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William Seward Burroughs, inventor of the first
workable adding machine, was born in rural New York in
1855. In the 1870s he was working as a bank clerk at the Cayuga
County National Bank in Auburn, New York
where he became interested in solving the problem of creating an
adding machine. There had been a number of
earlier prototypes, but in inexperienced users' hands, those that
existed would sometimes give incorrect,
and at times outrageous, answers.
In St. Louis, Missouri in the early 1880s, Burroughs was working for
the Boyer Machine Company where he
began designing his own adding machine prototype. His design included
a "dash pot," or a mechanism that
regulated the pull on the machine's handle. He was granted a patent
for the device in 1888. Two years before
the patent was issued he founded the American Arithmometer Company
with three other men - Thomas
Metcalfe, R.M. Scruggs, and W.C. Metcalfe - to produce and sell the
machine. The straight adding and listing
machine Burroughs had invented was the company's only product; its
purchase price was $475.00.
By 1887, American Arithmometer had manufactured 50 machines. However,
Burroughs was the only one who could
operate them correctly. Thus, the machines were recalled and
Burroughs invented a corrective automatic
device. In 1895, sales climbed to 284 machines. That year Burroughs
Adding and Registering Company was
established in Nottingham, England, marking the company's first entry
into the international marketplace.
Between 1895 and 1900, business really took off. Sales jumped to 972
machines. Sadly, Burroughs,
who had suffered a lifetime of chronic health problems, died in
Citronelle, Alabama, on Sept. 14,
1898. He was just 43 years of age. William Joseph E. Boyer, a St.
Louis manufacturer who had supported
Burroughs' efforts for many years, became president of the American
Arithmometer Company in 1902.
In 1904 the company moved to Detroit where it built a 70,000 square
foot plant. That year the company's
name was changed to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. For the
next fifty years, Burroughs grew into the
largest adding machine company in the United States. It introduced
new products including variations of the
basic adding machine, typewriters, check protectors and ticketeers.
In 1953 the Burroughs Adding Machine Company was renamed the
Burroughs Corporation, a name more
reflective of their broad scope of products, which began to include
computers. In 1986, Burroughs
Corporation merged with Sperry Corporation to form Unisys Corporation.
The Burroughs family's legacy lived on not only through William
Seward Burroughs, his adding machine fortune
and the Unisys Corporation, but also through his late grandson,
the novelist, who died in 1997.