Hello Reader, Let Me Introduce You to William S. Burroughs, the Inventor Who Revolutionized Math

As you go about your office job crunching numbers all day, have you ever wondered who first created the machines that make modern accounting possible? Meet William S. Burroughs – the 19th century inventor without whom your Excel spreadsheets might still be done by hand!

I want to give you the fascinating backstory of an innovator who overcame illness and failure to eventually launch one of history’s most transformative business inventions – the adding machine. This biography will reveal Burroughs‘ journey through childhood curiosity, early setbacks, and later triumph. You’ll understand exactly how his mechanical calculator forever changed office work.

Growing Up Fixated on Machines in Upstate New York

Before diving into Burroughs’ famous adding device, let me set the scene by sharing his youth spent tinkering with gadgets. He was born in 1857 in Rochester, New York to a working class family. His dad Edmund ran a small wood shop doing repairs. Young William (called Willie by his parents) constantly visited the workshop, mesmerized by the tools and their intricate parts.

The Burroughs family lived on the edge of poverty, frequently relocating when his dad struggled to find steady customer jobs. As the second oldest of 4 kids, William saw his parents stress over making ends meet and sought solace in his own projects – disassembling and rebuilding anything mechanical he could get his hands on. The chaos of repeatedly moving homes and watching his family scrape by likely drove his desire to lose himself in machines he could control.

Finding Early Direction Through Math and Inventor Encounters

As William grew older, his natural talent for visualizing and sketching mechanical systems became apparent. While quiet and reserved socially, he excelled in school subjects like geometry and physics which connected to his innate interest in how things operate under-the-hood.

Growing up during the booming Industrial Revolution also exposed William directly to ambitious inventors looking to commercialize new devices. In his dad‘s workshop and around burgeoning factory hubs like Syracuse, he met creators racing to file the next lucrative patent. William admired their knack for taking ideas from concept to production.

One lecture on mathematical problem-solving methods stuck with teenaged William for years. Attending expecting basic arithmetic approaches, he instead heard a speaker describe far more complex calculus and analytic geometry techniques used by professional engineers.

This early brush with higher math sparked simmering dreams of William someday designing his own pioneering invention to tackle complex numerical computations automatically.

Launching His Professional Journey While Nursing Health Issues

Upon finishing high school, William took a local postal service job managing logistics and mail routing – not too far removed from his childhood experiences helping his family constantly relocate. He next spent years employed at a regional Cayuga County bank processing daily financial transactions. This critical exposure to early business accounting instilled core understanding of the laborious manual tabulations required.

However mounting lung problems frequently sidelined William‘s budding career. Doctors diagnosed tuberculosis, a scary prospect in the late 1800s before modern medicine. The grueling work hours aggravated his symptoms. Exhausted, he departed the bank to instead join his dad‘s wood shop enterprise manufacturing steam engines. But soon worsening health and business disputes with his father pushed William to make a dramatic move out West at doctors’ orders.

At just 23 years old, with his young wife Ida and aging dad Edmund in tow, cold and broke William relocated the family across the country to temperate St. Louis. The warm climate brought improvement allowing him to stabilize and pursue inventing work.

Finding His Calling By Tackling Business Math Problems

Surrounded by St. Louis’ industrial innovation culture, William envisioned a breakthrough calculating tool after connecting with knowledgeable local inventors and factories. Nightmarish memories of hand computing endless rows of numbers at the bank stuck with him.

Observing area workshops’ administrative struggles tracking budgets also highlighted how much speed and accuracy stood to gain. William’s childhood passion for problem-solving devices converged with recognition of real-world accounting pain points across this business ecosystem.

Out of financial necessity, William spent years doing manufacturing odd jobs. But in his spare time he sketched plans for what would become the centerpiece invention of his career – “Burroughs Calculating Machine.”

This landmark 1885 patented design deployed a clockwork-like array of numbered gear wheels each representing a digit in a number. Rotating the dials incremented these units by catching on teeth points like an odometer tracking distance traveled in a car. Simple but brilliant! Now addition could happen automatically through precise component mechanics rather than tedious human processing.

Overcoming Severe Health and Family Troubles to Change Math Forever

Even while ultimately succeeding as an inventor, William continued facing tragic setbacks which make his achievements all the more remarkable. Right as his adding machine began garnering industry interest, Ida his wife fell severely ill as well.

Constantly struggling to earn stable income from his inventions left William frequently enraged and drinking heavily. Outbursts destroyed years of painstaking work. The couple’s four young children grew up with an emotionally volatile and perpetually ill father.

Right when business started taking off in the mid-1890s, Ida’s health failed forcing more upheaval. The desperate couple relocated again to Alabama hoping the climate might return them both to strength. But sadly, Ida passed away within days of arriving, leaving an already troubled William completely distraught.

He rapidly remarried to friend Nina who had helped care for the children. But by 1898 at only 41 years old, William himself succumbed to chronic respiratory disease. For all his trials and demons, modern office infrastructure owes this visionary inventor immense gratitude. His adding machine launched our automated computational age.

Leaving a Lasting Mathematical Legacy – and a Famous Author Grandson!

While personal happiness eluded eccentric William, his ingenious mechanized calculator left an unmistakable global footprint. By 1902 over 700 of “Burroughs Devices” were sold annually – almost entirely in America at first before exploding internationally. The company William founded dominated the office gadget landscape for decades.

Curious trivia for you Beat Generation literature buffs: William also became grandfather to famed 20th century writer William S. Burroughs II! This second William’s avant-garde experimental novels like “Naked Lunch” made him a controversial but seminal figure of nonconformist 1960s pop culture.

It seems both grandfather and grandson followed unorthodox artistic muses – even if in radically different fields. But one helped organize the Industrial Era’s proliferating financial data while the other questioned society’s norms as science gave way to computers and space exploration. The technological and social unrest woven through both men echo into our digital lives today!

So next time you crunch spreadsheets, I hope remembering the life of William Burroughs gives you newfound appreciation for the tools at your fingertips. His adding machine paved the way over 120 years ago, forever changing how we process math problems large and small. This relentless inventor made business calculations easy so you and I can focus on more rewarding analysis!

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