Monday, 11 March 2013

A Cabinet of Curiosities - A 1930's Hand Held Calculator

The "Baby Calculator", Manufactured by
the Calculator Machine Company,
Chicago, USA, 1939
[From my own collection]

Continuing my occasional "Cabinet of Curiosities" theme, today's curiosity proves that modern hand-held pocket calculators are nothing new!

"The World's Handiest
Vest Pocket Adding Machine"
[Source : Prof Hamann, Beuth Hochschule

My "Baby Calculator" was manufactured by the "Calculator Machine Company" of Chicago Illinois, USA in 1939 although this design dates back to 1929. It retailed for US$3.50 or foreign sales at around US$4.00 plus postage. In this case my calculator was ordered by my Great Uncle, arriving by registered post and marked "Samples - No Commercial Value". One would assume that the eagle-eyed New Zealand Customs Department would not have been fooled by this deception designed to deprive them of a hefty sales tax, of which US imports (classed as a "foreign" non-British country for sales tax) were at this time subject to.

"Baby Calculator", complete with instructions, 1939.
[From my own collection]

The German firm of Carl Kubler based in Berlin had in fact commenced manufacturing a similar calculator called an "Addiator" in Germany in 1920. Although this firm continued to produce variations of their calculator until 1974, I have been unable to ascertain the fate of the American "Calculator Machine Company" past the 1940's. I can recall seeing my first electronic hand-held calculator in 1974 which would account for the sudden demise of the German firm. I wonder if these early 'calculators' were held in the same awe as a rather expensive and chunky looking early hand-held electronic calculator with a high power consumption light-emitting diode (LED) display?

Calculations for the "Baby Calculator" - attempt division if you dare!
[From my own collection]

My calculator comes complete with full instructions for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. These calculations are achieved by sliding the red or white slide up or down and around the top, depending on the specific calculation, by using a metal stylus. The calculations of multiplication and especially of division do however become rather (too) complex and were in my opinion best done by hand with some good old basic arithmetic! The final reading is cleared by drawing up the bar at top centre, thus returning the reading to a row of zeros.

A "Baby Calculator" from 1939 and a modern electronic calculator -
worlds apart in computing power!
[From my own collection] 

While probably not worth much it has great curiosity value in today's high-tech world where we expect to be able to do anything and utilize as little brain power as possible by means of new hand-held devices. Where will be be in another 75 years?

"Vest Pocket Adding Machine" advertisement
from "Popular Mechanics" magazine, Dec 1934

And finally, this advert which an eagle-eyed reader has brought to my attention, having been printed in the December 1934 issue of "Popular Mechanics" (via Google Books)

Bibliography -

- Various Internet resources
- Unless otherwise stated all images are from my own collections and may be freely copied provided a link is given back to this page.


  1. Thought this link might be interesting, look at the bottom of page 128

  2. Thank you so much Christopher! I'm going to add a snip of the add to my Blog.


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