Pocket calculators - a history

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Fascinating article about the origins of the HP-35 pocket calculator. This was manufactured by Hewlett Packard and was the first calculator that could perform trig functions. Here are some excerpts of this from Codex 99:

The article starts by talking about HP and how it had grown from two people in a garage to 9,000 employees:

Tom Osborne, a Berkeley-trained electrical engineer, wasn’t one of those 9000 employees. In his Bay-area apartment, he had built a floating-point electronic calculator he called the Green Machine (after the color of the automotive touch-up paint he used on the balsa wood case). He tried shopping it around but no one was interested until he showed it to HP in June, 1965. Bill Hewlett asked “can it do transcendentals [sine, cosine, tangent, etc]?” Osborne’s Frankenmachine couldn’t, but he replied “Sure, why not?” Hewlett was sufficiently impressed and convinced Osborne to stay on for six weeks as a consultant to see if he could turn his device into a proper calculator.

And, a few years later, they came out with 1.0

“I was barely able to stay ahead of the alligators on my tail,” Osborne recalled. His six weeks became six months, then a year, and then another, but, finally, in early 1968, they had finished the 40-pound, typewriter-sized 9100A Computing Calculator.

The 9100 was introduced at the New York IEEE show on March 11th, 1968. It filled a gap in the market between simple adding machines and complicated mainframes and was, in many ways, the first personal computer. Steve Jobs (yeah, that Steve Jobs) remembered the 9100 as the first desktop computer he ever saw.

The HP-35 was released in January 4th, 1972 and they were stunned by the demand. Everyone wanted one. I had serious lust in my heart but could not afford the $395 price tag. I did get an HP-45 when they came out though - also a great machine. The first year of sales accounted for half of HP's profits. Not bad.

A fun and well-written article - worth reading if you are interested in the history of electronics.

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on May 13, 2018 9:44 PM.

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