William Seward Burroughs patents his calculating machine

21st August 1888
William Seward Burroughs patents his calculating machine

William S. Burroughs (January 28, 1857 – September 14, 1898) was an American inventor.

In 1875, Burroughs started work as a bank clerk. He found the work dull and monotonous. Existing calculation aids were cumbersome and error-prone, so Burroughs began to think about how he could make a more practical calculating machine.

In 1885, Burroughs produced the first model of his adding and listing machine with a full keyboard.

The next year, 1886, Burroughs created the American Arithmometer Company to manufacture and sell his devices. The first model went on sale at a price of $475. Within a year Burroughs had produced 50 machines. These early devices proved to be difficult to use, but over the next few years Burroughs refined the design, filing several patents to document his improvements.

On 21st August 1888, Burroughs was granted four patents.

After his death in 1898, the company was renamed the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. The calculating machines it produced were a commercial success. By 1906, it was estimated that the company had a 90% share of the emerging market for mechanical calculators.

Burrough's adding machine was not the first mechanical calculator, but it was the first to achieve commercial success on this scale. In addition, rather than being just a single device, the company produced a range of devices tailored to different users' needs.

An article in The Bankers' Magazine, August 1894, described Burrough's machine as follows:

"An ingenious adding machine, recently introduced in Providence banks, is said to be infallible in results, and to do the work of two or three active clerks. Inclosed in a frame with heavy plate-glass panels, through which the working of the mechanism can be seen, the machine occupies a space of 11 by 15 inches and is nine inches high. On an inclined keyboard are 81 keys, arrange in nine rows of nine keys each. The printing is done through an inked ribbon."

Our Burroughs calculating machine has the reference number A298093

Related information:


  • Burroughs Mechanical Desk Top Calculator
    Credit: © The Centre for Computing History, reference ID CH28829

Related Items in the Collection:





William Seward Burroughs patents his calculating machine

Click on the Images
For Detail


Help support the museum by buying from the museum shop

View all items

Founding Sponsors
redgate Google ARM Real VNC Microsoft Research
Heritage Lottery Funded
Heritage Lottery Fund
Accredited Museum