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The Remarkable Rise of the Victor Adding Machine Co.: From Accidental Investment to Fortune 500

In the early 20th century, the demand for efficient and reliable adding machines was on the rise as businesses sought to streamline their accounting processes. One company that emerged as a leader in this field was the Victor Adding Machine Co., founded in Chicago in 1918. The story of Victor‘s success is a fascinating tale of innovation, leadership, and adaptability in the face of changing market conditions.

The Birth of a Legend: Oliver David Johantgen and the Victor Adding Machine

The mastermind behind the Victor Adding Machine was Oliver David Johantgen, an engineer with extensive experience in designing mechanical calculators. Born in 1875 in Charleston, Indiana, Johantgen had been tinkering with calculating machines since 1896 and held several patents, including one for the Victor adding machine (US patent №1306112).

In 1918, Johantgen teamed up with two other investors to establish the Victor Adding Machine Co. in Chicago. Despite the fact that "Victor" was already a widely used brand name, they decided to stick with it for their new venture. Little did they know that this decision would prove to be a wise one.

An Accidental Investor: Carl Buehler‘s Serendipitous Involvement

The early days of the Victor Adding Machine Co. were marked by financial struggles and uncertainty. The company was on the brink of collapse when a serendipitous event occurred. Carl Buehler, a successful businessman who owned a chain of meat markets, was approached by O.E. Cheesman, a salesman from Victor, who convinced him to purchase an adding machine for $100.

Instead of receiving the machine, however, Buehler was surprised to find a certificate for 10 shares of stock in the company in his mailbox. Intrigued by this unexpected development, Buehler attended a stockholder meeting and was promptly elected president of the company, just months after his accidental investment.

Buehler soon realized that the company was in dire straits, lacking capital, production facilities, and business acumen. The promised adding machine was more of a concept than a reality. However, Buehler saw the potential in the idea of a low-cost adding machine that could be sold to businesses like his own. He decided to invest in the company and assist in bringing the product to market, quickly becoming the majority stockholder and installing his eldest son, Albert C. Buehler, as manager.

The Evolution of the Victor Adding Machine: From Model 110 to Global Success

The first Victor adding machine, the Model 110, was introduced in 1919. It was a full-keyboard, non-printing machine with a front-mounted register, featuring only repeat and zeroing keys. This key-set design required a handle pull for each entry, essentially making it a lister without the listing equipment. The Model 110 was not a commercial success, and Victor quickly moved on to producing a lister model under the same name.

The improved Model 110 proved to be a hit, with the company selling 100,000 units by 1926. The non-printing model cost $85, while the model without carriage was priced at $100, and the model with carriage sold for $125. In 1921, the machine was extended at the rear to include a printing mechanism, becoming the 200 series. This was a significant innovation, as it allowed users to keep a record of their calculations and reduce errors. Priced at $100, the 200 series sold 2,000 units in its first year.

Between 1921 and 1925, Victor‘s annual sales skyrocketed from less than $300,000 to nearly $2 million. The company continued to innovate, introducing the improved 300 series in 1923 and a machine with direct subtraction in 1928. The 300 series expanded to include 6, 8, or 10 column machines, versions for fractions, time, or feet and inches, and export models for Sterling currency. In 1931, the 500 series, featuring an optional internal motor drive, was launched. This motor drive option was a game-changer, as it allowed for faster and more efficient operation of the machine, reducing operator fatigue and increasing productivity.

Victor‘s machines were known for their durability, accuracy, and ease of use. They compared favorably to competitors like Burroughs and Felt & Tarrant, which had been in the adding machine business for longer. Victor‘s success can be attributed to several factors, including its focus on innovation, its aggressive marketing and sales strategies, and its commitment to customer satisfaction.

One of the key drivers of demand for adding machines in the early 20th century was the growth of commerce and the increasing complexity of business operations. As companies expanded and transactions multiplied, the need for efficient and accurate bookkeeping became paramount. Adding machines like those produced by Victor helped businesses keep pace with this growth and streamline their financial processes.

To promote its machines and gain market share, Victor employed a range of marketing and sales strategies. The company placed advertisements in business publications, highlighting the benefits of its machines and featuring testimonials from satisfied customers. It also established a network of dealers across the country, providing them with training and support to effectively sell and service the machines. Victor‘s sales representatives were known for their knowledge and enthusiasm, often conducting demonstrations and offering free trials to potential customers.

Leadership and Legacy: The Buehler Era

Tragically, both Carl Buehler and Oliver Johantgen passed away in 1932, at the ages of 66 and 57, respectively. A.C. Buehler, Carl‘s son, took over the reins of the Victor enterprise. A.C. was known for his progressive leadership style and focus on employee well-being. He implemented one of the first employee profit-sharing plans, a revolutionary concept at the time.

The profit-sharing plan was a testament to A.C. Buehler‘s belief in the importance of valuing and rewarding his employees. Under the plan, a portion of the company‘s profits was set aside each year and distributed among the employees based on their length of service and salary. This approach helped to foster a sense of ownership and loyalty among the workforce, as they had a direct stake in the success of the company. The plan also encouraged employees to be more productive and efficient, as they knew that their efforts would be directly rewarded.

Thomas O. Mehan, the inventor of the "Brennan" adding machine, replaced Johantgen as the company‘s lead engineer. Under Mehan‘s guidance, Victor launched the 600 and 700 series shortly before World War II. These modern, lightweight, and affordable designs were a resounding success.

Post-War Boom and Merger Mania

After World War II, Victor ventured into the automatic calculator business and, in 1961, merged with Felt and Tarrant MFG, the Comptometer Corporation, to form the Victor-Comptometer Corporation. This strategic move positioned the company for even greater success. By 1968, the once accidentally-purchased company had grown into a Fortune 500 corporation, boasting more than a dozen plants across North America, including the original Chicago factory.

The merger with Felt & Tarrant was a significant milestone in Victor‘s history. Felt & Tarrant was a well-established player in the adding machine industry, known for its high-quality Comptometer machines. The merger allowed Victor to expand its product line and gain access to Felt & Tarrant‘s extensive customer base and distribution network. It also provided opportunities for cost savings through economies of scale and the sharing of manufacturing facilities and resources.

However, the merger also presented challenges, as the two companies had different corporate cultures and management styles. Integrating the operations and personnel of the two firms required a delicate balance of leadership and communication. Despite these challenges, the merger proved to be a success, as evidenced by the company‘s continued growth and profitability in the following years.

The Transition to Electronics and the Victor Medalist 204

In the post-war period, the adding machine industry began to shift from mechanical to electronic technology. Victor recognized this trend and started developing electronic calculators to stay competitive. One of the company‘s most notable electronic models was the Victor Medalist 204, introduced in 1981.

The Victor Medalist 204 was a compact, desktop electronic calculator with a 12-digit display and a range of advanced features, including memory storage, percentage calculation, and square root function. It was designed for business and financial applications, with a durable construction and easy-to-use interface. The Medalist 204 was well-received by customers and helped Victor maintain its position as a leader in the calculator market.

The transition to electronics required significant investments in research and development, as well as changes to manufacturing processes and employee training. Victor‘s experience in the mechanical adding machine business, however, provided a strong foundation for this transition. The company‘s focus on innovation, quality, and customer satisfaction remained unchanged, even as the technology evolved.

Victor Technology, LLC: Continuing the Legacy

In the 1980s, the company, now known as Victor Technology, LLC, continued to thrive. Today, Victor Tech remains a key player in the calculator market, serving as the exclusive provider of Sharp calculators in the U.S. and Latin America and the largest provider of Sharp calculators in the U.S.

Victor‘s legacy in the adding machine and calculator industry is significant. The company‘s innovations, such as the printing mechanism in the 200 series and the motor drive in the 500 series, set new standards for performance and efficiency. Its commitment to quality and customer satisfaction earned it a loyal following among businesses and professionals. Victor‘s success also demonstrated the importance of adaptability in the face of technological change, as the company successfully navigated the transition from mechanical to electronic calculators.

Furthermore, Victor‘s history is a testament to the power of entrepreneurship and the American dream. From its humble beginnings as an accidental investment by Carl Buehler to its rise as a Fortune 500 company, Victor‘s story is one of perseverance, innovation, and leadership. The company‘s impact on the development of computing technology cannot be overstated, as it helped pave the way for the digital revolution that has transformed our world.

In today‘s fast-paced, technology-driven business environment, the lessons learned from Victor‘s experience are more relevant than ever. Companies must be willing to embrace change, invest in innovation, and prioritize the needs of their customers and employees. They must also have the vision and leadership to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by new technologies and market conditions.

As we reflect on the history of the Victor Adding Machine Co., we are reminded of the ingenuity, determination, and entrepreneurial spirit that have long been the hallmarks of American business. The company‘s legacy serves as an inspiration to today‘s innovators and entrepreneurs, who are shaping the future of technology and commerce. With a commitment to excellence, a focus on innovation, and a dedication to serving the needs of customers and employees, businesses can follow in Victor‘s footsteps and achieve lasting success in the digital age.