calculator evolution

In 1642, the Renaissance saw the invention of the mechanical calculator (by Wilhelm Schickard and several decades later Blaise Pascal, a device that was at times somewhat over-promoted as being able to perform all four arithmetic operations with minimal human intervention. Pascal's calculator could add and subtract two numbers directly and thus if the tedium could be borne, multiply and divide by repetition. Schickard's machine, constructed several decades earlier, used a clever set of mechanised multiplication tables to ease the process of multiplication and division with the adding machine as a means of completing this operation. (Because they were different inventions with different aims a debate about whether Pascal or Schickard should be credited as the "inventor" of the adding machine (or the calculating machine) is probably pointless) Schickard and Pascal were followed by Gottfried Leibniz who spent forty years designing a four-operation mechanical calculator, the stepped reckoner, inventing in the process his Leibniz wheel, but who couldn't design a fully operational machine. There were also five unsuccessful attempts to design a calculating clock in the 17th century.


The 18th century saw the arrival of some notable improvements, first by Poleni with the first fully functional calculating clock and four-operation machine, but these machines were almost always one of the kindLuigi Torchi invented the first direct multiplication machine in 1834: this was also the second key-driven machine in the world, following that of James White (1822). It was not until the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution that real developments began to occur. Although machines capable of performing all four arithmetic functions existed prior to the 19th century, the refinement of manufacturing and fabrication processes during the eve of the industrial revolution made large scale production of more compact and modern units possible. The Arithmometer, invented in 1820 as a four-operation mechanical calculator, was released to production in 1851 as the adding machine and became the first commercially successful unit; forty years later, by 1890, about 2,500 arithmometers had been sold plus a few hundred more from two arithmometer clone makers (Burkhardt, Germany, 1878 and Layton, UK, 1883) and Felt and Tarrant, the only other competitor in true commercial production, had sold 100 comptometers.


Patent image of the Clarke graph-based calculator, 1921

It wasn't until 1902 that the familiar push-button user interface was developed, with the introduction of the Dalton Adding Machine, developed by James L. Dalton in the United States.

In 1921, Edith Clarke invented the "Clarke calculator", a simple graph-based calculator for solving line equations involving hyperbolic functions. This allowed electrical engineers to simplify calculations for inductance and capacitance in power transmission lines.[16]

The Curta calculator was developed in 1948 and, although costly, became popular for its portability. This purely mechanical hand-held device could do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. By the early 1970s, electronic pocket calculators ended manufacture of mechanical calculators, although the Curta remains a popular collectable item.

The 1970s to mid-1980s

The electronic calculators of the mid-1960s were large and heavy desktop machines due to their use of hundreds of transistors on several circuit boards with large power consumption that required an AC power supply. There were great efforts to put the logic required for a calculator into fewer and fewer integrated circuits (chips) and calculator electronics was one of the leading edges of semiconductor development. U.S. semiconductor manufacturers led the world in large scale integration (LSI) semiconductor development, squeezing more and more functions into individual integrated circuits. This led to alliances between Japanese calculator manufacturers and U.S. semiconductor companies: Canon Inc. with Texas InstrumentsHayakawa Electric (later renamed Sharp Corporation) with North-American Rockwell Microelectronics (later renamed Rockwell International), Busicom with Mostek and Intel, and General Instrument with Sanyo.

Pocket calculators

"Pocket calculator" redirects here. For the song, see Computer World.

By 1970, a calculator could be made using just a few chips of low power consumption, allowing portable models powered from rechargeable batteries. The first handheld calculator was a 1967 prototype called "Cal Tech", whose development was led by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments in a research project to produce a portable calculator. It could add, multiply, subtract, and divide, and its output device was a paper tape. As a result of the "Cal-Tech" project, Texas Instruments was granted master patents on portable calculators.

The first commercially produced portable calculators appeared in Japan in 1970 and were soon marketed around the world. These included the Sanyo ICC-0081 "Mini Calculator", the Canon Pocketronic, and the Sharp QT-8B "micro Compet". The Canon Pocketronic was a development from the "Cal-Tech" project. It had no traditional display; numerical output was on thermal paper tape.

Sharp put in great efforts in size and power reduction and introduced in January 1971 the Sharp EL-8, also marketed as the Facit 1111, which was close to being a pocket calculator. It weighed 1.59 pounds (721 grams), had a vacuum fluorescent display, rechargeable NiCad batteries, and initially sold for US $395.

However, integrated circuit development efforts culminated in early 1971 with the introduction of the first "calculator on a chip", the MK6010 by Mostek, followed by Texas Instruments later in the year. Although these early hand-held calculators were very costly, these advances in electronics, together with developments in display technology (such as the vacuum fluorescent displayLED, and LCD), led within a few years to the cheap pocket calculator available to all.

In 1971 Pico Electronics and General Instrument also introduced their first collaboration in ICs, a full single-chip calculator IC for the Monroe Royal Digital III calculator. Pico was a spinout by five GI design engineers whose vision was to create single-chip calculator ICs. Pico and GI went on to have significant success in the burgeoning handheld calculator market.

The first truly pocket-sized electronic calculator was the Busicom LE-120A "HANDY", which was marketed early in 1971. Made in Japan, this was also the first calculator to use an LED display, the first hand-held calculator to use a single integrated circuit (then proclaimed as a "calculator on a chip"), the Mostek MK6010, and the first electronic calculator to run off replaceable batteries. Using four AA-size cells the LE-120A measures 4.9 by 2.8 by 0.9 inches (124 mm × 71 mm × 23 mm).

The first European-made pocket-sized calculator, DB 800[38][39] is made in May 1971 by Digitron in BujeCroatia (former Yugoslavia) with four functions and an eight-digit display and special characters for a negative number and a warning that the calculation has too many digits to display.

The first American-made pocket-sized calculator, the Bowmar 901B (popularly termed The Bowmar Brain), measuring 5.2 by 3.0 by 1.5 inches (132 mm × 76 mm × 38 mm), came out in the Autumn of 1971, with four functions and an eight-digit red LED display, for $240, while in August 1972 the four-function Sinclair Executive became the first slimline pocket calculator measuring 5.4 by 2.2 by 0.35 inches (137.2 mm × 55.9 mm × 8.9 mm) and weighing 2.5 ounces (71 g). It retailed for around £79 ($194 at the time). By the end of the decade, similar calculators were priced less than £5 ($6.41).

The first Soviet Union made pocket-sized calculator, the Elektronika B3-04[40] was developed by the end of 1973 and sold at the start of 1974.

One of the first low-cost calculators was the Sinclair Cambridge, launched in August 1973. It retailed for £29.95 ($38.4), or £5 ($6.41) less in kit form. The Sinclair calculators were successful because they were far cheaper than the competition; however, their design led to slow and inaccurate computations of transcendental functions.

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard (HP) had been developing a pocket calculator. Launched in early 1972, it was unlike the other basic four-function pocket calculators then available in that it was the first pocket calculator with scientific functions that could replace a slide rule. The $395 HP-35, along with nearly all later HP engineering calculators, used reverse Polish notation (RPN), also called postfix notation. A calculation like "8 plus 5" is, using RPN, performed by pressing 8Enter↑5, and +; instead of the algebraic infix notation8+5=. It had 35 buttons and was based on Mostek Mk6020 chip.

The first Soviet scientific pocket-sized calculator the "B3-18" was completed by the end of 1975.

In 1973, Texas Instruments (TI) introduced the SR-10, (SR signifying slide rule) an algebraic entry pocket calculator using scientific notation for $150. Shortly after the SR-11 featured an added key for entering Pi (π). It was followed the next year by the SR-50 which added log and trig functions to compete with the HP-35 and in 1977 the mass-marketed TI-30 line which is still produced.

In 1978 a new company, Calculated Industries arose which focused on specialized markets. Their first calculator, the Loan Arranger (1978) was a pocket calculator marketed to the Real Estate industry with preprogrammed functions to simplify the process of calculating payments and future values. In 1985, CI launched a calculator for the construction industry called the Construction Master which came preprogrammed with common construction calculations (such as angles, stairs, roofing math, pitch, rise, run, and feet-inch fraction conversions). This would be the first in a line of construction-related calculators.

Programmable pocket calculators

The first programmable pocket calculator was the HP-65, in 1974; it had a capacity of 100 instructions and could store and retrieve programs with a built-in magnetic card reader. Two years later the HP-25C introduced continuous memory, i.e., programs and data were retained in CMOS memory during power-off. In 1979, HP released the first alphanumeric, programmable, expandable calculator, the HP-41C. It could be expanded with random access memory (RAM, for memory) and read-only memory (ROM, for software) modules, and peripherals like bar code readers, microcassette and floppy disk drives, paper-roll thermal printers, and miscellaneous communication interfaces (RS-232HP-ILHP-IB).

The HP-65, the first programmable pocket calculator (1974)

The first Soviet pocket battery-powered programmable calculator, Elektronika B3-21, was developed by the end of 1976 and released at the start of 1977. The successor of B3-21, the Elektronika B3-34 wasn't backwards compatible with B3-21, even if it kept the reverse Polish notation (RPN). Thus B3-34 defined a new command set, which later was used in a series of later programmable Soviet calculators. Despite very limited abilities (98 bytes of instruction memory and about 19 stack and addressable registers), people managed to write all kinds of programs for them, including adventure games and libraries of calculus-related functions for engineers. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of programs were written for these machines, from practical scientific and business software, which were used in real-life offices and labs, to fun games for children. The Elektronika MK-52 calculator (using the extended B3-34 command set, and featuring internal EEPROM memory for storing programs and external interface for EEPROM cards and another periphery) was used in Soviet spacecraft program (for Soyuz TM-7 flight) as a backup of the board computer.

This series of calculators was also noted for a large number of highly counter-intuitive mysterious undocumented features, somewhat similar to "synthetic programming" of the American HP-41, which were exploited by applying normal arithmetic operations to error messages, jumping to nonexistent addresses and other methods. A number of respected monthly publications, including the popular science magazine Nauka i Zhizn (Наука и жизньScience and Life), featured special columns, dedicated to optimization methods for calculator programmers and updates on undocumented features for hackers, which grew into a whole esoteric science with many branches, named "yeggogology" ("еггогология"). The error messages on those calculators appear as a Russian word "YEGGOG" ("ЕГГОГ") which, unsurprisingly, is translated to "Error".

A similar hacker culture in the USA revolved around the HP-41, which was also noted for a large number of undocumented features and was much more powerful than B3-34.

Technical improvements

A calculator which runs on solar and battery power

Through the 1970s the hand-held electronic calculator underwent rapid development. The red LED and blue/green vacuum fluorescent displays consumed a lot of power and the calculators either had a short battery life (often measured in hours, so rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries were common) or were large so that they could take larger higher capacity batteries. In the early 1970s, liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) were in their infancy and there was a great deal of concern that they only had a short operating lifetime. Busicom introduced the Busicom LE-120A "HANDY" calculator, the first pocket-sized calculator and the first with an LED display, and announced the Busicom LC with LCD. However, there were problems with this display and the calculator never went on sale. The first successful calculators with LCDs were manufactured by Rockwell International and sold from 1972 by other companies under such names as Dataking LC-800, Harden DT/12, Ibico 086, Lloyds 40, Lloyds 100, Prismatic 500 (a.k.a. P500), Rapid Data Rapidman 1208LC. The LCDs were an early form using the Dynamic Scattering Mode DSM with the numbers appearing as bright against a dark background. To present a high-contrast display these models illuminated the LCD using a filament lamp and solid plastic light guide, which negated the low power consumption of the display. These models appear to have been sold only for a year or two.

A more successful series of calculators using a reflective DSM-LCD was launched in 1972 by Sharp Inc with the Sharp EL-805, which was a slim pocket calculator. This, and another few similar models, used Sharp's Calculator On Substrate (COS) technology. An extension of one glass plate needed for the liquid crystal display was used as a substrate to mount the needed chips based on new hybrid technology. The COS technology may have been too costly since it was only used in a few models before Sharp reverted to conventional circuit boards.

Credit-card-sized, solar-powered calculator by Braun (1987)

In the mid-1970s the first calculators appeared with field-effect, twisted nematic (TN) LCDs with dark numerals against a grey background, though the early ones often had a yellow filter over them to cut out damaging ultraviolet rays. The advantage of LCDs is that they are passive light modulators reflecting light, which require much less power than light-emitting displays such as LEDs or VFDs. This led the way to the first credit-card-sized calculators, such as the Casio Mini Card LC-78 of 1978, which could run for months of normal use on button cells.

There were also improvements to the electronics inside the calculators. All of the logic functions of a calculator had been squeezed into the first "calculator on a chip" integrated circuits (ICs) in 1971, but this was leading-edge technology of the time and yields were low and costs were high. Many calculators continued to use two or more ICs, especially the scientific and the programmable ones, into the late 1970s.

The power consumption of the integrated circuits was also reduced, especially with the introduction of CMOS technology. Appearing in the Sharp "EL-801" in 1972, the transistors in the logic cells of CMOS ICs only used any appreciable power when they changed state. The LED and VFD displays often required added driver transistors or ICs, whereas the LCDs were more amenable to being driven directly by the calculator IC itself.

With this low power consumption came the possibility of using solar cells as the power source, realised around 1978 by calculators such as the Royal Solar 1, Sharp EL-8026, and Teal Photon.

  • The interior of a Casio fx-20 scientific calculator from the mid-1970s, using a VFD. The processor integrated circuit (IC) is made by NEC. Discrete electronic components like capacitors and resistors and the IC are mounted on a printed circuit board (PCB). This calculator uses a battery pack as a power source.

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  • The processor chip (integrated circuit package) inside a 1981 Sharp pocket calculator, marked SC6762 1•H. An LCD is directly under the chip. This was a PCB-less design. No discrete components are used. The battery compartment at the top can hold two button cells.

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  • Inside a Casio scientific calculator from the mid-1990s, showing the processor chip (small square, top-middle, left), keypad contacts, right (with matching contacts on the left), the back of the LCD (top, marked 4L102E), battery compartment, and other components. The solar cell assembly is under the chip.

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  • The interior of a newer (ca. 2000) pocket calculator. It uses a button battery in combination with a solar cell. The processor is a "Chip on Board" type, covered with dark epoxy.





Last modified: Sunday, 3 Jan 2021, 05:01