Computer and American Adder.

These ventures demonstrate Goldman‘s persistent efforts to refine and commercialize his calculator designs over several decades. They also illustrate the increasingly crowded and competitive market for office machinery in the early 20th century.

A Place in Calculator History

Henry Goldman‘s arithmachine occupies a significant spot in the long arc of mechanical calculator development. It emerged in an era when adding machines were just beginning to find mainstream commercial applications in business offices.

The late 19th century saw an explosion of mechanical calculator patents and designs as inventors grappled with the challenges of performing the carry function, representing multi-digit numbers, and controlling the machine‘s operations. Devices ranged from simple stylus-operated adders to complex keypads linked to arrays of numeral wheels.

The arithmachine struck a middle ground, providing more functionality than basic adders but in a smaller and simpler package than printing office calculators like William Burroughs‘ adding machine. It was also less expensive, putting mechanical calculation within reach of more users.

While not a smashing commercial hit, Goldman‘s device helped demonstrate the potential of portable mechanical calculators and likely influenced later manufacturers. Its endless chain mechanism in particular was a clever innovation that stood apart from the crank-driven wheels and ratchets of other machines.

Goldman‘s patents and the arithmachine‘s design also provide a fascinating case study for historians of technology. They offer a detailed look at the state of the art in mechanical calculation at the turn of the 20th century and the many challenges inventors faced in crafting reliable computing devices.

Surviving arithmachines can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Computer History Museum, and other technology museums around the world. They stand as reminders of the ingenious tinkerers and persistent inventiveness behind the rise of office machines.

Conclusion: Innovation, Impact, and the March of Progress

In our age of microchips and touchscreens, it‘s easy to overlook the mechanical wonders that paved the way and made routine calculations easy and accessible to the masses. Devices like Goldman‘s arithmachine, with their intricate arrays of gears, levers, chains and wheels, showcase the remarkable engineering talent and creativity of early inventors.

The arithmachine may not have been a runaway commercial success, but it embodies the spirit of innovation and problem-solving that drove the development of office machinery. It emerged from the mind of a tenacious tinkerer who saw the potential for portable mechanical computation.

While its endless chain mechanism was unique, the arithmachine shared the core goal of all adding machines: to make basic math faster, easier and more accurate. In this sense, it was part of a broader wave of inventions aimed at boosting office productivity, from the typewriter to the cash register to the filing cabinet.

Collectively, these devices laid the groundwork for the computerized office of the mid-20th century. They helped acclimate both white-collar workers and the general public to the idea of machines performing mental labor. And they established a thriving industry of business machine manufacturers that would eventually give rise to IBM, HP, and other computing giants.

The arithmachine also highlights the iterative nature of technological progress. Its design borrowed from earlier calculating devices and was refined over years of tinkering and patenting. It then directly inspired the Golden Gem, which found greater commercial success. This pattern of incremental improvement and idea sharing was crucial to the rapid advancement of office machinery.

From a modern perspective, the arithmachine‘s basic functionality can seem quaint. Even a cheap pocket calculator can far outstrip its mathematical abilities. But in its day, Goldman‘s "Arithmachinist" guide presented it as a technological marvel, a symbol of a new age of rapid mechanical computation.

As computer engineers and technology historians, we can appreciate both the arithmachine‘s innovations and its limitations. Its design achieved remarkable compactness and simplicity for a mechanical device. But it also illustrates the constraints of a purely mechanical approach to computation, from limited capacity to reliability challenges.

Studying devices like the arithmachine provides a valuable long-term perspective on technological progress. It‘s a reminder of how far we‘ve come in our ability to automate computation, from metal gears and levers to vacuum tubes to silicon chips. But it also highlights the enduring human ingenuity and drive to tinker that fuels this progress.

Sadly, Henry Goldman didn‘t live to see the full impact of the arithmachine and the office machine industry he helped pioneer. He died in New York City in February 1912 at the age of 52. But his legacy lives on in the countless mechanical calculators that followed, and in the spirit of inventiveness he embodied.

So the next time you reach for your phone to perform a quick calculation, spare a thought for the mechanical marvels that came before. Devices like the arithmachine paved the way for the digital wonders we often take for granted. They‘re a testament to the power of human ingenuity and the ceaseless drive to harness machines to expand our mental abilities.