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Tiny Calculator is of European Homage

By Neal McChristy
16-Sep-98

A mechanical calculator that could be one of two branches of the same European homage is currently owned by a central New York state man.


This small calculator is believed to be either a Brungsviga or an Odhner. Both machines have common roots in a St. Petersburg inventor.

"I've been in the business 52 years," said Ed Lawrence, "and it was before my time."

He owns Lawrence Office Machines in New Hartford, a suburb of Utica, N.Y., and operates it along with his wife, Coralyn, and son, John. Lawrence found the machine after purchasing the contents of a business, he said, "and this showed up in the contents. . .I've never seen another one like it."

The all-metal machine is mounted on a solid hardwood base that is 14 by 7.5 inches wide. The calculator and stand is 4.5 inches tall. The calculator pulls numbers in similar to a checkwriter, Lawrence says. The carriage is moved from right to left by two space levers in the front. The operator pulls a hand crank on the right side to pull numbers into the other registers. The registers are cleared by wing-nuts on the side of the machine by turning the dials back to zero.

The metal portion of the calculator without the base is small - about 10 inches wide, according to the photo. On the rear in the right-hand corner, Lawrence says there is a large letter "N" in a fancy font with a lower-case "c" next to it, along with a four-digit number.

The carrying case is metal and covered with synthetic leather. The cover, lined with velvet, fits over the top of the base and is fastened with leather straps and a snap.

The machine appears to be a Brunsviga, according to John Lewis Sr., Albuquerque, N.M., an antique office machine historian who was asked about the origination of the machine by Repair, Service and Remarketing News. Other possibilities include the Odhner calculator.

The calculator owned by Ed Lawrence, New Hartford, N.Y. has a carrying case of metal covered with synthetic leather.

The Brunsviga had its roots in the design of Willgodt T. Odhner, St. Petersburg, Russia. Odhner invented his calculator in 1874 and died in 1905.

"There are several that resemble it, but none are identical to it," said Lawrence. "The closest I can come to it is that it was an Odhner."

Patent rights for the Odhner machine were ceded by Willgodt to Koenigsberger and Co., St. Petersburg, which did not produce the machine but sold patent rights in Germany to Grimme, Natalis and Co. of Braunschweig, Germany. This German patent became the Brunsviga machine.

The 1917 Russian Revolution caused manufacture of the Odhner machine to go to Sweden, initiated by Willgodt's sons, Alexander and George, and his nephew, Valentine Odhner.

Lawrence has worked on the Odhner electronic adding machines and says the company is still making calculators.

His company was founded September 1969 as a service and typewriter sales business.

"We're still in typewriters," Lawrence said. "However, they're not as popular, of course, as they used to be, so we're actually doing more copier and fax machines."

They work with the Adler and Copystar line, he says, and service and sell copiers, faxes and an occasional typewriter.

The first interest in repairing business machines from Lawrence, age 76, was when he was in the U.S. Navy in World War II, stationed in Barber's Point in Hawaii in 1942 when the barbed wire was still strung around the beaches and Pearl Harbor was a recent memory.

He was working on hydraulic pumps, fuel pumps and vacuum pumps in a shop for naval aircraft, having been trained at Newport, R.I., at an aviation school in Chicago and serviced the Stierman and SNJ "Texan" at the Livermore Training Base in California.

An advertisement came through for someone to repair typewriters at Barber's Point, and Lawrence applied but didn't get the job.

It gave him an idea.

Once discharged, he went to work for Remington in Utica servicing typewriters, adding machines and calculators.

After a stint selling insurance in the early '50s, he spent two years in Fort Knox, Ky., as a tank mechanic for the New York State National Guard working on small arms and large gunnery. He then had a job working on the electronic components for the missile prototypes being built by General Electric.

He then returned to the typewriter and calculator area by going to work for Johnson Business Machines, Utica, N.Y., whose line was Olivetti typewriters and Olivetti's Divisumma calculators.

"Olivetti was one of the first to have the times-equal calculators," Lawrence said. "Others had the dials."

After 11 years with Johnson, he established his own shop. Lawrence says he helps out by servicing and selling typewriters, but his son, John, does most of the work.

From working on a Remington to missile components, one of the curiosities of this antique-collector's varied experience comes from his service in Hawaii, where residents were still skittish about a Japanese attack.

"They were building a big gun emplacement," Lawrence said. "It was like the movies - 'The Guns of Navarone.'"

Editor's Note: Anyone who wishes to contact Ed at Lawrence Office Machines about the calculator may contact him at 219 Winchester Drive, New Hartford, N.Y. 13413, telephone (315) 732-6075.


Ed Lawrence is assisted at Lawrence Office Machines, New Hartford, N.Y., by his wife, Coralyn, and son, John. Ed says John does most of the service work.


 
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