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The era of Antiquity (continued)

1810 - 1829

The era of Antiquity can be seen as the era of calculator devices without memory. Dial or indicators serve as output mechanism.

  • In this era Charles Babbage started to construct his first 'computer' and Ada Lovelace wrote the first 'software'. 
  • The first practical calculators - commercial viable - appeared on the market (Colmar)

pre history | antiquity | pre industrial era | industrial era

1620 - 1672 - 1773 - 1810 - 1830 - 1846 - 1874


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Friedrich Kaufmann constructed an automation that could blow a trumpet.

The mechanism was build from two blowers and 12 "tonal" tongs. By passing the air over one of the tongs through some sort of an assembly of levers the air resonated in a particular tone. The horn worked like an amplifier and gave at the same time the sound of a trumpet. The automation was powered by a coiled spring. Special to this device was that it was the first of its kind not using static mechanical parts to do its trick.



December 10, Ada Augusta Byron is born - later Ada Lovelace.

She would be the worlds first programmer by developing the "MNEMONIC" technique to facilitate assembler commands. In 1980 a programming language will be named after her: ADA. She died on 27 November 1852 in London from a cancer of the uterus.(18)




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francis de colmar(13b)Charles Xavier Thomas of Colmar 1785-1870 (France), while serving in the French army, had the idea of building a calculating machine.

His prototype was introduced in this year. It is the first commercially successful adding machine that was produced in large quantities. Thomas used the stepped drum principle of Leibnitz. His invention was the result of 150 years of growing industrialization - eliminating problems that had made the early machines so difficult to perfect. The stepped drum in Thomas' Arithmometer was used in conjunction with a simple system of counting gears and an automatic carry. The success of the machine was due to the many springs and other contrivances that neutralized the momentum of moving parts so they would not carry beyond their intended point - the cause of failure from earlier machines. (13b) But the major innovation was to reverse the operating function in the result registers (up to sixteen digits) that allowed for reliable and stable calculation over extended periods of time without gear realignment.(19)

arithmometerdrawing of front panelAs said the machine was based on the principle developed by Leibnitz's stepped cylinder (cylinders with sprockets at a predefined position).

The machine was shown to the French Academy of Sciences and became an instant success.(12) This academy was and still is a very influential organization that could make or break your idea or machine by the flick of a pen.
The machine could be set for addition / multiplication or, by moving the lever, to subtraction / division. It was simple to use and accurate.
For all this, it met with the usual resistance to change. Scientific American wrote in 1849: "M. Colmar, a French gentleman who invented a calculating machine about 20 years ago improved it in such a wonderful manner that it is said to be one of the most astonishing pieces of mechanism that has ever been invented. But to our view, its complexity shows its delectability."
Which goes to show how wrong predictions could be since types of he Thomas Arithmometer were still selling into the 20th century. (see also 1823 for an improved version of the calculator)




Young Babbage

Charles Babbage (1792-1871 England) started to design a machine remotely related to the computer: the Difference Engine.

He published his article in: 'Observations on the Applications of Machinery to the Computation of Mathematical Tables'. For this he received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (the British equivalent of the French Academy, and as much as influential in its decisions; RAS still is very influential in this professional area).(14) (20)

Babbage knew three different types of mistakes that could sneak into the making of tables:

  • Calculation of numbers by humans, the human error
  • The processing or copying of the figures on lists for the printer, the editing error
  • Errors made while composing the tables for printing, the processing error.

By designing a machine that could take over the entire process from calculation till the production of proto cliches, print-ready, errors would be eliminated.


One of these famous citations

I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam

1821, Charles Babbage

Michael Faraday, known as the father of electricity, reported his discovery of electromagnetic rotation and build the first of two engines that were driven by electricity.


back of the Componium; showing drum, bellow and pipes (2)

D.N. Winkel (1777-1826) inventor of the metronome, constructs a mechanical harmonium or organ called the "Componium".

Though not the first of its kind (Pinchbeck et al 1762-1766 constructed the first one) this instrument is the culmination of technological state of the art in this time. The instrument can imitate a small orchestra and plays from a barrel (stepped drum) and represents a fine example of preprogrammed processes. Looking at the layout of the music 'program' it looks like a binary notation. The first two melodies it is programmed to play are "Anacreon" by Cherubini, and "Clemenza di Tito" by Mozart. The Componium is now exhibited in the Bruxelles Museum of Music Instruments. Other examples can be seen in museums in Den Haag (NL)and Utrecht (NL) (4)






drawing of difference engine principleCharles Babbage designed a calculator.

The concept of this machine was that it's operated by punched cards (see Jacquard 1801) and the results printed on paper. To print the results was a revolutionary idea. However Babbage thought that the technology of his days was not sophisticated enough (precision of tooling etc.) to realize such a machine. But a small scale model is shown at a meeting of the Society.
difference_engineMechanical (tolerances), financial (subsidies) and differences of opinion with his chief engineer  - Joseph Clement (a tool engineer and draftsman, a rare combination in these days) - caused the project to be shelved in 1833. But the concept of the machine is extremely advanced and probably too far out of most people's league for this era.



difference_engine rebuildIn 1990-1991 Reg Crick en Barry Holiday(13) - two engineers of the Science Museum in London - reconstructed the calculating section of the Difference Engine.

They used the original designs. This reconstruction will be called Difference Engine 2. The engineers at the Science museum in London are still expanding the machine and in 2002 a printing section was added according to Babbage's design.


Schuster Ccalculator 1822
J.C. Schuster's Calculator(6)

This cylindrical calculating machine is build between 1820-1822 by Johann Christoph Schuster (1759-1823). This object is one of the last testimonies of the pre-industrial era of mechanical calculation. This is also one of the rare objects that just pops up in the river of time, in 1993 its discovery meant a small sensation. It is on display in the Arithmeum in Bonn (Germany), a museum dedicated to the science of mathematics and in this context to rare calculators. (see museums you should visit)



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Thomas de Colmar (France) introduced an improved version of the Arithmometer with all four basic calculations - add, subtract, divide, and multiply. This device made no errors.


Pictures courtesy: Damon



The first person to prepare silicon pure enough to allow even a first-order description of its physical and chemical properties was the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius.

His preferred procedure employed metallic potassium to react with potassium fluorosilicate, a solid white salt, according to the reaction 4K + K2SiF6 => Si +6KF. The reaction is energetic, the driving force allowing no give or take, and as a result, the silicon product emerges as finely divided granules mixed with residual salt.(1) Only in 1941 a physicist named Marcus Olson will succeed to make Silicon pure enough to be useful in chips



George Simon Ohm introduces Ohm's law in the book: "Die galvanische Kette, mathematisch bearbeitet". (3)



The first electromechanical clock is constructed in Europe, it only has a bell and no hands.

Knowledge gained from clock mechanisms design shall be important for the coming development of calculators.

William Austin Burt patents a workable typewriter, the first writing machine in the USA


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Last Updated on 16 February, 2006

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