A Personal Story of Interest to Business Men and Accountants
The following historical account is excerpted from “An Interview with the Father of the Calculating Machine,” Copyright, 1919, by Monroe Calculating Machine Co. and Copyright 1926, by Monroe Calculating Machine Co.
An Interview with Mr. Baldwin
In the summer of 1840, when I was two years old, my family moved to Nunda, Livingston County, New York.
At Nunda, I attended the first free school instituted by the State of New York. Afterwards, I was graduated from the Nunda Institute, where I had specialized in mathematics. In a class competition, I surprised my teachers by memorizing the decimal of Pi to 128 places, and ever since that time I have been able to write it without effort.
In 1854, I was enrolled at Union College. My course was short-lived, for soon after my entrance, father met with a serious accident, which crippled him for life and forced me to take over the management of his architectural business. I then began experimental work on several ideas. In 1855, I applied for a patent on an arrowhead self-coupler for railroad cars. It was rejected on reference. This rejection only fired my ambition to succeed and perhaps determined my later course in the field of invention.
In 1860, business took me to Fort Wayne, Indiana. An uncle at Carlyle, Illinois, had designed a corn-planter for which I assisted in securing a patent. This was a pioneer of machines of this class. Early in ’61, I went over to Carlyle to build the first model and arrange for the manufacture of the device.
The Civil War broke out and upset my plans. I enlisted in the ‘Carlyle Home Guard,’ but stress of circumstances brought me back to Fort Wayne after the “Three Months.” So the war fever in me had to burn itself out in looking after the family.
In 1869, I went to St. Louis as manager of Peck’s Planning Mills. It was at this point I began to devote more and more time toward working out the ideas I had in mind. There was one in particular from which I now derive a great deal of satisfaction, because it is being used on such a universal scale. It is the metal lace latch seen on so many shoes. It came into being as an aid to my own quick dressing.
About this time, I invented an instrument called the Anemometer, for recording the direction of the wind; also a registering step for street cars, recording the number of passengers carried; and a street indicator geared from the axle showing each street in succession, from an illuminated box, as the car passed. These I placed in successful operation. This ended my efforts to improve the railroad business.
Shortly thereafter, I invented and patented the ‘Recording Lumber Measure’, a machine which automatically measured and recorded four different kinds of lumber at the same time. This device set me thinking about computing machines and this point really marks the birth of the Monroe.
In the office of a life insurance company at St. Louis, I had seen the Thomas type of calculating machine, devised by C. X. Thomas of Colmar, France, about 1820. I contrived the plan of substituting one cylinder for the nine cylinders in that machine, making a working model, which is now in the Patent Office at Washington.
It was on this model that William Seward Burroughs, later of Burroughs Adding Machine fame, did some work for me in a small general machine shop, which he, with his father, had in St Louis.
Not until about 1880 did Mr. Burroughs start work on his own adding machine with a keyboard set-up. The meteoric success of the business that bears the Burroughs name is history.
In October 1872, I married Mary K. Denniston of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, who was visiting relatives in St. Louis. The year after, we moved to Philadelphia where I rented a small shop and started to make ten of the calculating machines. While thus engaged, I saw the expediency of a small machine to supplement the larger one, and designed an adding machine which I named the ‘Arithmometer,’ and this patent, dated July 28, 1874, was the first one of the kind granted to me by the United States Patent Office. It was also one of the first adding machines sold in the United States.
I placed both machines on exhibition at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, and was awarded the John Scott Medal for the most meritorious invention of the year. The only other inventor that year receiving a similar honor from the Institute was George Westinghouse for his air-brake. The Government granted me patent rights in 1875.
As soon as one of the calculating machines was finished, I took it to the office of the Pennsylvania Railroad and was referred to Mr. George M. Taylor, Auditor of Freight Receipts. As soon as he saw the machine, he exclaimed, ‘You are a year too late. If I could have had a machine like that a year ago, it would have been invaluable. I have had a series of tables prepared, giving rates on quantities from 1 to 2,000 pounds, carried from 1 to 550 miles of the road, making over a million computations. Seven different clerks have checked each sheet and I have just had them lithographed for distribution to the agents. However, I would like to see your machine tested.’
He asked a clerk to bring in one of the sheets. Then he began calling off the items while I multiplied them on the machine. After about fifty items he cried, ‘Hold on, that is wrong.’ I looked at the sheet and there surely was a discrepancy. To make certain, I erased it and did it over. I said, ‘The error is in the sheet, sir’. ‘What, you don’t mean to say that the table is wrong?’ ‘Prove it for yourself, sir, said I.' Had a bomb been exploded in the office, the consternation could not have been greater.
The clerks were hastily called in and each one had to figure it himself before he would believe those tables could be wrong. ‘Well,’ said Mr. Taylor, ‘I will buy your machine if you will instruct one of my clerks how to operate it, and then I want all of these tables gone over and proven correct.’
I taught one of them how to use it and he began the work of checking, which took some time, but three months later he confessed to me under the pledge of absolute secrecy that he had found 135 errors in the tables, seven on one sheet. The lapse of time is my only excuse for breaking that pledge.
I still have a copy of Mr. Taylor’s letter written to me from Philadelphia on August 8, 1874.
F.S. Baldwin, Esq.
I have used for the last four months one of your large machines daily in this department and have no hesitation in saying it performs its work rapidly and reliably, and for the purpose used does the work of at least three men with a certainty of correctness and greater rapidity. For Railroad Companies, calculating mileages and tonnages, it is, I consider, invaluable.
Of course I was elated at this proof of the utility of the machine and plunged into the business with renewed vigor, but I soon found that I had undertaken too heavy a task. So I made a contract with the Reliance Machine Works of Philadelphia to manufacture the machines, while I took charge of the Sales Department. I met with considerable success in selling the adding machines, but found the town too slow to accept the calculators, so I concluded to try New York. There I sold several calculators to the leading life insurance companies and one to the State Department in Albany.
Although pleased with my success in New York, I was anxious to secure the endorsement of the Government, so I resolved to strike at the fountainhead at Washington.
I went to the office of the Secretary of the Treasury. After waiting until the crowd was thinned out, I walked boldly into his office and placing the machine on his desk, said: ‘Mr. Secretary, I wish to call your attention to a machine which I believe will prove very useful to the Government.’ I proceeded to demonstrate it. Secretary Benjamin Bristow looked at me quizzically for a moment and then pushed a button on his desk. An elderly gentleman appeared, whom I found afterwards to fill the position of Actuary of the Department. ‘Mr. Elliott; said the Secretary, 'this young man has a very interesting machine here which I wish you to examine thoroughly and send me a report upon.’ Mr. Elliott bowed and, beckoning me to follow, led me to his own office, which I frequently visited afterward. I found him not only a fine mathematician, but a most agreeable companion and very popular in the Departments, and it was through his assistance that I was able to place the remaining calculators with the Government.
One afternoon he took me out to the National Observatory and introduced me to the celebrated scientist, Professor Simon Newcomb, saying: ‘I want to present Mr. Baldwin, who writes and recites Pi to 128 places’ Professor Newcomb was very much interested in the calculator and complimented me highly.
All this time I was holding demonstrations in the evening at the hotel or in private houses with the machine, as most people had never heard of such a thing as ‘metal brains,’ and some, thinking I had manipulated certain figures, would insist on giving me problems of their own, often in their haste making a mistake and having to retire in confusion.
One evening a young man introduced himself as the Private Secretary of General Benjamin F. Butler and insisted that I should show it to the General as he was deeply interested in mechanics. I spent two hours with the General going over the machine. When I had finished, he turned to me and said: ‘Well, young man, you have made a most remarkable machine, but I tell you, you are thirty years in advance of the Age.’ Rather cold comfort that, but my experience since has convinced me that he was about right.
Although I had been successful in placing the ten calculating machines, they had been made principally by hand, affording no profits. As the Reliance Machine Works did not have the facilities for quantity production, and the failure of Jay Cooke, with the ensuing panic, caused such a stagnation in business, I gave up the fight and returned to St. Louis in 1876, where, after a while, I started to work up gradually.
It was about this time that one of my 1875 models found its way to Europe, falling into the hands of a Mr. Ohdner, a Swede. He took out patents in all European countries on a machine that did not vary in any important particular from mine, and several large manufacturing companies in Europe took it up. It is now appearing under ten to fifteen names in Europe, the more important being Brunsviga and Triumpator, manufactured in Germany.
In 1900, I patented the Baldwin Computing Engine, a machine by which multiplication or division was performed by one stroke for each digit.
In 1902, I brought out the Baldwin Calculator. I went back to first principles in this machine, employing the reverse action in dividing and subtracting, the carrying motion being provided on a separate shaft, reducing the diameter of the main cylinder to one half the size of that of the 1875 machine. Some of these machines are still in use, after more than a quarter century of service. In 1905, I designed a listing machine with only ten keys and a spacer.
In 1908, I was awarded a patent on the Baldwin Recording Calculator, which combined the listing machine with the calculator. This machine, with the keyboard and oscillating bars, formed the germ of the present Monroe.
In 1911, I became acquainted with Mr. Jay R. Monroe, then associated with the Western Electric Company in New York City. Only a few years prior he had been graduated from law at Michigan. He was a young man then, and is still young in years, but mature in ideas and judgment.
Mr. Monroe had always been of a mechanical turn of mind, but fortunately his work, following his graduation, was along clerical and commercial lines. This brought him in close touch with calculating machines and the various uses to which they were being applied, and he began to study them for their weaknesses, endeavoring to devise ways in which they could be improved.
It was about this time that he told me that the day had arrived when business was demanding a more efficient machine than had then appeared on the market – one that anyone could operate after one explanation; one that was portable; one that was simple in construction; one that furnished perfect visibility with a proof of accuracy; one with a keyboard set-up; one that would not only add, but multiply, divide and subtract as easily as it could add.
I showed him my machine. At once he saw it's possibilities. We joined hands and set about designing the machine to make it as nearly perfect as possible in its adaptation to the needs of modern business.
The result of that work and our later association is the Monroe High Speed Adding-Calculator which is filling no small part in faithful, economic service in the realm of business.
Mr. Baldwin passed away at his home in Denville, New Jersey, April 8, 1925, within two days of reaching his 87th birthday. Until a day or so before his death, his mind was clear and keen, and his interest in his family and the things about him was just as pronounced as ever.
An Interview with Jay Randolph Monroe
Mr. Jay R. Monroe, President and Founder of the Monroe Calculating Machine Company, recognized the growing demands for simpler, faster figuring with proven accuracy. He, with Mr. Baldwin, developed the design and mechanism of the first Monroe High Speed Adding-Calculator.
The close and intimate association of Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Monroe, formed in the early days of the development of the Monroe Adding-Calculator, continued until the death of Mr. Baldwin. In recounting instances of their early association and the phenomenal progress of the Company, Mr. Monroe paid tribute to the high character and inventive genius of Mr. Baldwin.
“At the time we met,” said Mr. Monroe, “I was employed by the Western Electric Company where the nature of my work necessitated an exhaustive study of accounting methods. I had long recognized an unfilled need in business for a figuring machine that would handle simply, directly, and with a minimum of mental and physical effort, all of the four fundamental operations, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division.
In Mr. Baldwin’s model, the practicability of the basic principles was apparent. I was so impressed with the possibilities of Mr. Baldwin’s basic idea that I made an arrangement with him whereby we would work together in the further development of the machine, incorporating various changes I had in mind. I was, also, granted an option on Mr. Baldwin’s patents.
Ours was a pioneering task. There was little precedent to guide us. In due time, patents were applied for and granted, and a new adding-calculator, based upon an idea that had had its inception in 1870, by combining a great many new and valuable features, was introduced to the business world.
In this machine we had striven for durability, speed as well as simplicity of operation, visible proof of accuracy, a flexible keyboard, and a two-way mechanism that would entirely eliminate the use of arbitrary rules or complementary figures in handling the four fundamental operations. In other words, we had succeeded in building a machine that went straight from problem to result, safeguarding accuracy at every step of the operation and making easy the use of the machine by one unaccustomed to machine operation.
We formed an organization consisting of a small corps of efficient and earnest workers and started the manufacture and sale of Monroe Adding-Calculators. As the idea of such a machine was entirely new to business executives, we found that a considerable amount of educational work was necessary. But we laid our foundation carefully and well. Every installation meant a new Monroe friend.
The demand for Monroe machines grew so rapidly that our early expectations were far exceeded. We quickly realized the necessity of extending our production facilities as the demand for our product gave assurance of the permanency of our enterprise.
We purchased a factory in Orange, New Jersey. Orange offered the ideal location for the manufacture of a precision instrument, as it had been known for years as a center for quality in manufacturing.
The ability of our machine to fill the needs of business in handling enormous volumes of figure-work popularized our name and service very rapidly. Our field became as universal as the field of figures.
We stretched forth into Canada, into South America, and into England and the continents of Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa, until, today; there is not a point of importance in the World’s affairs where the Monroe is not represented.
Factory expansion and increased production kept pace with the rapid growth in sales. From the very beginning we had stressed ‘Quality’ in our manufacturing. We were determined to build a machine that would not only be ‘fool proof’ from an operating standpoint but would stand up and render service over a period of years under the hardest usage.
A Research and Engineering Department was established early in our history to further the mechanical development of our machine. In this department, as in all other departments of our manufacturing organization, ‘Thoroughness’ was the watchword.
How well we succeeded in building a ‘Quality’ product is attested by the great number of machines built during the early days of our history which are still giving their owners exemplary service. We have never faltered in our strict adherence to that ideal, for every Monroe model put on the market since then has been a long step forward both in mechanical design and operation. Until today, there is not a machine on the market that is better built.
Some of the country's foremost mechanical engineers, as well as other leading business executives, have visited our plant and have expressed amazement over the exacting requirements that enter into each detail of Monroe manufacturing.
After all, the most convincing argument in support of our claims to a Quality Product, is found in the constant growth of our sales, in which each year has exceeded the previous one by a generous but healthy margin and in the increasing number of users who are standardizing on Monroe machines for all their figure work.
In 1917, and again in 1920, new buildings were erected and the most modern machinery installed. This expansion program permitted us to take advantage of the world-wide demand for our machine. However, within five years our manufacturing facilities were found to be wholly inadequate. Accordingly in 1925, we acquired considerable new property, installed new machinery and mapped out an expansion plan which will enable us to keep our sales and production curves on an even basis for years to come.
This growth from a humble beginning to world-wide proportions has been due to an honest, liberal policy toward our customers, a quality product, faithful and efficient service, and strict adherence to an ideal.
Just as these factors have been part of and responsible for our advancement, so I am pleased to believe that they are present today in the efforts of every employee in our organization, whether in our plant or in the selling field, both at home and among our friends who represent us Overseas.