Burroughs adding machines



2015-06-26 11:21:27

Burroughs adding machines are mechanised adding machines made by the firm American Arithometer Co., which later changed its name to Burroughs Adding Machine Co.


After working for some years as a bank teller, William Seward Burroughs (1855-1898), grandfather of the Beat novelist William S. Burroughs, designed and manufactured the first adding and listing machine with a full keyboard. Having invented the adding machine in the early 1880s, Burroughs submitted a patent application in 1885; co-founding the American Arithometer Co. in 1886 in order to produce accounting equipment on a large scale. In 1888 Burroughs received his patent and began manufacture. The first mechanical adding machine Burroughs submitted for testing, however, roundly failed its trials in 1890.

American Arithometer Co. changed its name to Burroughs Adding Machine Co. in 1905, by which time the improved “Burroughs Registering Accountant” was on the market for $475.

In a 1800 edition of Bankers’ Magazine, modern banking methods were discussed in terms of Burroughs’s invention: “great assistance has been derived from certain mechanical labour-saving contrivances, among which I will mention the typewriter, the registering accountant or adding machine and the telephone.”

Initial resistance to such machines gradually subsided as it was thought by many that their implementation in businesses heralded a new, technologically advanced age.

To use a Burroughs adding machine the operator had to first push down the digits on the keyboard relating to the numbers which needed to be added. Pulling the crank caused the entry to print while releasing the crank added an additional figure to those already added. Adding took place through a system of toothed segments and gears.

Burroughs’s early adding machines were free standing, although desk top models were in common use by 1910.

Burroughs designed other items of office equipment including the Burroughs Typewriter (1935-1940), custom U.S. Postal service mail sorters and microfilming devices.

Collector’s Information:

The American Digest of Business Machines is a useful resource in terms of accurately dating Burroughs Adding machines. However, as a general rule, every model will be marked with a serial number which gives some indication as to the age of the machine. On early machines, the addition mechanism will be key driven (there will be a small keyhole above the serial number) with round keys.

Condition is important, with mint condition machines earning much higher valuations than heavily used ones. Since Burroughs adding machines were usually used in an office environment, on a day to day basis, damaged and worn models are much more common than mint ones. Replacement key tops are quite difficult to obtain and great care must be taken when separating the key top from the key system.

Unpainted Burroughs adding machines should be cleaned carefully with a toothbrush and AMWAY solution. Painted machines should not be cleaned with AMWAY, however, as it will dull the paint.

Price Guide:

An 81-key, good condition, free standing Burroughs adding machine was recently sold for $175 by Macon Brothers Auctioneers in Washington on Nov 10, 2012.

A mixed lot of five vintage typewriters and adding machines (including one Burroughs) was sold for $150 by Auctions America on November 3, 2011.

A Burroughs Class III/Pike calculator was sold for $53 by Cologne-based auctioneers, Team Breker, in May 2006.


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