Hardware

Wild computing devices from the late 1800s and early 1900s

Recording Computing-Machine - Full

U.S. Patent number: 465,255
Filed: Nov. 11, 1890
Issued: Dec 15, 1891
Inventor: Dorr E. Felt

In 1891, Dorr Felt invented a device designed to improve upon the existing "recording machines which compute." Felt described the improvements in his device as follows:

"The leading object of my invention is to provide an improved recording-machine which will record the answer or result indicated by the numeral-wheels by pressing a knob instead of striking the amount of the answer on the keys."

Image taken from U.S. Patent 465,255 - Digitized by Google

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

36 comments
BigIve
BigIve

Just waiting for Apple to say they own the patent on these as well. ;-) (Sign of the times: 5 years ago that joke would have been about Microsoft.)

BruceAnd
BruceAnd

During the Korean war 1950-53 some Navy jet night fighters were equipped with a radar fire control system that included an analog computer about the size of a modern ATX machine. This computer used selsyn motors geared together to calculate the ballistics flight path from your plane to the enemy plane. The output of this computer was represented on a 2 inch scope with crosshairs. The pilot simply flew the plane keeping the dot on the scope in the center of the crosshairs until a distance meter started coming down from 2000 yards. He could then fire his guns and shoot down the enemy without ever actually seeing him. Although there were over 458 vacuum tubes in the whole radar system, only 25 were in the computer itself. The radar system actually was a combination of 3 different radars. The computer took into account relative position and distance from the radar, altitude, speed, and attitude of the plane, temperature, and barometric pressure.

syhprum
syhprum

The first computer I encountered was a 200 valve contraption built by GEC to play a sort of stick shifting game, it was in use at the Science museum and I took a trip up to london in 1951 to have a go on it ,it beat me then as computers still do today

askeehan
askeehan

The manual photo exposure calculator was still around less than 20 years ago, on the better flash units. After setting your film speed, the dial would recommend the correct f stop for a specific distance. Hmmm... wonder how many readers know what "f stop" and film speed mean?

Savalliery
Savalliery

Warning: If you experience unusual slowness, your computer may be infected with *rust*. Damage may vary depending on the ambient temperature and humidity level. Data and current calculations may be lost, and replacement parts should be ordered by telegraph.

clarelove
clarelove

Sadly I just junked one of these. I had picked it up in a garage sale knowing visiting grandchildren would be fascinated with it. They were. Unfortunately, they also seemed determined to see what they could do to destroy it. When they left I found it in totally locked up condition. I dug into it and found they had found some good sized ball bearings and shoved them into the mechanism. I had to partially disassemble it to get everything synchronized again. Then I decided I would clean it up a bit, only to discover that the numerals on the output wheels were water soluble. I managed to reproduce them using Corel Draw, but put the project aside. Next thing, the kids are back to finish the destruction. This time I find they have bent and broken so many of the slender little levers inside that it could serve only as a boat anchor.

jeff.allen
jeff.allen

Re the Navy fire control computer - absolutely brilliant! No electronic knowhow? Use gears and levers. I found it simply fascinating, how the mechanical inputs and outputs related to each other in a perfectly mathematical way. I wish I had discovered these machines when i was doing maths at school. being a mechanical type of person, they would have helped greatly!

JoeyD714
JoeyD714

hey that guy stole my idea!! I want my money!!

coolmark82
coolmark82

You know, remember the days when if you were bored with Windows 95 you played solitaire or reversi and when you were bored with mac you played chess? Well, what about all of those people running Windows 1900, Ancient edition or Mac OS 0.1?

wolf1
wolf1

I specifically wonder how many of them went from an idea in a patent office to counting beans in an accountants office.

seascience
seascience

I found this to be an amazing collection of information that I am sure I will be able to use in an exhibit sometime.

staffordd
staffordd

BRILLIANT. There were REAL INVENTORS back then, being an Inventor was a real occupation, worthy of respect (albeit a little eccentric sometimes). Some of these are just amazing. thanks d.

charles.neilson
charles.neilson

Excellent! I would have hoped to see illustrations of gunnery, esp. for naval and coastal guns. Always struck me as very sophisticated for the time.

3_jeeps
3_jeeps

Wow, all mechanical monsters. Lot of them had to have precision machining to fabricate some of the parts. (a lost art?). Some of the assignees are interesting - Underwood, of Underwood typewriters. What is a typewriter anyway? lol Did any of these inventions ever make it into production?

QnA
QnA

Some of these devices are amazing and are real major breakthroughs. Not the next (easy-ish) logical step. Lots of respect to those brilliant minds of the past. Are there any living now? I wonder how the world would look like if the Antikythera ever made it to land. Or if the PC became a flop. http://www.nature.com/nature/videoarchive/antikythera/

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

to me that as a kid I participated in the final destruction of one of these impressive machines, though I didn't have all of it to destroy. I left the gears and cams and frames and shafts to rust and corrode into an irretrievable hunk of scrap metal. I can't even console myself by buying this kind of thing on ebay. It just ain't there.

cnorisez
cnorisez

Showed a slide rule to some kids recently. They couldn't believe bridges and buildings were built using those things!

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

were called Slide Rules When first introduced on the battlefield, they were revolutionary, cutting fire control solutions from minutes down to seconds.

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

What a masterpiece of exposition! Even I could follow it. Whoever wrote it must be a Detweiler - so Bill, could you root around in the family archive and find the out-takes?

Jimbo Jones
Jimbo Jones

They didn't have the luxury of throwing gigabytes of RAM snd sloppy bloatcode at a problem. Their solutions had to be carved from brass and steel and walnut - no CAD/CAM either. Look at the attention to detail in the shading of their hand-drawn patent illustrations. My hat's off to these Victorian era inventors - the ur-Steampunk!

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler moderator

Indeed, many early computers and computing devices (such as ENIAC) were originally made to calculate artillery trajectories. I thought about including them is this gallery, but decided that they likely deserved a gallery of their own.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

Precision machining is still in use today. Usually used for low production specialty types of products. A good machinist can usually make a pretty good living. Bill

gordon_beith
gordon_beith

Certainly an amazing device, especially for that day and age. However, not very likely anyone is still alive today :-) And the device did start on land, then went under the sea, and finally came back to land. If it had been recovered earlier, it probably woudl have disintegrated before anyone could recognize and analyze it.

simon
simon

It seems to me that most of these beautiful inventions have now been rendered obsolete by modern electronic equivalents, however with one exception: The Computing Cheese Cutting Apparatus. Surely there is an opportunity here for an entrepreneur to make a killing in the modern day Cheese Cutting market?

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

A fascinating collection of gears, servos and dials driving the tactical course plotter. They took input from the gyro-compass, pitometer, radar and sonar ANALOG data. No electronics at all, strictly electromechanical stuff. It was amazing to watch it work as all input and output were visible on rotating dials. And it was dead accurate (GIGO, of course). World War II technology at it's best.

JCitizen
JCitizen

on the article about the first computer made after Charles Babbage, that started IBM, pretty well dug into that part. Many of us made reference to gun computing for the times. Very fascinating all!

jtroop
jtroop

Just kind of sounds funny to me, You know cutting the cheese, ha ha. If you want to show some cool computing devices why don't you guys find more ancient devices like the Anitkathera Mechanism??????

JCitizen
JCitizen

that the US submarine flotilla was the only one in WWII, where all of them, in a certain class, were air conditioned. It only came out in 1984 that this was because of one of the greatest analogue computers for calculating attack vectors was on board. They didn't want humidity to get to all the gears, pulleys, cams, and solenoids running the huge computational machine under the operational control room area. Even more amazing was that this was established in the mid thirties, if I remember my history correctly. Seems like the Americans learned from WWI, and the effective German offensive that resulted then and again in WWII. This really pulled the plug out from under the Japanese logistics in the Pacific!

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

is a 400~ 90Volt supply being split via rotary transformer into four phases, which drove the syncro recievers which deliver their angular data to the gears, cams and dials which do the actual computing. The rotating transformer primary (syncro transmitter) was mechanically coupled to either the range dial or the bearing dial. I "dialed in" the info by hand using the target cursor controls on my ancient QHB1a sonar stack. (in the case of my sonar)The ship's gyrocompass also drove the heading the same way. All other automatic inputs worked the same way. Since the control signals (data) were in the form of continuous 400~ sine waves in varying relative phases, it qualifies a an analog computer.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Analogically speaking, of course; which is the only way I can interpret what you are saying, unless you have something else in mind beyond my understanding.