Later Model Comptometers

For those who wish only the barest information regarding the machines of this period, click here.

"Post-Felt" History - 1930 thru 1939...

The J-model Comptometer was the last of the "shoebox" models. As for how long it was in production, we are indebted to Alex Kinmond, retired Canadian Sales Manager for F&T. for this recollection...

"Re your question as to the date they stopped making the model J: I was in Chicago on holiday in 1938 and on a tour of the factory my guide inadvertently opened up a large cupboard which contained quantities of the Model M which of course I was not supposed to see. They were in full production of the M at that time. However I cannot say definitely whether they had stopped producing the J model.

"Then in January 1940 I went to Chicago for the repair training course. Since I was from Canada I spent an extra month up in the factory learning how to repair the motors for the K model so that when I returned to Toronto we could do all the motor repairs for Canada instead of sending them back to Chicago. In all the time I spent in the factory, I never saw any J's being produced.

"To my mind production of the J ceased upon introduction of the model M. I know that once the M was intoduced there was never any thought of selling the J in Canada."

Released in the early 1930s, the SuperTotalizer version of the "J" retained the original "shoebox" style case and, therefore, is covered as a member of the earlier era.

The first change to the shape of the case came with the K-model introduced in September of 1934. No doubt, a different shape was required to accomodate the changes to the mechanism needed for its electric design. Felt had resisted adding a motor-driven model during the 20s and this late introduction had only modest success. Was it too late to market or simply provided too little "added value" for the money?

Again, Alex Kinmond provides some insight of the innards of this first F&T electric Comptometer...

"(the Model-K) was a very simple mechanical construction and extremely reliable. In the early years of the "K" there was a problem with the motors because of brushes wearing out quickly and grooving the armatures but this was soon corrected with a new type of brush and a hole cut in the casing so that the armature could be sanded during normal monthly servicing."

Dispite the addition of an electric model, F&T was not yet ready to abandon the popular manual machine. Alex continues...

"The Model M, successor to the model J, was a beautiful unit and because of its lighter keystroke was a great favourite with operators who preferred it to electric units such as the model K."

From halfway around the globe, we are grateful to Ray Mackay, who had a long and rewarding career as a Comptometer repairman in Australia. Ray has provided much insight into the history of these later designs as well as the fortunes and misfortunes of the company.

"Post-Depression" History - 1939 thru 1945 (from Ray Mackay)...

"The Model 'M' was introduced just prior to WWII and had a new style of case (Dark Green Wrinkle Finish) and the frames were redesigned accordingly.

"Early models had steel segment levers and numeral wheels with an actual zero embossed on the wheel. That is, they did not have any indication if a number existed to the left of the machine.

"The lack of indication of numbers to the left of a series of zeros evidently presented a problem and a hollow zero was introduced with a numeral wheel shutter. As soon as a column was operated all shutters to the RIGHT of the numeral dropped, giving a distinctive change of colour in the open zeros. This made errors in reading any large number with many zeros less likely.

"Once WWII was well on the way, materials became hard to get and one was encouraged to find ways of reducing the amount of metal used in essential products. The designers at Felt & Tarrant punched out holes all along the length of the previously solid segment levers similar to the moves made to lighten an airfoil section on an airoplane. Because this weakened the horizontal and lateral strength two ridges were pressed along the length giving some stability.

"With the lighter lever one would have though the process was to lighten the touch however, since the springs remained the same this was obviously not the reason for the change. Models with this lever and numeral system were designated 'WM" (War model?).

"After the WWII, aluminium replaced the steel on these two items and the model reverted to 'M' but with higher serial numbers 48XXXX instead of the earlier 40XXXX.

Following defeat of the axis powers, Felt & Tarrant would undergo major changes as it strove to deal with the upheavals to come in the calculator market. In late 1942, Dorothea Felt Noyes, youngest daugher of the founder along with her husband, John, perished in the infamous Coconut Grove fire in Boston. Her stock was held at the Northern Trust Co where administrators were uneasy with the lack of diversification but the family would not agree to sell out. Then, in 1945 Robert Tarrant, jr., son of the co-founder, died causing an estate problem for his heirs and the pressure to diversify intensified.

Finally in 1946, F&T "went public" and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange the following year. The year-end 1950 Annual Report reveals that sales grew steadily thru 1948 and, then dropped an astounding 38% in 1949 only to hold there during 1950. The long drawn-out end would now commence.

(Raymond J.Koch) A little known effort was made during the 50s by then president, Raymond J. Koch, to leapfrog the competition. He would finance Armour Research of Chicago (part of the Illinois Institute of Technology) to design an electronic calculator. An investment (or grant) of a quarter of a million dollars was provided, a princely sum for the time. Designed with vacuum tubes, hi-tech for the era, the machine was still-born as the arrival of the transistor was soon to make clear. There was to be no re-design effort as funding was scarce and the outlook at the time uncertain..

The company's primary market was the major American (and foreign) corporations with huge back-office operations where machines and operators noisily crunched all manner of corporate data. This market was soon to disappear as computers moved in to replace the Comptometers. Computers would also spell the end for the tabulators of IBM and Remington Rand, who would lead the charge to automate corporate America's booming growth in the 1960s.

Post-WWII Times - 1945 thru 1961 (Ray Mackay relates)...

"About this time the Italian Addicalco was introduced to the market. It used all the old tool press gear used for the model 'J' for manufacture but with extensions on the keystem lengths to allow for the 'M' style case. In my opinion, the machine lacked the quality springs used on the Felt & Tarrant Comptometer however George Raite (a Peacock* competitor) sold quite a number to a client looking for a lower priced option.

"In the spring of 1950, Felt & Tarrant released the 3D11 as a successor to the Model-M. It had a redesigned error control mechanism to allow the operator to hold her fingers on the keys when correcting an error. In other words, the error control mechanism was operated in a psuedo automatic manner.

"The style of the case also changed slightly and was lighter. (ed. the "Comptometer" word on the front of the M-model was moved to the top name plate where it replaced "Felt & Tarrant", reflecting the changing attitude toward the corporate name). The colour and finish became a green/gray wrinkle and extruded keytops of two-tone green/gray replaced the older green and cream (or carmel) keytops used on Model Js and Ms. These extruded keytops were sometimes later used to refurbish the old square model Js as they were rebuilt.

"At the same time, the old squarish electric 'K' models underwent a similar change turning into the 992 model with a green case like the 'M' but with extruded green and white keys similar to the 3D11 model.

*Ed: Peacock was the Australian distributor of Comptometers (and other machines) at this time.

As the 60s decade began, the recently renamed Comptometer Corporation found itself beleagered on all fronts. Its foreign operations were under constant attack by protectionist policies, particularly in post-war Britain, and upstart nimble competitors on both the European continent and in Japan. Its home market was vanishing (see above) and with no solution in sight, the company began a diversification effort that was doomed to failure. Some 30+ years after his death, Dorr Felt's beloved Comptometer would soon sink beneath the waves of progress.

Post-Merger Times - 1961 thru 1967 (Ray Mackay continues)...

"It was now the early '60s and one could see changes in policy at F&T. Earlier, in 1957, the first radical change was to rename the company Comptometer Corporation*.

"New designs were being tried included a data entry electronic unit (which as far as I know were never marketed) and the Electronic 'Commander' Dictating machines. The much earlier Comptograph adding/listing machine name was revitalised and the listing machine '101WS' was released.

"The '992' used greased felt compensators similar to the model 'K'. A '99C' was released with nylon compensators (a dismal failure; we later had to change them all back to greased felt).

"The mid '60s saw very unexpected changes take place. All the previous F&T models were dropped and four new models introduced. An Anita mechanical / electronic machine. And manual and electric machines using the mechanism of the Control Data 'Sumlock' machine in a buff restyled case with two-tone buff extruded keys in lieu of the two-tone green on the Sumlock. The logo was still Comptometer but we all knew it was the Sumlock with some minor cosmetic changes.

"For quite some time every endeavour was made to cover up the fact that the 'Comptometer' and 'Sumlock' were the same machine even though I went to Control Data for training and parts / information. It did not last as suddenly the Comptometer and Sumlock logos appeared on the same logo plate side by side and we were told Comptometer Corporation had bought out Control Data (misinformation).

"The Comptograph name was dropped and we found out the '101WS' and '220' were in actual fact 'Walther' machines made by Walther of Germany and rebadged. It was no longer necessary to hide this fact and we started selling them under their real name, i.e. Walther. Besides the war was well and truly behind us (ed. WWII, that is) and the earlier resistance to avoid all that was German had vanished (no political correctness in those days).

"I found myself being sent to South Melbourne to Remington (also known as Remington Rand) and Victor Corporation. About the same time Comptometers came out with the Victor / Comptometer logo and we had to import new plates without reference to the Victor Corporation on them; very strange times.

*Ed: Mary Elizabeth Schmidt, granddaugher of the founder recalls that this name change took place much earlier. An obscure reference indicates that the operation of the schools may have been split off and named "Comptometer" and then remerged before going public.

Post-1930 Comptometers (last of the breed)

the K-model (1st electric)

the M-model

the 992-model (successor to the K-model electric)

the 3D11-model (successor to the M-model)

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