The history of the Burroughs company

Although Blaise Pascal is credited for the first adding machine, mr. William Seward Burroughs can, be credited for the first workable and certainly widely available adding machine in the US. mr W.S. Burroughs born on January 28, 1857 in Rochester, NY. His father was a model maker for iron castings. This early exposure to an environment of mechanics and manufacturing would come in handy in years to come.
At age 15 Burroughs joined the Cayuga County National Bank in Auburn, NY, as a clerk. Part of his job became the adding up of columns of figures in the bank’s ledgers to check the accuracy of the information. He noticed that many clerks often made errors in adding up figures and he soon decided that a machine should be able to do this far more accurate and faster.
Due to poor health he was forced to leave the bank in 1882. His doctor advised him to move to a warmer climate and he moved to St. Louis, Missouri. There he started to realize his plans to develop an adding machine. He was given a few feet of bench space in the small workshop of Joseph Boyer (who would after Burroughs’ death become the director of the American Arithmometer Company founded by Burroughs).
With financial assistance from a few interested people Burroughs managed to design the prototype of the first “full keyboard” adding machine. The machine handled figures of up to nine digits with a full set of nine keys available for each digit position, in other words: nine columns of nine keys. At the top of the machine was a row of nine red keys used to zeroize a specific column.
Adding of the figures took place by pulling a crank forward. The sum could be read on dials in the front. Burroughs added one more important feature to his adding machine: a print facility. The figures entered on the adding machine would be printed when the crank handle was reversed into its original position. The printing was done on a cash-register type roll of paper which was located at the back of the machine. The printing showed both the figures entered as well as the total accumulated and served as an audit trail of the addition. Although initially the paper roll was fairly small, later models could hold a full sheet of paper or a printed form and they even sounded a bell when the end-of-paper was reached. The machine only performed additions and no subtractions were possible (the subtract feature was introduced in 1911). The machine was advertised and sold as an “adding and listing machine”. In 1885 Burroughs applied for a patent for his adding machine which was granted in 1888.

In 1886 Burroughs founded the American Arithmometer Company, the forerunner of the Burroughs Company, with the purpose of selling its only product, the Burroughs adding and listing machine for $475.00. The company was based in St. Louis, Missouri, where Burroughs had started. He expected that all banks would jump at the new machine but initial sales were slow. Handling the crank correctly proved so difficult for the operator (only Burroughs himself could do it properly) that the first model was withdrawn soon. Burroughs designed a “dash-pot” filled with oil to overcome the problem. This gave the hydraulic leverage on the crank so that it operated correctly irrespective of the manner it was pulled. As Burroughs was familiar with the banking environment he initially marketed his machines to banks only. Later he realized that it was not only banks that were in need of an adding machine and other type of companies were also approached. As said, sales were initially slow – by 1895 only 284 machines had been sold. This soon climbed to 972 five years later; in 1926 this had risen to 1 million machines sold.
Without having the knowledge of mr. Dorr E. Felt, mr. W.S. Burroughs second design made use off the same idea: Using an "Active Keyboard" to perform addition immediately, when all digits of a number are entered (using all fingers at the same time) simultaneously, without additional cranking. Despite applying one year earlier than D.E. Felt, W.S. Burroughs patent was issued in 1888, a year later than D.E. Felt's Comptometer.
W.S. Burroughs died 1898, too early to enjoy the phenomenal success of the Burroughs company he founded.
In 1904 the factory moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Detroit, Michigan, USA and became "Largest Adding Machine Factory in the USA" some say in the world. The beautiful styling & durability of the Burroughs class 3 Adding Machine was manufactured between 1911-1929. This machine was considered one among the most technologically advanced of it's time and the price was comparable to that of a new car. The machines nickname was: "The visibly adding machine" because this was the first Burroughs machine where the printing section was in sight, during typing.
Unfortunately mr. Burroughs continued to be plagued by ill health - in 1897 he was forced to retire and he moved to Citronelle in Alabama. He died the next year, still young, on September 14, 1898, in Citronelle, Alabama.
The company's success continued in the "Electronic Age" when Burroughs with Sperry-Univac united in 1986, to expand to Unisys.

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A nice YouTube video on the Burroughs history: