Curta: Mechanical calculator (1948)

In games on November 2, 2010 at 5:13 am

Curt calculator to, invented by Curt Herzstark while he was prisoner in the Buchenwald concentration camp is one of the most beautiful tools that you can expect a lover of mathematics. With a look reminiscent of a pepper grinder, uses a series of sliders to enter numbers and a crank to perform calculations.Today day has become an expensive item collection, but for years was considered one of the best calculators that you could buy.

Occasionally, an artifact designed to serve as a simple tool becomes an object–either by its appearance, history or design – more than simply functional barriers to become something much more interesting.That is, without doubt, the case of the mechanical calculator Curta. This small device, designed by Curt Herzstark while prisoner of the Germans in the Buchenwald concentration camp was born as a calculator, but 60 years later has become a real cult object.

Curta model II (Wikimedia Commons/Calton)

The history of these calculators begins when its inventor, which fortunately survived the terrible experience live in one of these fields, he was released and was unable to work on the improvement of mechanisms that had been conceived during their captivity. In 1948, because after the second world war, company Contina AG Mauren of Liechtenstein, began to manufacture devised by Herzstark device. Quickly was considered one of the best handheld calculators available on the market. We must remember that at the time a typical “normal” Calculator was an artifact of several kilograms of weight and the size of a shoe box.Them “Short”, as they called them regularly, only were overcome with the emergence of electronic calculators and its popularization, back in the early 1970s.

From the physical point of view, the “Curta” were small, cylindrical, with a series of levers (which is called normally “sliders”) in its sides and a small handle at the top. Its size is suitable to operate anywhere, because it fits comfortably in the Palm of a hand.The sliders are used to enter numbers and the crank to perform operations. According to as operates this crank the Curta you can add, subtract, multiply, divide and – with a little extra work – extract square roots.

Two models of Curta were built (Helmut g. D’ayen / Vcalc.net)

At the top (the “cap”) are two indicators called “revolution counter” and “result counter”, in showing the number of revolutions made by the crank and the results obtained. You’re probably wondering as it may be that different mathematical operations can be executed with a same crank. The answer, course, lies in the intelligent design of its internal mechanism that allows the crank added by turning a lap, subtract when slides slightly outwards before making the turn, and perform other operations using similar tricks.

While its exterior appearance is simple – to “minimalist” If you want to – casings of the Curta consist of more than 600 individual pieces.Curt Herzstark undertook the design of your calculator based on previous work done by Gottfried Leibniz: “arithmometer”. The values with which operates are storing in gearwheels and sums and other operations take place on a mechanism known as Stepped Reckoner drum. As is the case with the abacus, a Curta in trained hands it is faster to obtain results as an operator using an electronic calculator.

It is not coincidence Herzstark has invented this device. To be a prisoner of the nazi regime, he inherited from his father the Rechenmaschinefabrik der Austria Erstanden Compagnie (Austrian company of manufacturing of machine calculators), a company that had gained some fame to manufactured in series the first electric calculator.The same Carl worked designing this type of artifacts, and in 1928 had invented a mechanical memory system that partial numeric values stored in the era calculators. When, in 1943 as a Jew is sent to Buchenwald, guards discovered its ability and decided to break from the heavy work done to build “a gift for Hitler”. Gift in question was not anything other than a prototype of this calculator, and his work on this project while prisoner was what kept him alive.

View top a Curta (Helmut g. D’ayen / Vcalc.net)

Ended the conflict, Herzstark sold sophisticated design on your device to Liechtenstein Prince, and a company in that country – the Contina AG Mauren – began to manufacture in series. The first model to be manufactured was the so-called “Curta model I“, which has 8 sliders-i.e. you can work with numbers up to 8 digits – a 6-digit revolutions counter and display results of up to 11 digits. It is estimated that while he was in production were built about 80 thousand copies of this model.Cost the equivalent of about $600.In 1954 the factory began producing a slightly larger model, the “Curta model II“, with 11 sliders, counter revolutions of 8 digits and up to 15 results. Approximately 60 thousand of these went on sale before it, to new electronic models, the factory cease production.

In the years the Curta were used by traders, mathematicians and scientists.But had some unexpected uses. Pilots race, for example, used to perform the calculations required during the competition, and many aircraft pilots wore one to assist in navigation.Two models were very robust and reliable.Only 3% of buyers sent their calculators again factory to be repaired.Ironically, much of that percentage corresponds to users that dismantled its Curta and discovered surprised that it was almost impossible to reassemble his 600 pieces.In such cases, the AG Contina charged them “remount charged” equal to half the value of a Curta new.Legend has it that the manufacturer again sent them to their owners with a note that read: “Don’t feel bad.””The Curta actually costs $900, since everyone unmounts them.”

More than 600 pieces inside (techcn.com.cn)

Either way, this calculator known – due to its shape-as the “oversized pepper”, has become a little cult object, and collectors often pay hundreds of euros by one of them.Know them?


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