Calculating machines – Mass products in engineering and administration

Mass production of calculating machines commenced at about 1900 in both Europe and the USA. This was the first time that individual companies had produced more than 1,000 machines in a year.

More than 100 manufacturers 

Before 1900, makers of calculating machines had found a regular though small clientele in science and technology with limited demand. Calculating machines had been used alongside other aids in particular for complex calculation in geodesy and astronomy, as well as in insurance matters. A rapid increase in demand from commerce, industry and government started in about 1900. An industry with over 100 companies throughout the world appeared in the next two decades. The main manufacturing countries were the USA and Germany.
To begin with, manufacturers in the USA primarily made adding machines. Until 1900, Felt & Tarrant was the market leader with its Comptometer, but soon had to concede its leading position to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. The USA became the largest exporter of calculating machines by World War I.

The second largest exporter was Germany. The most important of the early German calculating machine companies was Grimme, Natalis & Co., which was based in Brunswick and produced Odhner-type pinwheel calculating machines under the name Brunsviga from 1892.

Electronics replace mechanics

In addition to the large companies dominating the calculating machine market, there were many medium-sized and even small companies on both national and international markets. Dozens of European and American companies copied and improved the stepped-drum and pinwheel machines, or stood out with calculating machines based on completely new principles. The exhibition shows this variety of models made by European and American companies.

In the 1960s, electronics heralded the end of mechanical calculating machines. Mechanical machines were made of several hundred parts and were very expensive. They could not compete against the cheaper electronic calculators.