Marchant calculator

 The Marchant Calculating Machine Co. was founded in 1911 by Rodney and Alfred Marchant in Oakland, California.

The company built mechanical, and then electromechanical calculators which had a reputation for reliability. First models were similar to the Odhner arithmometer.

The first Marchant calculators differed greatly from their later Silent Speed Proportional Gears machines, which were by far the fastest of their type, running at 1,300 cycles per minute. These machines are of considerable technical interest, and are far better known than the earliest ones. Their mechanical design was very unusual in that their result dials (sums, differences, and products) moved at speeds proportional to the digit in the corresponding column of the keyboard. A '1' in the keyboard caused its dial to move the slowest, while a '9', the fastest. Probably the only other such machine was the European Mercedes Euklid, which had a very different (and apparently much simpler) design.

Silent Speed 8D

Carrying to the next higher order was done (effectively) by a 10:1 gear ratio, rather like traditional watthour-meter dials. This was probably unique in a calculator. While running consecutive 'add' cycles to develop a product in multiplication, much of the mechanism was running at constant speeds. All other mechanical calculators had result dials that moved only at one speed, but for different amounts of time, naturally for longer times when larger digits were to be entered. They started quickly, ran at one speed, and stopped quickly. (They also had mechanisms to prevent overshoot (known as coasting) when they stopped.)

Figurematic (1950-52)

In the Marchant, each column had its own mechanism that might be described as a nine-speed pre-selector transmission. Once engaged, that was what made the dials move at speeds proportional to the digit in that column. This meant that the machine contained, in all, several hundred individual gears.

Carries from lower-order digits came in via one planetary differential per dial. If one held down the + bar, in neighboring columns to the left (with zeros for them in the keyboard), one could see two or maybe three higher-order dials moving at the speeds one would expect.

Watthour meter dials, like the hour hand of a clock, make no attempt to point to the correct digit, if the dial to the right is between, for example, 3 and 7, or so. Such misalignment would be intolerable in a calculator's dials, so each of the Marchant's dials had a constant-lead ("snail") cam attached. Omitting important details, this cam determined the amount of movement needed to realign the result dials. That correction was applied by a second spur-gear differential, again, one per dial.

Some calculators that had been serviced had dials that were mispositioned by (probably) 3.6 degrees; the gears weren't quite meshed correctly when reassembled.

1960s SCM Marchant calculator

The calculator was very complicated compared to, for example the Friden STW, a machine notable for its relative internal simplicity. Much of the Marchant's control mechanism was beneath the keys, and had about 25 "layers" of levers, linkages, latches, and such. It had three driveshafts, extending across the mechanism. Most other calculators had only one.


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