The first calculator

De Jonghe Caroline
Wendy Van de Voorde



The first calculator

A primitive calendar: Stonehenge

estone.jpg (20884 bytes) Archeologists believe that already in 2800 BC structures were built, for the Druiden, that functioned as a calender. For example: The Stonehenge ( Salisburg, England).

It is still considered as a monument for the deep human desire to count and to establish the physical events around us.

The Chinese ballframe: The Abacus

The Abacus,mostly known as the Chinese ballframe, was human's first try for finding a solution for an automatic counting process The Abacus was invented for the merchants who needed it to make their account in the commerce. ( China with Japan, India and Korea) The abacus is not an automatic machine, but it gives the user the possibility to remember his results of the calculation. If so, it is possible to make more complicated calculations.

A reclanical counting device consisting of a frame holding and a series of parallel rods on each of which beads are strung. Each bead represents a counting unit, and each rod a place value. One bead on a particular rod has a counting unit one, one bead on the next rod has a value of ten and on the next rod the has value hundred. Conclusion: the location fixes the value, this is something that we find later in the digital technics. It’s clear that the Abacus is precursor of the calculators and the computer.

For more than 1000 years after the Chineses invented the Abacus, there wasn’t any progress in the automatic counting and calculating. The Greeks evolved numberless formulas and theorems, but all these innovations had to be calculated by hand : one mathematician ond some others investigated the same problem, somewhere seperated in a small room. Sometimes it took days and weeks before they came to a verbally indentical solution. Everything was elaborated in schedules of logarithical and trigonometrical values. They had to wait until a machine could take over there calculation.

The slide rule

Slide rules exists in different shapes, types and measurements. The classic type exists af 3 rulers : the ruler at the bottom and at the ruler at the top are attached to each other, so that the middle ruler can move in between. Over the whole a cursor can slide. With two sliding rules that have identical lineair scale division we are able to add up or subtract two numbers. If the scale division is logarithical, we can divide and multiply in the same way. The slide rule is based on this principle. In 1620 Edmund Gunter performs multiplications and divisions by adding up and subtracting distances on a logarithmical scale. A few years later William Oughtred corrected this way by sliding two logaritmical scales beside each other. He made a construction of the circular ruler. Later cylindrical rules were invented. In 1850 Amedee Mannheim added the cursor. Scale divisions for calculating functions were added too.

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Slide rule

Calculating machines in de 17th century and after

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Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz

Charles Babbage and his ‘difference engine’

The Arithmometer,calculator from 1852

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Herman Hollerith


Microsoft Encarta '99

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