The Burroughs Adding Machine Company
The evolution of the Burroughs Calculator
My Shoebox Burroughs Calculator
My Class 5 Calculator
My Baby Burroughs Calculator
My "Princess Anne" Baby Burroughs Calculator
Manuals, Books, and Tables
Advertisements, brochures, and sales leaflets
Newspaper and Magazine Articles
William Seward Burroughs invented an adding listing machine in 1884, and in 1888 the American Arithmometer Company was formed to market it. When the company moved from St. Louis to Detroit in 1904, it was renamed the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, in honour of its founder who had died six years earlier.
The early Burroughs adding machines, the Class 1, were quite large and heavy, and were often placed on their own metal table stand. They were listing machines, i.e. they had the ability to print the results, though the printing mechanism seems to have been an optional extra. There were glass panels on all sides of the casing so that the mechanism was visible to the user, because apparently many people were sceptical and mistrustful of the salesmen for these newfangled machines. Various models of these Class 1 machines were made until the 1930s. Class 2 machines were very similar, but had two registers. Burroughs were early adopters of electricity, supplying electrically driven adding machines as early as 1906.
In the trailer for the film The Greatest Showman you can see a scene in which Hugh Jackman is playing P.T. Barnum before he was famous. He is in a large office sitting behind a desk, and working on a class 1 Burroughs adding machine. The office has about 30 desks, half of which have a Burroughs machine, all without printing mechanisms. This is highly anachronistic since the scene is supposedly set in the early 1830s, seventy years before these machines were used in such quantity.
The Pike Adding Machine Company had developed a much smaller adding listing machine. This relatively compact machine could sit on a desk, and the printed paper came out of the top, like a typewriter or cash register, making it easy to see the result. The Burroughs Adding Machine Company took over the Pike Adding Machine Company in 1909, and these small adders then became Class 3 Burroughs machines. They were marketed as the Visible Burroughs. Burroughs would often buy out smaller rival companies before they grew large enough to compete, and then further develop or discontinue the acquired machine designs.
The Burroughs listing adding machines had easily outcompeted Felt & Tarrant's Comptograph, but Felt & Tarrant was too large a company to take over due to the success of the Comptometer. In 1911 Burroughs decided to go head to head with them by releasing their own non-listing key-driven calculator that was very similar to the Comptometer. The Burroughs Calculator was called the Class 5 series of machines.
In 1912 Burroughs advertised that they had 86 different models, with 492 combinations. This shows that they were masters at customising their machines to the exact special applications that their customers needed.
Burroughs remained very successful with their many listing machines, cash registers, typewriters, bookkeeping machines, as well as various other office machines, and developed a large range of machines for various more specific business operations such as bank processes. They also successfully made the transition into the electronic age, by buying electronics companies to produce early tube computers, tape storage machines, and later electronic calculators.
1911-1914: Shoebox model
In 1911 Burroughs decided to compete directly with Felt & Tarrant, creating a a non-listing key-driven calculator. Burroughs deliberately styled the case of their new calculator to look very similar to the Comptometer. It also had one column/digit more, so that their salesmen could claim that the Burroughs machine was better. Through litigation Burroughs were forced to change the design in 1915, making Burroughs calculators with the shoebox casing somewhat rare. See below for pictures of my Shoebox Burroughs Calculator
1915-1936? Leggy model
In 1915 the Burroughs Calculator was redesigned. The new version had a different key mechanism that did away with the long lever that the Comptometer has, and this allowed the machine to be shorter and the keys to be the same height. It had a black case, with rounded corners and little legs, and with a green keyboard plate. The rear legs could have extensions attached in order to tilt the keyboard towards the user. This was quite a popular machine, because it was cheaper than the Comptometer, and one of the cheapest machines that Burroughs made. That made up for the lack of error correction mechanism, which made it somewhat unsafe to use. See below for pictures of my Burroughs Calculator.
1928-1960?? Baby Burroughs
The 6-digit "Baby" Burroughs Calculator was released in 1928. It no longer had metal legs but had a flat base that rested on rubber feet. These changes made it even cheaper. The case was originally painted black with a green keyboard plate, but later other colours were produced too. See below for pictures of my Baby Burroughs Calculators.
1928-1936 Electric model
An electrically driven version was produced at the same time, and this was the first version that made errors from incomplete keystrokes impossible.
1934-1936 Duplex model
The Duplex model is electrically driven and has an extra register at the top of the keyboard for grand totals. The design of the Baby Burroughs was not yet carried over to this model, as it still has the legs of the 1915 calculator. Note that it finally has a row of carry suppression button at the front to simplify subtraction.
1937-19?? Standard Manual model
The full-sized manual model finally gets a redesigned case, though its mechanism seems unchanged. It does not have carry suppression buttons. This model appears in adverts from 1937, but it may have been introduced a year or two earlier.
1937-19?? Electric model
The electric model finally gets a redesigned case, matching the manual version. This model appears in adverts from 1937, but it may have been introduced a year or two earlier.
1937-1946 Duplex model
The duplex model also gets a redesigned case, matching the style of the manual version.
1947-19?? Duplex model
The case was restyled again. The standard manual and electric models were also changed, but I have not found any advertisements featuring them. It seems that the Baby Burroughs continued to be produced with at most a change in colour.
This is the first Burroughs Calculator (as opposed to adding listing machine). It was first made in 1911 and deliberately styled to resemble the Comptometer. The patent infringement court case filed by Felt & Tarrant forced them to change this deceptive practice, so from 1915 the Burroughs Calculator had a very different design. Note that Burroughs appealed the case, and in 1917 was found not to have infringed any patents, but the case had mostly served its purpose by then.
Here are some notable comparisons with the Comptometer:
According to the instruction handbook, on the earliest versions of the shoebox Burroughs Calculator the small co-digits on the keys were printed in red, and the clearing handle was attached with a screw, but on mine the co-digits are black, and the clearing handle can be pulled free and simply clicks back into place.
My Burroughs Calculator has serial number 206979. I do not have a key for unlocking the register cover, but the part of the cover that the lock latches onto is missing so the cover can easily be removed without a key. There are several scratches on the top plate of the case, but otherwise the case is in good condition including the logo on the front. Mechanically it still works perfectly.
Here is a video where I demonstrate my shoebox Burroughs Calculator.
This is the version of the calculator that replaced the shoebox model in 1915. It became known as the Class 5. It still has 9 full columns of keys, 10 digits in the register, though versions with more columns were made too. This particular machine has fractions (eighths) in the rightmost column. It has a cast iron casing, with small legs on the corners. The rear legs have extensions so that the keyboard is tilted up towards the operator, but those are optional - they can be unscrewed, and the rubber feet screwed in their place.
The keyboard mechanism has changed so that it no longer requires long levers. The case is therefore not as long as before, and only barely extends past the top most row of keys. The mechanism also blocks you from pressing two or more keys in the same column.
The zeroing mechanism is different to that of the shoebox model. It was changed to be quieter and require less effort. Whereas pulling the lever used to increase all digits to 9, and then let them carry over when the lever was released, pulling the lever now merely uncouples the digit wheels so that the springs used in the carry mechanism can pull them down to zero.
I think it probably used to have a Burroughs logo decal on the front, but there is no trace of it now. It has serial number 5-572171.
The standard Burroughs Calculator has 9 or more full columns of keys. Starting in 1928 they also made a version of about half the size, so 5 keyboard columns, with a 6-digit register. This was of course even cheaper than the full-sized version, and this helped it become quite popular. It is sometimes known as the "Baby Burroughs".
The casing has been simplified - it no longer has a cast iron base with legs, but now has a simple flat base with rubber feet screwed on. The zeroing mechanism has some extra safety compared to the older models, in that the keyboard remains locked if you do not complete the movement of the lever, and this prevents only partially clearing the register.
The colour of this calculator and the fact that its logo is not a decal suggest that it was probably made in the 1940s. From 1947 Burroughs started using a round red logo with the letter B, but this machine still has Burroughs in full so it probably dates from before then. It has serial number A720100.
Here is a video where I compare three types of Burroughs Calculator.
This is a very special 1953 edition of a Baby Burroughs Calculator. Instead of a black or brown case, its case is painted pink, and in place of the round red Burroughs logo on the front it has a cursive letter A. Also, the keyboard plates are transparent, making the mechanism somewhat visible. It comes in a carrying case with a tartan lining.
The machine is set up for British currency calculations. The first two columns are normal decimal for the number of pounds. The middle two columns count shillings. There are 20 shillings in a pound, so the keys in the third column are all marked 1, the number wheel only displays 0 and 1, and it carries over every second step. The next column is for pennies, so the number wheel can display 0 to 11. The keys for 10 and 11 pennies are shifted to the right to the top of the last column of keys. That last column is for farthings, so has keys marked ¼, ½, and ¾. The number wheel also has markings for eighths, but these are skipped over.
This Burroughs Calculator was made in Scotland. The Strathleven Industrial Estate opened in December 1946, and Burroughs was first major company to move in. Queen Elizabeth II visited the plant on April 16 1953. This was about a year into her reign, and six weeks before her coronation. During that visit, two special Burroughs Calculators were presented to the Queen and Prince Philip: A blue calculator with a C on the front and a pink one with an A. They were gifts for their children Princess Anne and Prince Charles, who were 2 and 4 years old at the time. The calculators had leather carrying cases lined with tartan, and special leather bound instruction booklets based around nursery rhyme themes.
I do not know how many of these special editions were made, but there were at least two of each - one pair presented to the royal couple, and a duplicate pair that Burroughs used for exhibition purposes. I do not know if the one I have is one of those. It still has the leather carrying case lined with tartan, but there is no instruction book.
My "Princess Anne" Burroughs Calculator does not have a serial number. A few screws are missing from the casing, but other than that it looks in perfect condition, as if it were made yesterday. Unfortunately the register has become misaligned, and I have not yet been able to get it to work properly.
The Charles Babbage Institute, part of the University of Minnesota Libraries, owns the archives of the Burroughs Corporation. In this archive there are black and white photographs of the Queen's visit to the Strathleven factory, and of the presentation of the two Baby Burroughs machines.
There is now a separate web page for Burroughs Manuals, Books, and Tables
Cheer Up and 52 Reasons Why
Burroughs Adding Machine Company; Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.
1907 (Second edition)
59 page book
80mm × 114mm × 6mm
This tiny promotional book contains 52 reasons to acquire a Burroughs adding machine. The back cover has a reply postcard attached. The edges of the pages are not cut, so they are very uneven.
A Better Day's Work at a Less Cost of Time, Work, and Worry to the Man at the Desk
Burroughs Adding Machine Company; Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.
1910 (Fourth edition)
192 page book
130mm × 190mm × 13mm
This promotional book contains a short history of adding devices ending with the development of the Burroughs adding machine, 25 chapters each showing an example of how a Burroughs machine can handle some administrative business task, and descriptions of many variants of Burroughs adding listing machines that were available.
Shown here is the Fourth edition from 1910. It does not yet mention the Burroughs Calculator, but no doubt the sixth edition from 1912 does. It has a list of the dates and amounts of all editions of this book up to that point:
|First Edition||10,000||October 1908|
|Second Edition||25,000||December 1908|
|Third Edition||50,000||March 1909|
|Fourth Edition||50,000||May 1910|
Helping Ford Handle His Millions A Romance in Dollars and Cents (PDF, 19.1 MB)
1915 (First edition)
36 page book
107mm × 152mm × 8mm
This is a small hard-cover book with a dust cover. It explains what Burroughs
machines have improved the working of banks. There is a fold-out copy of a
bank statement that is generated by a Burroughs machine. A back page has a
reply postcard attached. The edges of the pages are not all cut, so they are
There is no copyright year in the book, but the text contains financial data from May 1915, so it is likely from that year.
Burroughs Brochure (PDF, 31.9 MB)
116 page ring bound book
216mm × 130mm (binder), 200mm × 126mm (pages excluding tabs)
This is a brochure advertising the many kinds of Burroughs machines that were available. It is a leather ring-binder with 116 thick yellow pages that have tabs to separate it into the sections Counter Uses, Misc. Uses, Multiplying, Special Lines, Other Styles, Calculator, and Accessories. Its binding system is unusual. It has fixed rings, and the paper leaves have slots to go over the rings and a straight metal wire rod is then inserted through the rings in the centrefold of each set of leaves to lock them in place. The rear cover is marked "Michigan Book-Binding Co., Detroit, 25224".
It has no copyright year. It includes the Burroughs Portable, so it dates to after 1926. As one of the illustrations of a form uses the year 1929, I assume it is from that year.
La Burroughs Portable
1 perforated page
212mm × 274mm
This is a fact-sheet in French for the Burroughs Portable listing adding machine. It was included in the French instruction manual so is presumably from around 1929. The Portable model was released in 1926.
Magazine and Newspaper Advertisements
The Burroughs company has done a lot of advertising throughout its existence. I found many images of adverts online, but very few for the shoebox Burroughs Calculator. It may be that they stopped advertising it soon after they were sued by Felt & Tarrant, so I only found adverts from 1912, even though the court case did not end until 1915.
To see the full list of adverts I found, from 1900 to the 1960s, visit the Burroughs Advertisements page.
I don't own any physical copies of Burroughs newspaper articles. I have however found a few interesting articles in online newspaper and magazine archives. I have put them on a separate Burroughs Articles page.
This keychain is shaped like a medallion with the Burroughs logo in the centre, and around that it is decorated with symbols of the four arithmetic operations. The reverse is plain. It is probably from the late 1950s or early 1960s.
This lighter has the Burroughs logo on one side and a 10-key adding listing machine on the other side. It is probably from the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Burroughs School Certificate
Burroughs set up schools to train operators, much in the same way as Felt & Tarrant had done with their Comptometer Schools. This is a certificate from such a school in Pittsburgh, dated November 2, 1950, and made out to Mary Jane Race Gault. It is a fairly small card, contained in a wallet that looks like leather but which is also made of cardboard.
The Burroughs Adding Machine Company filed a large number of patents about all aspects of their many machines. The shoebox Calculator has two patent dates printed on its case, which are the first two listed below. The other two describe changes made in the 1915 redesign.
|Patent||Filing date||Publish date||Name||Description|
|US 1,016,501||18 Apr 1911||6 Feb 1912||Allen A. Horton||Burroughs Calculator.|
|US 1,023,168||5 Jul 1911||16 Apr 1912||Walter J. Pasinski||Improvement to carry mechanism.|
|US 1,128,679||24 Feb 1914||16 Feb 1915||Claiborne W. Gooch||Improved carry mechanism and clearing mechanism.|
|US 1,156,600||15 Sep 1914||12 Oct 1915||Allen A. Horton||New keyboard mechanism|
The Burroughs Homepage by Michael Hancock. In depth information about Burroughs machines and the company.
John Wolff's Web Museum's page on the Burroughs machines, including the Calculator.
© Copyright 2016-2018 Jaap Scherphuis, mechcalc a t jaapsch d o t net.