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For centuries, stacks of sheets of paper with hundreds of numbers scribbled, complex equations and tedious mathematical calculations camped at ease in the dilapidated offices of the most extraordinary minds of science.

Isaac Newton, Lord Kelvin or Johannes Kepler lamented on more than one occasion the time that malgastaban in soporíferas arithmetic operations. What would have given to have had their scope, the invention of Curt Herzstark .

typewriters to calculators

At the end of the nineteenth century, the patriarch of the family Herzstark –name-Samuel – traveled to the united States, where he worked in the company Remington, the popular manufacturer of typewriters. There he played the work more diverse, ranging from mechanical to commercial occupation in which he showed that he had a special ability.

For this reason, was given the task of returning to their country and market in the Old Continent typewriters. It was in this new stage work when he discovered a sleepy facet of business, be fired from the Remington and formed his own company of machines to calculate.

Until that time this type of gadgets were the evolution of miniaturized that had appeared centuries ago, mechanical models full of devices and complex gears.

it Was around 1910, when Samuel, at the head of a multidisciplinary team, marketed electro-mechanical calculators, a true innovation, because with them it was not necessary to pull levers to run the calculations, but simply it was necessary to introduce numerical values in a comfortable keyboard.

The following years were of enormous prosperity for the family and before the Great War had already developed a thirty patents. Unfortunately, the First World War choke the creative freedom, the calculators were left to be sold, and the artisans electro-mechanical went to work for the army in the production of gadgets precision.

Curt is taking over business

In the period between the wars Curt, the son of Samuel, took up the family business. In the first place is dedicated to fixing and improving the old machines and then to innovate, dreamed of creating a pocket calculator that corner of the heavy and bulky calculators existing in those moments.

The Second World War left once again to Europe without light on the horizon. After the annexation of Austria by nazi Germany, forced companies to collaborate in the German war effort. In 1943, the Gestapo arrested two employees of Curt by collaborating with the allies and the employer, with the accusation of carrying jewish blood, was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

There’s an SS officer, knowledgeable of his mechanical skill, allowed Curt to go out to work by the day at a factory next in the manufactured components of the flying bombs V1 and V2. In addition, entrusted to Curt manufacturing a pocket calculator for the Fuehrer, a model that never came to be designed.

The calculator CURTA

The sleepless nights in the crowded barracks of Buchenwald fanned the embers of his creativity and in 1946, when it was all over, Curt patented a revolutionary calculator to which baptized with the name of CURTA .

however, his business was ruined, could not manufacture new calculators and find investors austrians was a task that seemed impossible. However, everything changed when a few commissioners, a tiny country of alpine scenery and tax havens knocked on his door.

The prince of Liechtenstein was looking for engineers, scientists and technicians to create a basis of industrial economy in their country. It was an opportunity that Curt could not refuse.

for more than two decades, the COURT reigned in the world of engineering, science and technology, a small machine consisting of a simple cylinder black carefully assembled and equipped with dials sliders. The first version could represent up to eleven digits and the second came up to fifteen.

With the CURTA were performed the complex mathematical operations that are needed to build highways, power lines, satellites and even spacecraft. But everything has an end, your reign is faded in the decade of the seventies, with the arrival of electronic calculators. But, as I would say Kipling, that is another story.

M. Jara

Pedro Gargantilla is a internist in the Hospital of El Escorial (Madrid), and author of several popular books.

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