Tuesday, October 27, 2009

the amazing curta calculator

Once again, I have to reiterate my uncanny ability to find new and wonderful things to spend money on. Please be forewarned, I do not ALWAYS purchase the items I've blogged about with such lust. The most recent example of this is the $18,000 portable remote controlled helicopter that can serve as a platform for your digital camera. I did NOT buy one, although I did buy the recumbent trike . . . (right, Stacie?)

My latest find in my ever growing wish list of coveted playthings is the amazing Curta Calculator. Briefly, prior to the advent of inexpensive digital calculators, the Curta Calculator was a mechanical handheld device that could add, subtract, multiply and divide (and perform other calculations like squaring, determining standard deviations, etc.) to 11 places! It was produced and sold from 1947 to around 1973. The cost at the time of its final production run was around $125. Approximately 140,000 units were produced over the years. Units now sell between $300 and $5000 (and up).

Curt Herzstark of Austria, was the proud inventor of this remarkable instrument. According to many articles, Herzstark was a prisoner in Buchenwald. His Nazi captors were fully aware of his work and encouraged it, with the intent of having him produce one of his calculators as a victory gift to be given to Hitler upon the close of World War II. Well, we all know that didn't happen. However, Herzstark did go on to realize his dream and ultimately his Curta Calculator went into production.

The Curta is a beautiful example of mechanical engineering and construction. It exemplifies the finest work of its time. Even now, some of the items produced in that time period still amaze me. (I still marvel at the Minox camera, the miniature spy camera featured in so many old-time thrillers. That camera was tiny, yet sported a built-in light meter and exposure controls including full aperture and shutter speed settings.) I remember seeing these devices advertised in Scientific America magazine (yes, I know that sounds very geeky, but I didn't read them THAT much). I only wish at the time I would have made the purchase. Other items like the Haverhills pocket microscope/telescope inspired me to place my order (with no regrets. It is STILL a cool little item!). Sadly, I did not. Check it out though. The Curta Calculator. I think you will agree that it is a neat little thing of a bygone era.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

That's really neat. I majored in math, and taught for 4 years at West High School, and I have never heard of this device!