Electronic Calculators—Handheld | Smithsonian Institution
In the course of the 1970s, handheld electronic calculators transformed the way tens of millions of people did arithmetic. Engineers abandoned slide rules, business people gave up desktop calculating machines, and shoppers replaced simple adding machines and adders. Educators asked how much students should even learn written procedures for multiplication, division, and taking square roots. Parents bought new toys that offered both instruction in arithmetic and other games for their children.
A few calculators were programmable, offering an alternative to large computers and to the microcomputers introduced in the same decade. Like microcomputers, they incorporated changes in microprocessor technology and displays. Many companies that sold calculators, such as Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, Tandy Corporation, and Commodore, would also market microcomputers and digital watches, other novelties of interest at the time. Business patterns established with calculators such as design in one country, manufacture in another, distribution by third parties, rapid introduction of new models, and decreasing cost also would appear with other electronic devices.
Handheld calculators were introduced into the United States in 1970 and 1971 by the Japanese firms of Busicom (Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation) and Sharp (Hayakawa Electric) as well as the American firm of Bowmar. Chips in early Busicom calculators were made in the United States by Mostek, while those in the Bowmar and Canon were by Texas Instruments. Hewlett-Packard Corporation joined the market in early 1972 with the HP-35 scientific calculator. It could not only add, subtract, multiply, and divide but compute trigonometric functions, logarithms, and exponents. In other words, it did the work of a slide rule and more. The calculator sold for $395. Not to be outdone, Texas Instruments introduced its first calculator, the Datamath (or TI-2500), later that year. The device carried out basic arithmetic and sold for $149.95. In 1973, TI introduced the SR-10, its answer to the HP-35. It did not give values for trigonometric functions, but cost only $150. The TI-50 (introduced in 1974 for $170) and the HP-21 (introduced in 1975 for $125) both performed the calculations possible on a slide rule for a somewhat more reasonable price.
Inexpensive Four-Function Calculators
Early handheld electronic calculators could be ordered from manufacturers or dealers. They also sold as relatively expensive goods in department stores. In the course of the 1970s, better chips made it possible to reduce the number of components required in calculators. Liquid crystal displays required significantly less power, making it possible to operate a calculator on tiny batteries – or operate on sunlight alone. Moreover, membranes replaced individual keys on some instruments. With all of these changes, cost of the devices plummeted. By 1977, a liquid crystal display calculator known as the Teal LC811 sold regularly for $24. 95, with a sale price of $19.95. By 1985, the solar-powered Sharp EL-345 sold for $5.95. Both of these calculators were made in Japan. The Sharp not only carried out arithmetic and found percentages, but had a square root key. Both calculators had limited memory for results of computations.
Programmable Handheld Calculator
Desktop electronic calculators that could be programmed were available from the mid-1960s. Prominent American manufacturers included Wang Laboratories in Massachusetts and Hewlett-Packard Company in California. By 1974, Hewlett-Packard had developed a more compact programmable device, the HP-65. Advertisements dubbed it a “personal computer,” not just a calculator. The instrument sold for $795 – plus an extra sum for a special “security cradle” that allowed one to attach it to a desk.
The HP-65 was specifically designed to assist in repeated calculations required in such disciplines as science, engineering, finance, statistic, mathematics, navigation, medicine and surveying. Toward that end, it contained a small magnetic card reader and recorder. Users who had worked out a series of commands they wished to reuse could save the program to a magnetic card. A variety of prewritten programs were available for purchase.
HP also published a newsletter where owners of the calculator exchanged information about programs. One owner of a HP-65 (not the instrument in the Smithsonian collections) was programmer Barry S. Berg. Berg used programming in many aspects of his life. The programs for his HP-65 device relate to aerial navigation, he consulted them when flying an airplane. Other, less expensive, programmable calculators soon followed, first from General Instrument and Texas Instruments and then from Hewlett-Packard itself. At the same time, the diffusion of sturdy personal computers decreased demand from computer programmers for these particular handheld devices.
In 1971, Jerome C. Meyer and James A. Tillotson III of Sunnydale, California received a patent for a “teaching device having means producing [sic] a self-generated program. ” Here questions for drill were selected using a random signal generator. Meyer and Tillotson thought such a machine might have many uses, but specifically showed an instrument for generating simple arithmetic problems. Given a problem, a student entered the answer. The machine checked its accuracy, with a correct answer generating a new problem. Ideas in this patent were reflected in an electronic teaching machine for drilling children in basic arithmetic called the Digitor, a device introduced by the California firm of Centurion Industries in 1974. The Digitor was a desktop, not a handheld, device. It sold to schools, not individuals.
Educational electronic games in the form of handheld electronic calculators, designed for home use, soon followed. For example, the Novus (also National Semiconductor) Quiz Kid, was designed and priced for the home market. An advertisement published in the New York Times just before Christmas in 1975 indicates that its small four-function instrument sold for only $15. 00. The calculator had no display, but the keyboard was decorated with an image of an owl with two large eyes, one green and one red. Children entered both a problem and their answer to it. If the answer was correct, the green eye flashed reinforcement. If not, the red eye lit up. The ad proclaimed that “The Novus ‘Quiz Kid’ just might make a Whiz Kid out of Jr [sic]!” At least it would “provide hours of fun and interest” (New York Times, December 23, 1975, 4. Novus had entered the calculator business by buying out the calculator division of National Semiconductor, and some devices were sold as the National Semiconductor Quiz Kid). A report from late May of 1976 indicates that by then some 600,000 of the toys had been shipped (New York Times, May 23, 1976, F3).
Texas Instruments had responded to the popularity of four-function calculators by producing the Datamath 2500, and to the HP-35 with the SR-10. Its answer to the Quiz Kid and similar toys was the Little Professor. Introduced in mid-1976, it was a calculator that had been altered to present simple arithmetic problems to a child. A correct answer led to another problem, a wrong answer to the message “EEE.” The keyboard was decorated with an image of a bewhiskered and bespectacled professor holding a book. Questions and answers appeared on a red LED screen that, in combination with the top of the instrument, looked like a mortar board. In early examples of the toy, the on-off switch was on the right side near the professor’s face, and looked rather like a tassel from a mortar board. The machine sold for about $18 early in 1977, with the price dropping to $13 by the middle of the year. The Little Professor sold in the millions. It is produced, in modified form, to this day. The Quiz Kid and the Little Professor were later joined by a range of games that included Coleco Digits (ca. 1978), Invicta’s Electronic Mastermind (ca. 1980), and an Electronic Backgammon Game by Tyrom (ca. 1981).
The first commercial graphing calculator was introduced by the Japanese firm of Casio Computer Company. Casio, founded in 1946, had sold electric desk calculators since the 1960s, and introduced a transistorized form of the machine in 1965. In the 1970s and 1980s, it released a variety of microprocessor-based consumer products including handheld calculators, digital watches, electronic musical instruments, and televisions. Its fx-7000G graphing calculator, introduced in 1985, sold for a price that settled around seventy-five dollars. By the following year, it had been adopted by a program in Ohio schools, and other states soon followed.
Other calculator manufacturers soon took up the challenge of designing graphing calculators. In 1987, Hewlett-Packard Corporation introduced its HP-28C calculator. It featured not only graphing but symbolic manipulation, as well as limited integration and differentiation. Indeed, Hewlett-Packard soon was ready to launch a version of the HP-28C with expanded memory, known as the HP-28S. It chose to do so at the January 1988 centennial meeting of the American Mathematical Society. Those attending the annual banquet of the society traditionally received a useful trinket such as an alarm clock. At the centennial party, the favor was an HP-28S. It came with an extra charge of $60 (the banquet alone was $30). However, considering that the list price of the calculator was $235, the fee was not unreasonable. The example of the HP-28S shown was owned by Andrew Gleason, who was among those working on the reform of calculus teaching as part of the Harvard Consortium. Other manufacturers soon offered graphing calculators.
With the widespread availability of other handheld devices for communication and for access to the web, the role of the electronic calculator has changed. Within mathematics education, calculators are now sold as much for what they do not do as for what they do. That is to say, calculators do not allow students to spend time texting, web surfing, or consulting with unauthorized sources. They are sometimes built so as NOT to evaluate certain functions. In the larger world, although inexpensive four-function calculators are still available for purchase, they also appear virtually on a desktop, laptop, and handheld computers.
This object group reflects the contributions of numerous donors to the Smithsonian Institution, and the work of numerous museum and library staff. A grant from the Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation and generous assistance from scholars at the Whipple Museum for the History of Science at Cambridge University are gratefully acknowleged.
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10 Pack 8 Digit Pocket Calculator with Extra Large Display
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- Easy to read, extra large 8 digit LCD display
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Materials Estimator Calculator
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- Estimates materials required to complete a project: bricks/blocks, concrete, gravel, boards, fencing, lumber, flooring, studs, drywall sheets, tiles, pain
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10 Digit Portable Metric Conversion Calculator
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8 Digit Executive Handheld Calculator with Double-Hinged Cover
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8 Digit Handheld Calculator with Cover in Bright Colors
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20 hand luggage options from readers of Tinkoff Magazine
We asked readers what hand luggage they were traveling with and asked for a photo.
The choice of the majority is a backpack. It can fit everything you need for a short trip. Many prefer things of famous brands, someone chooses a domestic manufacturer. For others, the form factor is important: they use a special backpack for moms or a transformer with the possibility of increasing volume.
One Tinkoff Magazine reader travels with a small Samsonite suitcase and pays extra for the option not to check it in as luggage. Another reader always carries washing powder – this allows you not to take extra clothes with you and get by with a small backpack. We collected all the life hacks in this collection.
These are community reader stories. Collected into one material, carefully edited and formatted according to the standards of the editors
Option no. 1
Xiaomi Mi Simple Casual Backpack
I have been using the Xiaomi Mi Simple Casual Backpack for three years, it looks like new. Volume – 20 liters, dimensions – 27.5 × 15 × 43 cm. Fits a laptop, there is a compartment for a bottle of water.
The backpack has a water-repellent coating, a breathable back with a hidden pocket, soft, comfortable shoulder straps. It is almost weightless, looks very neat, minimalistic. Suitable for any outfit and any activity, whether it’s walking in the city or extreme travel.
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Option no. 2
found the perfect option
I bought my backpack with a crocodile for 5000 R in 2018. Since then, he has experienced trips to 10 countries moving exclusively on low-cost carriers, buses, ferries and trains. It fits a laptop – there is a separate pocket inside on the back – chargers for a computer and a phone, three sets of underwear, jeans, a cosmetic bag, a bottle of water, and there is still room. Instead of extra clothes, I prefer to carry washing powder with me if the climate at the destination is not very different.
The backpack looks so small that it was never asked to put it in the calibrator, even on Pobeda flights. I’m not going to change to something else.
Is it obligatory for a passenger to place hand luggage in a calibrator?
Option no. 3
nostalgic for travel
Back in the old days, when travel was still a real thing for me, I flew with an ordinary Burberry urban backpack. It is light, thin and quite voluminous. In the photo – a backpack against the background of his wife and Istanbul.
Option no. 4
Backpack “RPS Bumblebee”
forever on the road
For five years I have been traveling weekly on business trips all over Russia – from Kaliningrad to the Far East – for two to five days. There were different backpacks in operation – both cheap and expensive.
For the last year and a half I have been using a backpack from the Nizhny Novgorod company RPS Shmel. It is durable and anatomical, easy to carry in hand luggage at Aeroflot and S7. The backpack suits everyone except black. For those who fly a lot, gray is more suitable, otherwise you are tormented by constantly wiping the backpack from dust.
Over the years, there is more and more space in the backpack, as things become less and less. Now I fly with a limited list even on vacation. You have to walk a lot, exploring local sights, and you don’t want to carry weight on your back.
How to travel with one backpack and a minimum of things
Option no. 5
faithful to one brand
I fly with a bag and a micro-suitcase. Both from Samsonite. I always pay extra for priority boarding: this allows me to take two pieces of hand luggage into the cabin. After the terrible stories about what sometimes happens to things in the luggage, I don’t want to get involved with it.
Everything you need fits. I put the laptop in the case and the chargers in the bag, and in the same place — every little thing like fragile cosmetics. Clothes, other cosmetics and other things – in a micro-suitcase. Of course, you have to adjust to its size. On the other hand, it teaches you not to be overloaded with unnecessary things on a trip and to reduce their number to a minimum.
Option no. 6
Nike roll-top backpack
found a lot of advantages with Nike
I have been traveling everywhere with a Nike backpack for five years now. Once I bought it because of the low price, but it has taken root so much that I can’t change it in any way. Of the pluses: waterproof, rubberized bottom, roll-top format, which allows you to slightly increase the volume, compartments for small items, glasses, a bottle and a laptop.
The backpack is very roomy. And it passes into the calibrators of any airlines. Of the minuses: not very comfortable back for long-term wearing of heavy things.
Can I be removed from a flight if my hand luggage is over the limit?
Option no. 7
Roll-top backpack New Balance
does not accept other formats
I only take roll-top backpacks on trips so that I can add volume on top if necessary. Now I have one from the New Balance brand.
Option no. 8
Dakine Recycled Backpack
Lieutenant Colonel Belkin
is looking for a replacement for his favorite item
Dakine brand backpack purchased 10 years ago. Bribed that in the description it was indicated: “Made from plastic bottles caught from the ocean.” I respect this kind of marketing. I immediately imagined that the doll of my backpack was swimming with whales.
The straps, which were intended for skateboarding, are very convenient to hook on a jacket and a cap. In the side pockets, you can put any little thing like napkins, a sanitizer, a mirror. Glasses and keys fit well in the top pocket.
A backpack stuffed to the brim lived nine years without trouble. On the tenth day, it began to rub down at the bottom, so I realized that an era was leaving, it was time to change.
Version no. 9
Dakine Skate Backpack
fits in a backpack for life
My Dakine backpack is already nine years old, bought in 2013 for $100 (7645 R). During this time, he traveled and flew so much with me that it’s amazing how he is still alive. The main material is rubberized nylon. Inside there is a compartment for a laptop. There are two pockets on the sides for a bottle or a thermal mug, two more pockets on top, one of them is fleece, for glasses, an organizer pocket in front. Volume – 28 liters.
Prices in rubles are recalculated at the current exchange rate every time you open the page. A couple of T-shirts, trousers, a warm jacket, two or three changes of underwear, a raincoat, a set of soap accessories, disposable slippers, a mini-hair dryer, a phone charger, documents, a bottle of water, pills, glasses and a panama hat fit in. In my free time from traveling, I go to the store with him. It has wide padded shoulder straps, padded back and surprisingly comfortable skate mounts. True, I wear a jacket there. This is Love.
Option no. 10
Backpack for moms
is not afraid of checks at the airport
I have been traveling with this backpack for four years, the description on the seller’s website said that it was for mothers. I flew with him six times, and only once I was asked to put him in the calibrator. Went in great.
It fits a sufficient number of personal items – I almost always carry the most bulky on me. With this backpack I flew both to the sea and walk around the city. There is a convenient zippered valve on the back side, it helps out if you need to get something from the bottom.
Apart from hand luggage, what can a passenger take into the cabin for free?
Option no. 11
Bergans Rondane 46L
knows where to get 4 liters
When I travel, I use the Bergans Rondane 46 liter backpack. If there are few things, it shrinks to a rather miniature look, if there are a lot, it rolls out to 50 liters. In airlines like Aeroflot, it fits the standards of hand luggage.
Option no. 12
novice air traveler
I have flown by plane only twice in my life so far. Both times I took with me a 50-liter transformer backpack P0258.
Option no. 13
Backpack Northland 30L
satisfied with the choice
I took a 30 liter Northland backpack from Sportmaster. It fits into Aeroflot and S7 calibrators without problems, in the case of low-cost airlines, it had to be crushed a little. I have been actively using it for more than a year, the flight is normal. Everything you need fits, there are enough pockets, the back is ventilated, I am satisfied with the backpack.
Option no. 14
Backpack Quechua 20L
fell out of love with backpacks
Lately I have been flying with a classic Decathlon Quechua backpack for 20 liters. It fits a laptop and the necessary minimum of things. True, I didn’t have to insert it into the calibrator, I don’t know if it will go in. The straps are strong, anatomical, the backpack is durable, there are many pockets. Everything is good in it, but for me it is still hard. For the next trip, I will buy a suitcase for hand luggage.
What not to take as hand luggage on the plane
Option no. 15
travels with a laptop
I bought such a backpack a couple of years ago, the dimensions are 55 × 34 × 20 cm. The airlines with which I fly allow such dimensions of hand luggage. It’s big enough for a 17-inch laptop, plus it holds a few personal items. Suitable for short trips, it is quite possible to get by with one.
Option no. 16
This is the third year I have been using the Tigernu backpack. Only once did not pass the dimensions into the Pobeda calibrator. I was offered to fold it in half, despite the fact that there was a laptop inside.
They write that Pobeda has simplified the requirements for hand luggage. This is true?
Option no. 17
knows how to fit the stuff that doesn’t fit
I have a backpack from Optimum, specially for hand luggage, caliber 55 × 40 × 20 cm. I bought it a couple of years ago and, it seems, during this time I never went without it. I use it as hand luggage or check it in as baggage, depending on the rules of the airline. Once I stuffed 17 kg into it.
Option no. 18
is not afraid of pain in the shoulder
On trips around Russia for a couple of days I fly with a bag. The only problem is that your shoulder gets tired when you carry it, the backpack is clearly more comfortable. I have a Roxy Geometric Storage suitcase that fits in hand luggage, but I don’t use it for short trips.
Option no. 19
Thule Subterra 30L
loves reliable things
I have been traveling for three years only with him.