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Time Machine

November 2023
1min read

“It was near Thanksgiving Day of 1884,” wrote Dorr E. Felt, “and I decided to use the holiday in the construction of the wooden model. I went to the grocer’s and selected a box which seemed to me to be about the right size for the casing. It was a macaroni box. For keys I procured some meat skewers from a hardware store for the key guides and an assortment of elastic bands to be used for springs. When Thanksgiving Day came I got up early and went to work with a few tools, principally a jack knife.”

But to his frustration Felt “soon discovered that there were some parts which would require better tools than I had at hand.” This is scarcely surprising, for the twenty-two-year-old mechanic was building a calculating machine. Nor is it surprising that “when night came I found that the model I had expected to construct in a day was a long way from being complete.” What is surprising is that Felt stuck with his scheme and within two months had produced—still in the original macaroni-box casing—the world’s first operative multiple-order, key-driven calculating machine. He named it the Comptometer, and it is an indication of his success that of the eight units he laboriously pieced together in the next year and a half, one was immediately grabbed by the New York State Weather Bureau, and one by Gen. W. S. Rosecrans, the registrar of the Treasury.

Felt’s machine was so successful that no rival dared venture into the market until 1902.

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