It is hard for me to describe the thrill I had when I saw your tribute to Dorr E. Felt and his Comptometer in the October/November 1984 “Time Machine.” Mr. Felt was my beloved grandfather. Since the demise of his company through mergers and the takeover of the calculating field by electronics, it had seemed as if no one except the family remembered him or his invention. Many modern historians have given undue credit for the first practical calculator to others, one being the Englishman Charles Babbage, whose attempts at constructing a calculating machine in the 1820s came to naught when the British government refused to give him further support after eight years of failure. Other historians have given credit to William S. Burroughs, whose work and patents followed Mr. Felt’s. I congratulate you on your careful research and for giving due credit to the young runaway farm boy turned machinist who worked with crude tools and materials to prove an idea and to establish an industry.
As you can well imagine, Thanksgiving (the day in 1884 on which Felt started his experiments) has been a special day for the family. Last November his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren gathered in spirit around the table (we are now spread from coast to coast and from Seattle to Mexico City) to give our special thanks for the determination of the young man who had been told by his friends a hundred years ago that it couldn’t be done.
His original macaroni-box model has been at the Smithsonian Institution for the past fifty years, a gift of the family, after being exhibited at Chicago’s “Century of Progress” from 1933 to 1934.