Jaap's Mechanical Calculators Page

The Lightning Adding Machine

The Lightning Adding Machine

The Lightning Adding Machine
Newspaper and Magazine Advertisements
Articles and Documents

The Lightning Adding Machine

The Lightning Adding Machine is a very common 7-digit adder manufactured in the USA. The one shown here was made in February 1946 according to the date stamp printed on the back.

The Lightning Adding Machine
The Lightning Adding Machine
The Lightning Adding Machine, close-up
The Lightning Adding Machine, stylus
The Lightning Adding Machine, reverse
The Lightning Adding Machine, date
The Lightning Adding Machine, reverse of stand
The Lightning Adding Machine, logo on bakelite stand

It sits on a felt pad inside a Bakelite stand that tilts the machine up at a 30 degree angle. It comes with an aluminium stylus that can be stored on the ridge at the front of the stand.

There are seven dials which the user can adjust using the stylus provided with the machine. Each dial drives a hidden number wheel to its top right, of which only a single digit is visible through a hole. The numbers 1 to 9 are printed around the outside of each dial. To add a number, enter the digits one at a time simply by putting the stylus in the hole next to the digit you want to add and turning the wheel clockwise until the stylus hits the tab at the bottom right between the 0 and 9. At the point where a dial's number wheel turns from 9 to 0, the dial also drives the next number wheel for one step so that a carry is performed.

The last two digits represent cents and are subtly separated from the other digits with a decimal point. The other five digits represent dollar amounts, and there is a similarly subtle comma separating the thousands digits. The dials are distinguished by their colours, where the middle three dials are copper coloured and the rest are silver coloured.

This version has no clearing mechanism. Each dial has two red lines marking one of the holes. a Digit can be reset to zero by putting the stylus in the marked hole, and turning anti-clockwise until the stop. This action will not cause a carry, so the digits can be reset in any order. This also means that subtraction has to be done using clockwise turns by adding complementary numbers.

In about 1950 the mechanism was redesigned. A clearing mechanism was added, and the carry mechanism was changed to work in both directions so that subtraction could be done with anti-clockwise turns. This caused the price of the adding machine to increase from $12.95 to $14.95.

The history of earlier versions of this adding machine is complicated. Several calculators were produced around the same time that are identical except for the name and lettering. The following is a short overview of the time line, based on research by Bob Otnes.


Newspaper and Magazine Advertisements

Here are some of the advertisements I found in online archives for the Calculator (1915-1922), the Pangborn Adding Machine (1921), the Lightning Calculator (1921-1942), and the Lightning Adding Machine (1945-1959). Some of these ads ran for many years unchanged, so I have only included a representative sample. Most of them are actually ads looking for salesmen to sell the calculator, rather than ads for the calculators themselves.

The Calculator (1915-1922)

1915-02-13 Duluth Herald
1916-02 Popular Mechanics
1917-01 Photoplay
1917-03-24 Indianapolis News
1917-05-12 Indianapolis News
1917-05-13 Sunday Times (Perth)
1918-12 Popular Science
1919 World Almanac and Encyclopedia
1919-01-24 Evening Post (NZ)
1919-01-26 The Daily Colonist (Victoria B.C.)
1919-12-13 El Paso herald (Texas)
1920-07 Popular Science
1921-03-26 Saturday Evening Post
1921-04-23 Saturday Evening Post
1921-06 Popular Science
1922-04-09 The Washington times
1922-04-21 The American Legion Weekly

The Pangborn Adding Machine (1921)

I found only one ad by Pangborn Adding Machine Company.

1921-11-19 Duluth Herald

The Lightning Calculator (1921-1942)

In the adverts the change to the new company name is complete by May 1922 (about two months after Pangborn's suit was filed), even though the Lightning Calculator Company first appeared in advertising in October of the previous year. Note also that the adverts don't change - even the price stays the same - so it may well be that some of the previous ads were actually already selling the new machine.
I am not sure what to make of the large ad in The American Philatelist magazine which explicitly mentions the "Lightning Calculator" but still shows a picture of the older calculator.

1921-10-31 The Washington herald
1921-12-04 Richmond times-dispatch (Virginia)
1921-12-04 The Washington herald
1922-05-19 The American Legion Weekly
1922-06-04 Richmond times-dispatch (Virginia)
1922-09-10 Richmond times-dispatch (Virginia)
1922-12 The American Philatelist
1922-12-03 The Washington times
1922-12-23 The Literary Digest
1925-09 Popular Science
1925-09-23 New Zealand Herald
1925-09-23 The Argus (Melbourne)
1927-04 Popular Mechanics
1928-03-22 The West Australian (Perth)
1928-11-03 Salzburger Volksblatt
1929-11-17 Pilsner Tagblatt
1937-09 Popular Mechanics
1940-10-07 Life

The Lightning Adding Machine (1945-1959)

1946-05-31 Eagle Valley Enterprise (Colorado)
1947-12-06 Collier's
1948-04 The American Legion Magazine
1949-01 Popular Mechanics
1949-05 Popular Mechanics
1949-12 10 Story Western Magazine
1952-01 Popular Mechanics
1952-12 Popular Science
1953-08 Desert Magazine
1954-02 Sir!

Articles and Documents

Apart from the ads I have found very few other mentions of these calculator companies in newspaper and magazine archives.

1919 Modern Engineers and Surveyors Instruments

Description of The Calculator from a catalogue.
(1919 Modern Engineers and Surveyors Instruments - The A. Lietz Company)
1922-05-02 Official Gazette of the USPTO

Notice in the patent office gazette of the law suit between Pangborn and Hook.
(1922-05-02 Official Gazette of the USPTO)
1923-09-18 De grondwet

Discovery of a dead body in the freight elevator shaft of the Lightning Calculator building. (In Dutch)
(1923-09-18 De grondwet)
1947-05 Official gazette of the USPTO

Registration of the trademark of the lightning logo, which mentions its use started October 1945. It was used on packaging and instruction manuals, but it seems not on the machines themselves.
(1947-05 Official Gazette of the USPTO)


PatentFiling datePublish dateNameDescription
US 845,74720-11-190505-03-1907Walter Richard BonhamCalculator
US 908,73106-04-190505-01-1909Walter Richard BonhamCalculator
US 1,574,24917-02-192123-02-1926Russell Wallace HookCalculator


Detlev Bölter has pictures of the Lightning Adding Machine and Lightning Calculator .
J.M. Goldman has pictures of the Lightning Adding Machine and Lightning Calculator.
Rechnen Ohne Strom has a page full of metal dial adders, including the Lightning Calculator and Lightning Adding Machine.
The Office Museum shows a Bonham & Schram calculator.
American History Museum has a Calculator, as well as a green Lightning Adding Machine.

© Copyright 2017 Jaap Scherphuis, .