FYI:SCI:HIST:COMP:Re: quantifying calculations (fwd)

Eugene Leitl (
Wed, 14 May 1997 20:23:13 +0200 (MET DST)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 14 May 1997 16:34:22 +0200
From: Mounier <mounier@MSH-PARIS.FR>
To: Multiple recipients of list HTECH-L <HTECH-L@SIVM.BITNET>
Subject: Re: quantifying calculations

A (At) 19:34 12/05/97, Steven Lubar ecrivait (wrote):
> I'm a reporter with Forbes and I'm trying
> to put together a chart of the computing machine calculations per person p=
> year in the US since 1800. I'm looking into the use of calculators by
> astronomers and the military in the early 1800s, mechanical adding machine=
> and tabulators in the late 1800s, decoding calculators and electromechanic=
> computers in the 1900s, etc.
> If anyone has expertise in relevant areas, such as military history or the
> history if science, or has any suggestions, please contact me.. I'm
>looking for ideas on how to get hard numbers --I've been looking into
>computing capacity
> and number of machines as one way to go, and have a call in to the census
(I've also contacted the Babbage Institute.)
> --Dolly Setton

Dear Madam,

I can only give you a few figures which give an order of magnitude.
The Arithmom=E8tre, invented by Thomas de Colmar in 1820, was the first
practical, industrially-produced computing machine.
1821-1865 : 500 units produced in 44 years (in various workshops in Paris)
1865-1878 : 1 000 machines in 13 years
1865-1878 : 1 000 machines in 13 years.
60% were exported, of which a few hundreds to the USA. How many of them
were still in use in, say, 1880, for example ? and what percentage had been
destroyed or lost ? Without answering such questions, we cannot measure
"the computing machine calculations per person per year in the US".

This is a typical case where precision is incompatible with exactitude,
since there was no such thing as a statistics of statistical machines in
the 19th century, not even in the 1st part of our century.

Burroughs, with its three factories (11 000 employees) in US, Canada, UK,
sold 120 000 machines/year, in 1919, for a revenue of $ 33 234 000 ; in
1916 : 40 000 machines/year. Yet, Burroughs had many competitors, of which
most have not bequeathed us with their records. Even Burroughs' figures
(120 000...) are too square to be honest: They look more like commercial
propaganda than like real production statistics. So, I admire the bold
spirit whith which you plan to put together a chart!
I will try to find more data for you. Meanwhile, I would be very grateful
if you could tell me how you manage to solve the statistics problem!

Yours sincerely,

Pierre Mounier-Kuhn

CNRS - Paris IV Sorbonne
4 rue Hautefeuille - 75006 Paris
T=E9l=E9phone : 33 (01) 46 33 49 86
=46ax : 33 (01) 40 46 31 92