Burroughs Bookkeeping Machine

Dublin Core


Burroughs Bookkeeping Machine


hardware: electromechanical calculator


Historical context
(by Z. Stachniak)

The industrial revolution of the 19th century brought new manufacturing methods and with them the ability to produce high quality precision instruments and mechanical devices in large quantities. The first typewriters appeared in the early 19th century and the first wave of useful calculators soon after in Europe and a few decades later in America.

America entered the age of mechanical calculators in late 19th century, much later than Europe. When major European countries were undergoing extensive industrialization, the United States was still primarily involved in agriculture while Canada was not even on the map as a country. The Civil War of 1861-1865 did not help with the industrialization either, delaying the effects of the industrial revolution on the North American continent for a decade.

It was not until after the Civil War when new forms of manufacturing (steam-powered) allowed the American industry to grow and spread across the nation. It was at that time, when a vibrant office equipment industry was created with calculator manufacturing centers in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. Large businesses, agencies, and institutions were expanding fast, putting more and more people into their offices. It quickly became evident that ever increasing number of calculation tasks could not be handled cost-effectively without appropriate calculating aids.

While American institutions were looking for efficient ways for conducting their business, inventors and entrepreneurs were determined to supply them with all sorts of office gadgets. Two individuals—Dorr E. Felt and William S. Burroughs—played a key role in establishing the calculator industry. Both were determined to provide businesses with just the right kind of calculators: fast, accurate, easy to operate and, in the case of Burroughs' calulators, with printing capabilities. In the end, they created calculator empires that dominated the American calculator market well into the next century.

When William S. Burroughs was working as a bank clerk, he envisioned the process of tedious arithmetic operations mechanized to such a degree that the results would also be automatically printed on paper. In the end, Burroughs not only designed such a machine—the Arithmometer (1884)—but also co-founded American Arithmometer Company in St. Louis to manufacture it. By the end of the 1800s, his company was successfully selling several hundred machines a year.

In 1917, Burroughs Adding Machine Company of Detroit (formerly American Arithmometer Company of St. Louis) opened its Canadian subsidiary in Windsor, Ontario. Three years later, the Canadian branch moved to the newly constructed facility in Windsor at the corner of McDougall St. and Elliott St. Over the years, the Canadian subsidiary manufactured several calculators including motor-driven adding and listing Bookkeeping Machine and a range of portable adding machines.

Burroughs Bookkeeping Machines

The Burroughs Bookkeeping Machines were some of the most impressive adding machines made. Although they were large and heavy, their bevelled glass walls on three sides allowed viewing of their internal mechanical operations during calculations, certainly aimed at creating a "WOW" effect with a machine priced at between $615 to $715. The calculators offered between 6 to 17 columns of keys, a numeric display, and a printing mechanism with a wide carriage featuring a paper length setting and an end of page bell.

These calculator could perform addition only. The multiplication could be done by repeated additions. Apart from numeric keys, Burroughs Bookkeeping Machines offered several "function" keys. A column could be cleared by pressing the red key at the top of that column. Other keys were designed to clear the entire keyboard, to perform repeated additions for multiplication, to calculate total and subtotal results as well as other functions depending on the calculator's model.

Several options were provided including electric drive that eliminated manual use of a crank handle to perform calculations. This option offered a tabular steel frame with the motor and gearbox mounted underneath.

Museum holdings
  • Burroughs Bookkeeping Machine (17 columns, electric), model/serial number C2-1286030, manufactured by Burroughs Adding Machine Company of Canada, Windsor, Ontario,
  • Burroughs Portable Adding Machine, model/serial number 03-370060, manufactured by Burroughs Adding Machine Company of Canada (?)


Burroughs Adding Machine Company of Canada




The calculator was donated by Unisys Canada Inc. in 2016


World, the early 1900s





Burroughs Adding Machine Company of Canada, “Burroughs Bookkeeping Machine,” York University Computer Museum Canada, accessed July 19, 2024, https://museum.eecs.yorku.ca/items/show/344.

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