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William Seward Burroughs

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 challenging words: duplex, wristwatch-size, subtraction, greatly, better, bankers, instant, communication, patent, death, original, improvement, position, banks, produce, operate content words: William Seward, Burroughs Adding Machine Company, Burroughs Portable, Ford Motor Company, Burroughs Special

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 William Seward Burroughs By Sharon Fabian

1     At one time or another, most everyone has thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if there was a machine to do this boring work for me." Students imagine machines that would do their homework or pick up the stuff on their bedroom floor. Parents wish for a machine that would clean the house or cook dinners. Workers wish for a machine that would do the most tedious parts of their jobs for them.

2     It was this kind of thinking that led to William Seward Burroughs's invention. Burroughs was a bank clerk in the 1880's. This was before the invention of the computer, of course. It was also before the invention of the calculator. In fact, it was during a time when nearly all calculations were done by hand. For a clerk who worked in a bank, this meant a lot of boring math. It meant lots and lots of addition and subtraction problems each and every day!

3     Burroughs decided to create a machine to do his math for him. He invented the adding machine, for which he received the patent in 1888. One of his early models weighed 63 pounds! It sat on the floor and had glass sides so that people could see the gears at work inside. Early adding machines didn't have just the numbers 0 through 9 like our calculators do. They had the numbers 1 through 9 in each row. There was a row for the ones place, another row for the tens place, another for the hundreds, and so on. Burroughs's adding machines had no zeroes. When no number was pushed in any row, that was recorded as zero for that row. To operate the machine, someone would punch in the first number, and then pull a heavy handle on the side of the machine. Pulling the handle forward entered the number. Releasing the handle back to its original position printed the number on a tape like today's cash register tape.

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