Who Invented the Adding Machine?

Page Created on 11/12/2013 and last reviewed 10/11/2015 by .
William Seward Burroughs can be credited with the first workable and widely available adding machine here in America..


Adding Machine Drawings & Images

US Patent #388118 Details

Be it known that I, William S. Burroughs, a citizen of the United States, residing at St. Louis, in the State of Missouri, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Calculating Machines, of which the following is a specification.

My invention relates to that class of calculating machines in which numbers are transferred to registers on striking-keys bearing such numbers; and my invention consists in the combination of a series of keys, one or more series of number-wheels, (one series being a recorded) and connections, as fully described hereinafter, whereby each number struck is at once set u p on the register and also printed, and whereby the sum of all the numbers is printed below such numbers as required.

In the drawings, Figure l is a side elevation of the machine, part of the case broken away. Fig. 2 is a plan, a part broken away. Fig. 3 is a sectional elevation of part of the machine, showing the parts in their normal position before beginning operations; Fig. 4, the same as Fig. 3, the parts in position as the rack-frame begins its descent; Fig. 5, the same, the rack-frame and other parts at the limit of their lower motion; Fig. 6, a sectional plan View showing parts on different planes; Fig. 7, a view showing one of the rack-levers and some of the parts connected directly therewith. Figs. 8 and 9 are transverse elevations of part of the machine, looking in the direction of the arrow, Fig. 3, showing the parts in different positions. Fig. l is a detached view of part of the register-frame and cam. Fig. 11 is a side view mainly of the printing devices. Fig. l2 is a detached view of devices connected with the keys.

Full Patent Detail

William Seward Burroughs Biography

William Seward Burroughs, inventor of the first workable adding machine, was born in rural New York in 1855. In the 1870s he was working as a bank clerk at the Cayuga County National Bank in Auburn, New York where he became interested in solving the problem of creating an adding machine. There had been a number of earlier prototypes, but in inexperienced users' hands, those that existed would sometimes give incorrect, and at times outrageous, answers.

In St. Louis, Missouri in the early 1880s, Burroughs was working for the Boyer Machine Company where he began designing his own adding machine prototype. His design included a "dash pot," or a mechanism that regulated the pull on the machine's handle. He was granted a patent for the device in 1888. Two years before the patent was issued he founded the American Arithmometer Company with three other men - Thomas Metcalfe, R.M. Scruggs, and W.C. Metcalfe - to produce and sell the machine. The straight adding and listing machine Burroughs had invented was the company's only product; its purchase price was $475.00.

By 1887, American Arithmometer had manufactured 50 machines. However, Burroughs was the only one who could operate them correctly. Thus, the machines were recalled and Burroughs invented a corrective automatic device. In 1895, sales climbed to 284 machines. That year Burroughs Adding and Registering Company was established in Nottingham, England, marking the company's first entry into the international marketplace.

Between 1895 and 1900, business really took off. Sales jumped to 972 machines. Sadly, Burroughs, who had suffered a lifetime of chronic health problems, died in Citronelle, Alabama, on Sept. 14, 1898.