FLASHBACK ’71: As part of J&R’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, we are looking back to the technologies and product wizardry from bygone epochs (like the, uh, ’70s and ’80s).
Remember the slide rule?
Until the late 1970’s, science and engineering students calculated formulas and logarithms using a device called a Slide Rule. A calculating tool, the invention of the slide rule was made possible by the invention of logarithms developed by Napier, mathematician in the 16th century. Then came the invention of logarithmic scales, which slide rules are based upon. These instruments were mostly in use through 1976. The handheld electronic calculator replaced them by 1977.
In the computer age, people look at the calculator as a very basic tool. It took electronic engineering in the 1950’s and 1960’s to develop semiconductor circuits permitting the development of handheld transistor calculators. Texas Instruments invented the first handheld calculator in 1967. A basic four-function (add, subtract, multiply, and divide) calculator was the first of its kind. Only the math and science departments could afford to get one. Subsequently, two patents on large-scale integration were awarded to TI in 1972, based on a calculator on a chip. This enabled additions of specialized, scientific function keys including those that followed logarithms. By then, a handheld scientific calculator was priced somewhere around $300 to $500. Major competition, at that time, consisted of two USA companies, Hewlett-Packard, and Rockwell International.
In 1972, however, Japanese manufacturer Casio released the first miniature handheld calculator. By 1974, Casio introduces the FX-10 scientific calculator. The first of a long line of Casio hand-held scientific calculators, the FX-10 came with ten dedicated science function buttons and had an eight digit display. Outstanding itself, the more remarkable point was that it sold for less than $100.
In 1974, Hewlett Packard introduced the HP-65 handheld scientific calculator. Its main edge was programmability of up to 100 steps. This permitted speedier inputs of complex calculations, similar to those required for statistics. It sold for around $800.
In 1977, Texas Instruments releases the TI-30, a 35-function scientific calculator, which sold for around $150. This became the most popular handheld calculator for use in schools.
The price of a slide rule, in 1970, was in the range of $30 to $50. Based on 300-year technology, this device was phased out of use as scientific calculators reached the $100 mark. By 1980, most handheld scientific calculators sold for less than $60, from Casio, Sharp, TI, and other brands. Slide rules were no longer used among academics.
J&R sells over 100 calculators for general, science, and financial use. Some even include graphing capabilities.
A few allow USB connectivity for transfer with a PC. Nearly 40 years since the first retail calculator was introduced, calculators are broadly accepted in all schools in the world. Many sell for less than $10, very affordable.
Calculators remain viable products and offer opportunities for academic excellence as we move forward toward meeting new challenges. They are also great for home or for use when going to the supermarket. Even though it’s integrated into smartphones and other mobile devices, the handheld calculator continues.