The Story of Henry Goldman‘s Arithmachine: A Pint-Sized Powerhouse that Changed Office Calculations

So your number-crunching job has you swamped? You desperately need a break from all those endless columns of figures? My friend, I know exactly how you feel! And incredibly, the very same complaints echoed across offices over a century ago. Only back then, relief required far more than tapping on a keyboard – deliverance came in the form of a diminutive mechanical marvel called the Arithmachine.

Let‘s travel back to the 1890s and relive this fascinating saga of ingenuity, ambition, and the quest to escape mundane math…

Automating the Tedium Away

The late 1800s saw an explosion of gadgets aimed at easing work for bookkeepers, bankers, and accountants. Hardly a month passed without the next great calculating "breakthrough" hitting shop shelves. But most proved disappointing – too unwieldy, complex, or error-prone for daily use grinding through accounts.

Into this world stepped an Austrian immigrant named Henry Goldman (1859-1912). Goldman arrived in America in 1881 to chase his entrepreneurial dreams. After finding success publishing bookkeeping guides in Chicago, his tinkering tendencies turned toward accelerating math itself.

Goldman wasn‘t alone in seeking this holy grail. But his Arithmachine would become one of the era‘s most practical attempts – the missing link between humans and hassle-free calculation.

A Master Class in Compact Calculation

Goldman spent years honing prototype designs until unveiling his finished Arithmachine around 1898. What enabled this 4.5 x 1.5 x 3.5 inch, 1-pound device to shine? Sheer mechanical magic:

Nine digit chainsInput numerals up to 9 digits long
Color codingIntuitive visual separation of units
Zeroing wheelresets device between calculations
Sliding cover plateMarks intermediate solutions
Movable decimalQuick placement for easy reading

Despite outward simplicity, interior gears automatically performed addition or subtraction as handles slid digit chains up and down. The ease besting many bulkier competitors.

Goldman knew he‘d nailed the formula. As initial production commenced, marketing plugged the Arithmachine as the antidote for bookkeeping headaches.

Patented to Perfection? Not Quite…

The Arithmachine churned out of Goldman‘s new International Arithmachine Company onto a enthusiastic reception. Praise flowed in industrial journals while Goldman secured a series of patents protecting his golden goose device.

But perfection remained elusive. Indeed the very next year, Goldman returned to drawing boards seeking further fine tuning.

He found success with 1902‘s new "Contostyle" model. Yet rather than retire the Arithmachine, it continued sales through other partners like the newly formed Arithstyle Company.

For over a decade both devices jostled for market share. But the Arithmachine name gradually faded until the Contostyle dominated.

Financial specifics remain lost to time. Though we know acclaim was sufficient for the Arithmachine to feature prominently at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition‘s business showcase.

Lasting Legacy? A Gem is Born!

By 1912 Goldman himself was gone, dead from pneumonia complications age just 53. The trail of his pioneering Arithmachine also grows cold shortly thereafter.

But the spark of inspiration lived on through a young entrepreneur named Charles Wales. Drawing lessons from Goldman‘s design, Wales built the "Wales Visible Adding Machine" in 1907.

Further refinement birthed Wales iconic Golden Gem in 1912. Reliable and affordable, the Gem dominated the low-cost adding machine niche for decades.

So next time you‘re totting up rows of dreary figures, remember Henry Goldman and his mechanical math marvel! Though the Arithmachine didn‘t withstand time‘s test, it channeled one immigrant‘s inventiveness into an enduring lineage of calculation aids.

An engraving shows the interior mechanism of Goldman's Arithmachine

Goldman‘s compact yet capable Arithmachine pioneered portable adding machines for office use (Image source:

Key Sources

  • Freudenthal, Hans. "The Arithmachinist: A Practical Self Instructor in Mechanical Arithmetic by Henry Goldman (1898)." Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 44, no. 4 (2007): 561-77.
  • "Arithmachine of Henry Goldman." Accessed February 27, 2023.

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