The man who invented the first adding machine was born today in 1857. Now WE know em


William Seward Burroughs was born January 28, 1857 in Rochester, New York.

Burroughs was the son of a mechanic and worked with machines throughout his childhood.

After graduating from High School, Burroughs went to work in a bank as a clerk where he spent long hours adding numbers.

Burroughs came up with an idea to solve this problem by creating an adding machine. In the bank where Burroughs worked, there had been a number of attempts at mechanizing adding numbers.

Early prototypes lacked accuracy and would many times give incorrect results.

Blaise Pascal had invented an early form of the mechanical calculator in 1642.

Thomas de Colmar had launched his mechanical calculator in 1851 when he released his simplified arithmometer.

And Dorr E. Felt started manufacturing his machine in 1887.


The boredom and monotony of clerical life caught up with Burroughs; after seven years

and failing health, he resigned.

A doctor advised Burroughs to move to an area with warmer climate and he settled on the gateway to the west, St. Louis, Missouri.

Burroughs obtained a job in a machine shop, where he continued to foster the idea of an adding machine.

This new job hastened his development of the idea, and the available tools gave Burroughs the opportunity to actually build his own conception.

Burroughs focused on accuracy, he made sure the material he used would not expand or contract, and when he needed to center a cut line he would use a microscope.

In 1886, Burroughs founded the American Arithmometer Company to develop and produce his adding machine.

William Seward Burroughs received a patent for his “calculating machine” on August 21, 1888.


Patent drawing for Burroughs's calculating machine, 1888.

Patent drawing for Burroughs’s calculating machine, 1888.

Burroughs health continued to decline and he died September 14, 1898 in Citronelle, Alabama.

In 1904, six years after Burroughs’ death, the company moved to Detroit and changed its name to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. It soon was the biggest adding machine company in America.

An early Burroughs adding machine

An early Burroughs adding machine

American Arithmometer Company went on to become Burroughs Corporation and evolved to produce electronic billing machines and mainframes, and eventually merged with Sperry to form Unisys.

Burroughs was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

 Now WE know em


William Seward Burroughs  was interred in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.



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