“Six minutes of terror”

Luck, be a professor

The world’s first pocket calculator

Before the digital pocket calculator, there was the Curta — a mechanical device that could not only add-subtract-multiply-and-divide but also calculate square- and cube roots. It was developed a Curt Herzstar, an Austrian guy imprisoned by the Nazis:

Herzstark managed the company in 1930 and began work on his own design for a hand-held calculator. With the Anschluss of 1938, the company was again converted to war production, and produced custom gauges for German tanks. Herzstark, a Jew, was able to avoid arrest until 1943, when he was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp and worked as a technician. He recounts his arrest and internment, and how he completed the design of the CURTA hand-held calculator, a prototype of which was produced in Weimar, Germany, by Rheinmetallwerke at the end of the war. The Prince of Liechtenstein bought the design and the calculator was initially manufactured by the CURTA division of Contina AG of Liechtenstein. It was produced until 1972, when the electronic calculator forced it from the market.

That snippet of history is taken from Rick Furr’s awesome Curta Calculator Page, which has links to oodles of stuff, including schematics, Curta fan clubs, and shots of ‘em in action. I’d love love love to get my hands on one of these things, but I just checked on Ebay and they’re going for about $1,500-$2,000. Sadly, when it comes to my pocketbook these days, that does not compute.

(Thanks to Boing Boing for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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