The Moore Family: Pioneers in 19th Century Computing


The Moore family consisting of Charles Moore, his brother Jacob, and Charles‘ son Frank were prolific innovators that made several key contributions that advanced mechanical calculation and laid important early groundwork for modern computing devices. Between 1874 and 1899, the Moores designed and patented three generations of adding machines and calculators that built upon one another, gradually adding capabilities and improvements for reliably summing numbers automatically.

While not household names like Charles Babbage or Bill Gates, the breakthrough inventions created by this father-son inventor team over 25+ years represented meaningful milestones in figuring out how to have machines handle mathematical work. Their efforts preceded now famous pioneers like Dorr Felt and William Burroughs who brought adding machines into widespread use in the early 20th century.

The First Moore Adding Machine – 1874

The Moore family‘s major lasting impact came in 1874 when Jacob Jr. and Charles obtained a patent together for an early "adding machine" that could mechanically sum numbers entered using number wheels. This built upon previous work by inventors like Blaise Pascal and Lépine to create a more functional adder.

The key innovation was the use of multiple numbered wheels each representing ones, tens, hundreds and so on. An operator would manually turn the wheels to set a number on each column. Then a handle advanced the wheels to add the next number entered, automatically propagating any carries to the next position.

1874 Moore Adding Machine Patent Diagram

1874 Moore Adding Machine Patent Diagram

This approach was described in the original patent:

"In turning either of the wheels, as each ten of the column of figures being added is reached,  
the next wheel is turned one space, the carrying being thus done automatically."

So while primitive mechanically, the innovation provided by the Moore adding machine represented real progress in automated calculation versus purely manual methods.

Son Takes Over – An Improved Adding Machine in 1888

Building upon his previous device, Charles Moore patented another enhanced adding machine in 1888 along with assistance from his son Frank who would help on subsequent inventions. This new model provided a couple notable improvements:

  1. Ability to add numbers starting from either the ones or hundreds columns instead of requiring strictly right-to-left entry
  2. A special mechanism for the "apparent carrying" and "actual carrying" operations

This second innovation related to how carries were handled when increments of tens needed to propagate across number wheels. As described in the patent:

"Between the downward and the upward movement of said plates G G‘, etc.,  
the actual carrying is thus interrupted by a period of rest..."

This approach helped improve the accuracy and smoothness of the adding function.

Feature1874 Machine1888 Machine
Start adding from any column
Automatic carry mechanism
Apparent/actual carry innovations

Comparison of key features between the two early Moore adding machines

Final Advancement – A Calculating Machine in 1899

Frank Moore assisted his uncle Jacob in patenting one last computing device in 1899 incorporating an "automatically-carrying pointer" along with sliding number bands supporting calculations beyond just addition:

The adding device consists of movable or sliding and numbered tapes or bands designed in performing  
a problem to be operated by the pointer which automatically registers and indicates the  
tens to be carried.

This pointer mechanism introduced a more advanced carry functionality that improved calculation accuracy. The bands also enabled a primitive form of multiplication and division – remarkable functionality for the era!

While overlooked historically, the successive inventions created by this Father-Son partnership helped advance mechanical automation of mathematics needed to eventually reach modern computing.

Charles Moore – The Driving Force

Charles Moore Photo

Charles Moore (1827-1902) – Driving Inventor Behind the Family‘s Computing Innovations

While Jacob Moore Jr contributed as well, his brother Charles played the central role in conceiving and patenting their various calculating gadgets between 1874-1899. Turning the pages back, what do we know about the life of this mechanical computing pioneer?

Charles‘ father Jacob Sr worked in various jobs including newspaper editor, sheriff, and postmaster. Exposure to printing seems to have sparked Charles‘ lifelong interest in building machines and mechanical systems. In his adult years, Charles collaborated with Jacob Jr and his son Frank to patent their series of adding machines. He obtained four U.S. patents covering these inventions that formed the basis of the family‘s legacy.

Charles spent his later years in Savannah, Georgia where he passed away in 1902 at the age of 75. While the Moore family remains relatively unknown compared to other names like Pascal, Babbage and Hollerith, their contributions building early adding machines and calculators left an mark on technological progress toward modern computing.

Conclusion: Lasting Impact on Future Generations

The Moore family story offers a reminder that advancement is often incremental, based on contributions from not just heroic singular inventors but collaborative groups across generations. While the 1874 adding machine looks rudimentary today, it helped pave the way for subsequent pioneers like Dorr Felt and William Burroughs to create machines that would become ubiquitous by the early 20th century.

So next time you enjoy the perks of digital devices for lightning fast math, spare a thought for Charles Moore and his kin, who played their small but important part in the history of computing. The creativity and vision of this family should continue inspiring future generations to keep pushing innovation forward. We get to reap the cumulative rewards of progress enabled by the breakthroughs of our predecessors.

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