The history of the calculator is almost as old as time itself.
The first devices that solved math problems were developed around 2300-2700 BC.
2300-2700 BC The Abacus
Today, abaci are typically only used in Asia and consist of a bamboo frame with beads sliding on wires. Early prototypes in 2300-2700 BC Mesopotamia however, were nothing more than beans, stones, or whatever other small debris could be found, moved around on tablets made of wood and stone. Developed centuries before any written numeric system existed, abaci were a useful tool for merchants and clerks.
1642 The Mechanical Calculator
Over 4000 years later, Blaise Pascal invented the first mechanical calculator in 1642. A commercially available in more functional version of the machine—Thomas’ Arithmometer—wasn’t on the market until 1851. It was bulky and looked more like an old fashioned typewriter/ torture device hybrid than a calculator, but it was functional enough to use in offices and banks, and perfectly capable of eliminating the human error from basic math problems.
Versions of this calculator were improved on until 1970, when this 120 year-old device was finally deemed obsolete.
1961 First Electronic Desktop Calculators
Bell Punch Co., based out of Uxbridge England announced the first electronic desktop calculator—the Anita MK VII in 1961. It was bigger than the ones we’re used to now, but were incredibly high-tech and streamlined in comparison to the mechanical ones of just a few years earlier.
1969 First Handheld Calculators
This excerpt comes from VintageCalculators.com: “By 1969 several companies had produced AC-powered calculators which used just a handful of integrated circuits which had a low power requirement, such as Sharp of Japan with the QT8-D desktop calculator. Then by replacing the AC power section with rechargeable batteries the first hand-held calculators were produced.
1978 First Solar-Powered and First Credit Card Sized Calculators
Between 1969 and 1978, leading manufactures like Sharp, Texas Instruments, Rapid man and others continued to innovate on the handhold calculator, making the handheld calculator standard progressively more affordable, and incredibly compact. Eventually, the first solar powered calculators were released—the Royal Solar 1, Teal Photon, and Sharp EL-8028.
The same year, the first credit-card sized calculator was released—the Casio Mini Card LC-78. This model and other imitations would become fixtures in wallets, purses, and pencil cases for years to come.
2000 and Onward
Today’s calculators come in exponentially more colours, shapes, and sizes, and certain developments have been made in terms of the features seen in advanced devices like scientific and graphing calculators, but at their core they are the same as their first prototypes from 35 years ago. Not to mention that most young kids with probably only ever use a calculator that’s on their cellphone.