William Seward Burroughs (Sr.)
Born January 28, 1857 - Died September 14, 1898
William Seward Burroughs invented the first practical adding and listing machine. He is the grandfather of the William S. Burroughs of literary fame.
Born in Rochester, New York, Burroughs began his career as a bank clerk in the Cayuga County National Bank in Auburn, New York. His poor health necessitated a move to a warmer climate, however, and he relocated to St. Louis in 1882. Working in a bank inspired the young inventor with a vision of a mechanical device that would relieve accountants and bookkeepers of the monotony of their tasks and ensure that a smaller percentage of their time was spent correcting errors.
Burroughs began work on his mechanical accounting device shortly after he moved to St. Louis. A sympathetic shop owner, Joseph Boyer, encouraged his work by giving him bench space at the Boyer Machine Shop and provided him with a young assistant, Alfred Doughty, later president of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.
Burroughs submitted a patent application in 1885 for his 'Calculating Machine' and the patent was awarded in 1888. In 1886 Burroughs and several St. Louis businessmen formed the American Arithmometer Co. to market the machine. This machine was described as "...the combination, with one or more registers, of a series of independent keys and intervening connections constructed, arranged, and operating, as fully specified hereinafter, so as to indicate upon the register the sum of any series of numbers by the proper manipulation of the keys, and also so as to print or permanently record the final result."
The first machine, however, required a careful touch in pulling the handle to execute the calculation correctly. More often than not novice users would get wildly differing sums depending on the vigor they employed in using the invention. In 1893 Burroughs received a patent for an improved calculating machine, which incorporated his new invention: an oil-filled 'dashpot,' a simple hydraulic governor. This device enabled the machine to operate properly regardless of the manner with which the handle might be pulled.
Burroughs retired from his company in 1897 due to poor health and moved to Citronelle, Alabama. By 1898, the year Burroughs died, more than 1,000 machines had been sold, and by 1926 the company, renamed the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, had produced a million machines.
William Seward Burroughs Sr. died at age 43, not long before his namesake was born. Each of his four children inherited about $100,000 worth of stock in their father's company. The executors of the will convinced them that the adding machine had no future, and they sold their stock. Bill's mother, however, convinced Mortimer Burroughs to hold onto a few shares. By 1929 the value of those remaining shares had risen to $200,000 and the Burroughs cashed them in just before the depression. The Burroughs family only saw a fraction of the eventual value of the Burroughs Corporation.
Website: National Inventors Hall of Fame, "William Seward Burroughs" (http://www.invent.org/book/book-text/17.html)
Website: hyperreal.org, "The Burroughs Corp." (http://www.hyperreal.org/wsb/bcorp.html)
U.S. Patent Number 388,116, "Calculating-Machine", William Seward Burroughs