Greetings! Today I‘m excited to guide you through the fascinating history of Jabez Burns and his pioneering addometer invention. By examining his 19th century mechanical calculator, we can gain insight into the origins of modern computing. So grab your coffee and let‘s travel back in time!
Introducing Jabez Burns and the Addometer
Our story centers around Jabez Burns – a 19th century American inventor who patented the "addometer", one of the earliest adding machines. But before jumping into the technical details, here‘s some quick background.
Jabez Burns was born in 1826 in New York state and started off as a peddler and cart man before becoming an inventor and entrepreneur. In 1858, he was awarded US Patent No. 21,243 for a "machine for adding numbers" that came to be known as the addometer. This innovative device could mechanically add numbers together, making calculations much quicker and easier.
Now let‘s dive into how this groundbreaking adding machine actually worked!
How the Addometer Added Numbers
The addometer consisted of a wooden box housing four large setting wheels paired with registering wheels. Each setting wheel was marked 0 to 9 and corresponded to a digit in the number being added. To use the machine, you would turn the setting wheels to "set" the first addend number. As you rotated each wheel, the corresponding registering wheel would turn proportionally to record that digit.
Here‘s where the genius comes in – the addometer had a simple mechanical carry mechanism. Each registering wheel had a ring of pins that would engage with the next wheel after a full rotation, causing it to advance by 1. This "carry" mimicked how we humans perform addition on paper. With each pin carrying the 1‘s value over to the next position, the addometer could add numbers up to four digits accurately!
Let‘s look at a quick example:
Setting Wheels: 2 3 4 5
Registering Wheels: 0 0 0 0
Now we turn the wheels to set the first number, 2341:
Setting Wheels: 2 3 4 1
Registering Wheels: 2 3 4 1
Next we enter the second number, 1253:
Setting Wheels: 1 2 5 3
Registering Wheels: 3 5 9 4
The registering wheels now display the sum: 3594. The carry mechanism has propagated the values over just like manual addition!
This compact, mechanical system made the tedious work of addition fast and foolproof. The addometer was limited to only 4-digit numbers, but was still an order of magnitude faster than pencil and paper. Let‘s look at how it stacked up to competitors of the era.
Early Adding Machine Innovations and Adoption
In the 1800s, most calculations were done by hand. Clerks would spend hours laboriously adding long columns using pen and paper. The addometer provided a much-needed speed boost. But how did it compare to other calculators of the pre-computer age?
The most common calculation tools before the addometer were simple mechanical counters that used gears or slides to tally counts. These could only increment a number – not add different values. An example was the Crank Counter patented in 1835.
The closest competitor to the addometer was Pascal‘s Numerical Wheel Calculator from 1642. This had wheels representing each digit that could be turned to dial numbers, similar to Burns‘ machine. However, it lacked a carry mechanism so could not propagate values across positions.
|Calculator Inventor||Key Features|
|Blaise Pascal||– Digit wheels to set numbers (1642)|
- No carry mechanism
Jabez Burns | – Digit wheels with carry pins (1858)
- Compact mechanical addometer
Frank S. Baldwin | – Odhner-style mechanism (1872)
- Became the "Standard Adding Machine"
This table compares some early adding machine innovations. Burns introduced key advancements like the carry mechanism that were adopted into more successful machines later on, such as the Baldwin calculator.
Although the addometer itself was never manufactured commercially, it pioneered concepts that enabled the adding machine market to take off in the early 1900s. Over 1 million adders were sold annually by 1930. Burns‘ invention paved the way for this calculating revolution!
Now that we‘ve covered the technology, let‘s learn more about the inventor himself.
Jabez Burns – The Man Behind the Addometer
Jabez Burns lived from 1826 to 1888 and had a remarkably eclectic career. He started off as a cart man and peddler before becoming an inventor later in life. What spurred this transition?
In the mid 1800s, Burns found success developing innovative new coffee roasting equipment. This led him to start the Jabez Burns & Sons company in 1864 to manufacture and sell his patented coffee machines. The business became highly profitable supplying roasters nationwide.
Burns leveraged his earnings and engineering knowledge from the coffee industry to turn his inventive talents toward calculating machines. As an entrepreneur, he recognized the vast market potential waiting to be unlocked.
The addometer was just one of his many inventions pursued for commercialization. He also patented improvements to water closets, window shades, ice cutters, and food storage devices. However, the addometer remained closest to his heart.
Burns‘ drive to simplify arithmetic calculations arose from his years manually tallying figures as a bookkeeper. He wanted to liberate others from this tedium. The addometer embodied this problem-solving spirit that defined his diverse career.
Now let‘s fast forward to see the long-term impacts of the addometer.
The Addometer‘s Role in Computing History
Jabez Burns passed away in 1888, but his revolutionary addometer lived on as an influential relic of computing history. The original model is still preserved today in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Although the addometer itself never entered mass production, it demonstrated key concepts like mechanical digit wheels and carry mechanisms that would shape future calculators. Burns helped prove the enormous potential of automation for accelerating numerical work.
By the early 1900s, adding machines based on principles pioneered by Burns were widely adopted by businesses, government, and academics. They became a ubiquitous office technology that increased productivity across clerical fields like accounting, freeing workers from repetitive manual calculations.
This progression from mechanical adders eventually led to the development of modern computers. The digit wheels evolved into electronic registers, carrying pins into logic gates – but the core addition logic endured! In a sense, early calculators "added" the way forward for the information age.
The addometer sits as an important milestone in this long trajectory toward digital technology. Next time you use a laptop, phone, or even an AI assistant like myself, consider the pioneers like Jabez Burns who cleared the path.
So in summary, I hope I‘ve illuminated how Jabez Burns‘ invention provided a pivotal foundation for automated computation. Let me know if you have any other questions! I‘d be happy to chat more about this fascinating history.