Juri Diakov

Juri Diakov: The Russian Engineer Who Pioneered an Early Calculating Device

In the late 19th century, Russian military engineer Juri I. Diakov devised one of the earliest mechanical calculating aids that would later influence more complex adding machines. His simple row adder, based on a modified abacus, gained significant commercial success in Russia and also received international recognition.

Diakov‘s Role as an Inventor in Tsarist Russia
Juri I. Diakov worked as a captain in the Russian imperial army and was stationed in St. Petersburg in the 1870s. As an engineer, he had a natural talent and interest in technical contraptions and practical problem-solving devices. Around 1874, Diakov started developing a mechanical calculating aid that could simplify the tedious work of addition and subtraction required in engineering and accounting calculations of the time.

Inspired by earlier work of French mathematician Claude Perrault on the abacus "rhabdologique," Diakov created a finger-operated machine with movable rows of beads representing digits. Each row could slide back and forth continuously to enable carrying digits during addition. This mechanism of endless bands moved by hand was more efficient than resetting separate abacus frames.

Diakov‘s Abacus and Path to Commercialization
Diakov branded his device the "new type abacus" in Russian. It consisted of parallel metal rods with beads representing ones to nines. The frame measured around 33x31x3cm in size – small and portable for a desktop calculating tool. By sliding the rows using small handles on each row, mathematical sums could be performed rapidly by manipulating the abacus rods like a manual counter.

The adder was also cheap to construct using simple wood and wire materials, although versions with marble frameworks later provided heavier bases. Diakov‘s device democratized access to simplified calculating aids that eased the work for Russian merchants, bureaucrats, military officers and more.

By November 1881, Diakov‘s abacus achieved mainstream recognition in Russia. After initially applying for a privileged 3 year patent in September 1880, the government extended his proprietary access to the device to a total of 13 years. With widespread adoption in Russia, the abacus became known colloquially as the "Diakov machine" and over 450 rubles were paid to renew the patent – a sizable fee indicative of its commercial use.

Influence on Future Calculating Machines
While modest in scope, Diakov‘s contribution was significant in pioneering some principles that seeded future computing advancements. The concept of movable marker beads as counters influenced American inventor Charles Webb when he created theautomatic ribbon adder in the early 1890s. Rather than manual sliding, Webb‘s device mechanically advanced the digits using keyboards and internal gears.

Diakov also innovated the idea of circular continuous movement in one direction to enable carrying numbers during calculations. This circulating mechanism was a key breakthrough later used in the arithmometer, comptometer and other successful adding machines near the turn of the 20th century. The notion of unlimited looping of calculating powerforms a concept used in modern computer programming today.

Lasting Legacy of Diakov‘s Early Adding Device
For his cutting-edge inventions, Juri Diakov was awarded a medal at the 1878 Paris World Fair recognizing Russian achievements in technology. While other Russian adding tools like Chebyshev‘s machine also gained attention, Diakov‘s abacus became one of the most widespread early calculating aids in use before mechanical office devices arrived. The crude yet functional adder paved the path for more sophisticated computing technology adopted globally like the Curta handheld calculator up to electronics in the modern computer age.

In the history of computing, Juri I. Diakov contributed by conceiving one of the first practical mechanical adding aids using the versatility of movable abacus rods. The horizontally sliding bead rows that simplified manual calculations eventually inspired breakthroughs like automated carrying mechanisms and looping functions that powered future computing advancements across the world.

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