Students now enjoy the privilege of instant calculations on their phone or handheld calculator, but when the university was still growing in the 1890s, things weren’t so easy.
Our new acquisition, this “Millionaire Calculator” from the late 19th century, was donated to the Archives from UMD’s Institute of Physical Science and Technology (IPST).
It was discovered in the Institute of Physical Science and Technology building during renovations a couple years ago and was transferred by Dr. Larry Lauer, Director of Administration, on April 17.
While the aforementioned calculators fit in our pockets, this one is much larger. The calculator is made of solid metal and is the size of a piece of luggage, weighing around 50 pounds. According to Wikipedia, only 4,655 Millionaire Calculators were manufactured, and ours is no. 1320!
This contraption was the first calculator able to compute multiplication, a huge leap of technological innovation in the field. It could process 8-digit numbers, far more than previous versions.
The Millionaire works by selecting a number 0-9 from the the crank on the left. You then put in your 8-digit number using the slides seen in the middle of the board. Finally, you crank the handle on the far right, and your calculation is complete. Voilá!
This piece of memorabilia has a tag on it indicating that it is possible that it was used by the US Oceanographic Office, the predecessor to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Unfortunately, there’s no other clue to why The Millionaire ended up at UMD, so the reason it ended up in the IPST building will probably remain a mystery!
If you’re interested in learning more, here is a short video of how the calculator functions:
The University of Maryland Archives is excited to add this amazing object to its memorabilia collection, and we look forward to sharing this unusual piece with visitors. Stop by the Archives in Hornbake Library soon to take a peek!