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Combination:Calculating Machine and Printer, 1897


In 1884, pressure from investors convinced Burroughs to exhibit his machine, despite its known imperfections. In 1885 the inventor made application for basic patents, and the following year saw the founding of the American Arithmometer Company. By 1888, pressure from stockholders had convinced Burroughs to start production of his machine. He had complied reluctantly with investors’ demands, unsure that the patterns he ordered would produce the foolproof machine he had endeavored to design. The initial shipment of machines in 1890 confirmed the inventor’s fears: the Burroughs Registering Accountant’s first consumers had complaints. The trouble centered around the main operating lever, which allowed the machine to accumulate numbers when it was pulled steadily forward and then released. However, the contraption’s inexperienced clientele misused the lever and then complained that the machines weren’t arriving at the correct totals.

Not one to be thwarted, Burroughs applied himself to investigating the problem. Seventy-two sleepless hours of work yielded a solution: an oil-filled dashpot. Incorporated in the machine's infrastructure, the dashpot would smooth its operations despite usage errors made by the handler. In 1891, 100 improved Registering Accountants left the company’s workshop, the failures having been recalled and stored away. To celebrate his success Burroughs hurled these faulty models, one by one, from the window of the company’s storeroom. “I have ended the last of my troubles,” he proclaimed as the malfunctioning machines crashed to the ground.

Note: Another Burroughs patent is also available.