Abstract: The Comptometer and the Burroughs: Two Early Office Machines and Their Influence on Accounting and the Workplace in the United States, 1885–1915

Charles W. Wootton


In the last three decades of the twentieth century, several mechanical innovations were introduced that essentially changed the way information was processed. In turn, these innovations substantially and permanently changed the world of commerce. During the first stage of technological change, the two most important innovations were the introduction of the first commercially successful typewriter and adding machine/calculator in the United States. In the area of adders/calculators, two manufacturers established themselves as leaders in the marketplace and in machine innovation. These manufacturers were Felt & Tarrant Mfg. Co. (Comptometer) and Burroughs Adding Machine Company (originally American Arithometer). Between 1885 and 1915, the adding machine and calculator firmly established themselves in the marketplace and became essential elements in most business offices. In doing so, they (along with the typewriter) helped change the nature of the office place, and in turn, the gender composition of the work force in the office. It was these innovations that hastened the separation of accounting from bookkeeping.