DATAMATH CALCULATOR MUSEUM
Solid state electronic
calculators appeared during the 60's as an alternative to the noisy
electro-mechanical adding and calculating machines dominated by companies like Monroe,
Friden and Merchant. However, the large number of transistors required to
implement even the four basic arithmetic operations made these devices costly,
bulky and expensive.
In 1964, for example, Sharp
Corporation of Japan introduced the first transistorized calculator, the SHARP
CS-10A, which weighed 55 pounds and cost $2500. Another popular system, the
WANG 300, a desktop unit introduced in 1965 by Wang Corp. was priced at $1700.
The world's first desktop scientific calculator, the HP9100A, introduced by Hewlett-Packard in 1968 was sold for $4900.
Therefore, it was logical
that several companies would start finding ways to use the miniature integrated
circuits invented in 1958 by Jack Kilby
of Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor as a way to
produce lighter and more efficient versions of calculators.
It was September of 1965
when Jack Kilby, one of the inventors of the Integrated
Circuit, proposed to Jerry Merryman
and James Van Tassel of Texas
Instruments to start a project aimed to develop a miniature calculator that
would perform the basic arithmetic operations and would fit in the palm of the
Few years later, in 1968,
Bill Hewlett instructed his engineers at Hewlett-Packard to start the design of
a calculator able to handle the scientific calculations performed by slide rules
and would fit in a pocket.
The idea were also growing
in Japan. In June of 1969, Busicom, a Japanese manufacturer of desktop
calculators approached the young INTEL, founded in 1968 by Robert Noyce,
co-inventor of the Integrated Circuit, looking for a company able to produce a
set of chips they have designed to manufacture electronic calculators.
The stage was set, and it
was just a matter of few years until these ideas crystallized in an entirely new
breed of products, microprocessors and the hand-held calculators.
Of course, Texas Instruments
had the lead in this race, and by 1967 the Jack Kilby's team completed the
development of its first prototype: the "Cal-Tech."
It handled the four arithmetic functions, was packed in a small rectangular box,
weighed only 45 oz. and used a thermal printer to display the results.
While Busicom was dealing
with INTEL, Texas Instruments were negotiating with Canon
in Japan the production of a commercial version of their "Cal-Tech"
calculator. This version, called the "Pocketronic",
was introduced by Canon in April of 1970 and sold in Japan for $395. In February
of 1971, Canon introduced the "Pocketronic" in the USA with a retail
price of $345.
On the other hand,
Hewlett-Packard completed the development of its scientific pocket calculator in
1971, and in July of 1972 it surprised the market by launching the HP-35, the
first pocket calculator able to perform complex mathematical functions. The
reaction of the public to this product was spectacular even though it was priced
The Busicom attempt did not
live to its expectations, however it lead INTEL into the invention of the
microprocessor. As a byproduct of this project, INTEL launched its first
microprocessor, the 4004, in November of 1971.
Busicom used this microprocessor in their calculators but soon succumbed to the
But the war for the market
of small calculators had started. In 1972, Texas Instruments, up to that point a
chip provider, penetrated the market with their own calculator, the TI-2500
called the "Datamath".
It was a four function calculator and was sold for $120. Then, in 1973 they
launched their first scientific calculator, the SR-50,
aimed to compete with the HP-35. It was priced at $170, well under the HP-35.
In Europe, ARISTO followed
in 1973 with the ARISTO M 36, a very well designed four function calculator with
a memory key, and later, in 1974, with the ARISTO M
75, a scientific calculator.
Faber-Castell made a last attempt to save the slide rule and combined with the TR1 both an electronic pocket calculator and a traditional slide rule.
By 1975 Denner & Pape stopped making slide rules. Its main competitors,
Faber-Castell and Keuffel & Esser did the same. The slide rule was the first
The competition became very
fierce, prices started to drop dramatically, and many companies started to leave
the field which started to be dominated by the chip manufacturers. One of these
companies were Bowmar Instruments,
a giant manufacturer of calculators like the famous 901B
based on Texas Instruments chips, filed for bankruptcy in 1976. Denner &
Pape decided to withdraw in 1978.
Another case was MITS, a
company located in Albuquerque, specialized in the manufacture of calculator
kits sold at $169. Thousands of these kits were sold in the USA between 1972 and
1974 However, by 1974 MITS had to close this operation because the price of
fully assembled calculators were much lower than the unassembled kits.
In addition to the strong
market supply, two other technical factors contributed to the reduction in
prices, they were the introduction of the CMOS
low energy consumption chips, and the Liquid
Crystal Display devices that replaced the power hungry LED's in the second
half of the 70's. These developments, not only made the calculators more
efficient and cheaper, but created another shock in the already tumultuous
By 1990 the war of the
pocket calculators was over and a few companies survived, among them were Texas
Instruments and Hewlett-Packard in the USA, and Sharp Electronics and Casio,
Inc. in the Japan.
"Handheld Calculators: Functions at The Fingertips." Mechanical
Engineering Magazine. Vol 112, No. 1, pages 56-62, Jan 1990.
• G. Harry Stine, "The Untold Story of the Computer Revolution - Bits, Bytes, Bauds, and Brains. Chapter 15 - Computer in Your Pocket." Arbor House, New York.
Issues 15 & 16, Winter-Spring 1997
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© James Redin, February 28, 2002. No reprints without written permission.