This was the Future, Vol.30

typed for your pleasure on 30 September 2006, at 11.39 am

Sdtrk: ‘Young and insane’ by Magnetic fields

As much as I despise maths and mathematics — it’s common knowledge that unchecked use of mathematics will one day obliterate the Universe — I have to say, I’m rather impressed with the ingenuity behind Curt Herzstark’s Curta mechanical calculator.

The Curta was a small, hand-cranked mechanical calculator introduced in 1948. It had a brilliantly compact design, a small cylinder that fit in the palm of the hand. It could be used to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and with more difficulty square roots and other operations. [..]

The Curta was invented by Curt Herzstark while he was a prisoner in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Herzstark survived the camp, and following the end of WWII he completed and perfected the design. They were made in Liechtenstein by Contina AG Mauren. They were widely considered the best portable calculators available, until they were displaced by electronic calculators in the 1970s. [..]

The Curta was affectionately known as the “Pepper Grinder” due to its shape and means of operation. It would literally grind out answers.
quoted from this article

Operating the device, which I always thought looked a bit like a hand grenade, involves swiveling the crank, rotating the ring, sliding the levers along the side into place, and a few other processes. There’s an article that details its operation here, and once you’re fully debriefed on that, you can give it a go yourself with the Curta Flash simulator. As it’s only a simulator, you won’t have to worry about making a tragic mistake, so go crazy!

Obviously, I don’t completely understand how it works, as math confounds me. But you can’t say that the Curta calculator isn’t a beautiful machine, and is pretty high-tech for the time period it came from. If Alan Moore ever gets round to making a volume of ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ set during the late Forties or early Fifties, I’d be highly surprised if he didn’t have a character use one at some point.

Asking prices for used Curtas on eBay usually start at $250 USD. That kinda threw a bucket of ice water over everything, didn’t it?

Random similar posts, for more timewasting:

This was the Future, Vol.43 on April 18th, 2010

This was the Future, Vol.37 on May 5th, 2009

8 have spoken to “This was the Future, Vol.30”

  1. zszsz writes:

    yeah, i love that thing . . .

    even though math “scares me” (like “everything” else) . . .

    thank you, steve, for a usless comment elucidating only steve as so oft . . .


  2. Davecat writes:

    zszszszszszszsz —
    So where’d you learn about the Curta?

    It’s a fine device. It’s like an Industrial-era abacus!

  3. SafeTinspector writes:

    OK, DC, I want one. I want one to put on my desk and play with. I want to use one in front fo somebody just to prove what a friggin’ geek I am.
    $250 doesn’t seem so high for such a precise piece of mechanical engineering. I’ve sold stupider shit for far more money. Some crappy old Matchbox cars for $800, for one.

  4. Davecat writes:

    Here’s your Six Or So Degrees of Separation: you said, ‘I want one to put on my desk and play with’, indicating you want a Curta solely for its aesthetic appeal. I’d mentioned to Steve (aka zszsz above) that it’s, quote, like an Industrial-era abacus. Last time I was round to Steve’s, he had an abacus affixed to his wall… solely for its aesthetic appeal.


  5. SafeTinspector writes:

    But… I wanna play with it, too!

  6. Davecat writes:


  7. zszsz writes:

    i’m not sure where i saw it originally . . . either ran across it online by accid-NO!!!

    there was an article in discover or scientific american, i don’t recall which . . . i was getting both for a whilwe two or three years ago . . .

    so there. :l

    & wolfgang gave me that abacus, therefore safeT is wolfgang & wolfgang is safeT gran’pa . . .


  8. SafeTinspector writes:

    ah, Wolfgang. I still owe him a paperback.

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