Recently I received an EMail from a fellow old technology afficionado in The Netherlands, Frank Philipse, who had found an interesting document in a used bookstore where he lives. The document is entitled Electronic Calculators Report 1965. It was produced by Friden International S.A., in Berg en Dal, Holland. I have not been able to find out much about Friden International, but do know that it was a wholly-owned business unit of Friden Calculating Machine Co., and remained a relatively independent arm of Friden even after Singer bought out Friden in 1963. It appears that Friden International S.A. was involved in a lot of research and development work. I do know that a lot of development work on the Friden 5005 Computyper was done in Holland, as my Godparents’ business bought a 5005 Computyper from Singer/Friden, and a bunch of custom programming was done for the particular application they had. All of the programming work was done in Holland, and while the programming was being debugged, the Friden reps would spend a lot of time on the phone to the engineers in Holland who developed the programming.
The document that Frank found was clearly intended for internal use by sales and marketing people at Friden. It was written as a competitive comparison between the Friden EC-130 and EC-132 calculators versus other electronic calculators on the market in the mid-1965 timeframe. The document is quite comprehensive in its coverage, addressing competitive machines from IME, SCM, Olympia, Casio, Dero Research, Sumlock/Anita, Victor, Sharp, Canon, Tohiba, Oi Electric, Nippon Calculating Machine Co., Monroe, Olivetti, Philips, Wanderer/Nixdorf, Mathatronics, Wang, and Wyle Laboratories.
In reading through this document, there was a lot of great information contained within, and, for the most part, the comparisons were reasonably fair. While generally the comments were resonable, I sometimes found myself shaking my head at some of the “stretches” that were made in terms of how Friden compared their machines to their competitors. It was also quite interesting how some competitive machines were addressed in great detail, while others were simply glossed over with very basic comparisons.
An example of a competitive machine that Friden spent a lot of effort to review was the comparison between the SCM Cogito 240 (Yes — there was a Cogito 240..a machine without the Square Root function, though who knows if any survive today) and Cogito 240SR. They went to great detail in explaining the architecture and operation of these machines. Then, they went about ripping the machine to shreds when comparing it to the EC-130/EC-132. It was made very clear that the Cogitos were slower, harder to use, and in the case of square root, “archaic”. It is an interesting question to ponder: Why did Friden pick on this particular machine so intensely? Was it perhaps because it used a CRT display like the Friden 130/132? It is quite clear that Friden thought that their CRT-based display was a brilliant innovation. Perhaps Friden viewed SCM’s machine as a “copy” of theirs, making it more worthy of their ire than other competitive calculators with simple Nixie-tube displays or printers?
Their comparison of the “new” IME 84 RC (RC standing for “Remote Calculator”, a follow-on to IME’s brialliantly-designed first electronic calculator, the IME 84) was interesting. The IME 84RC allowed remote keyboard/display units to be plugged into the main calculator unit. This could mean that a main calculator could service a number of remote keyboard/display units. It isn’t clear to this day if the remote keyboards could be used simultaneously (like Wang’s later 200 & 300-series SE (Simultaneous Electronics) machines). The report commented that they thought that the idea of a remote calculator was oversold by IME, and also that IME was a “small company” that likely couldn’t compete in the market. While they may have been right about IME making too big a deal out of the remote calculator capability, it’s clear that the concept in general was viable, as Wang’s Simultaneous units were quite popular sellers, especially in educational and engineering environments.
The claimed that the Dero Research Sage 1 calculator “looked like a toy”, and didn’t really give much information about the machine. The report brushed the Sage 1 off as non-competitive because they considered Dero to be an insignificant player in the market. I wish that they had given more information about the Sage 1, as there’s very little information out there about this machine, though there were some interesting morsels of information that were used to update the Old Calculator Museum “Wanted” page for this machine.
They gave the Olympia RAE 4/15 (Olympia’s first electronic calculator) a pretty good review overall, but claimed that the Friden stack-based architecture allowed problems to be solved with less keyboard operations, a fact which is true.
They made no comparison between the EC-130 and the Anita Mk 10. They simply outlined the interesting aspect of the Mk10, which was its ability to perform calculations with English currency. In this part of the document, Friden International indicated that a similar report was done in late ’64 to early ’65 that addressed the Anita Mk 8 and Mk 9 machines, so apparently it was felt that there was no need to perform a comparison with the Mk 10. The tidbit of information here is that there’s an earlier version of this document out there somewhere — hopefully it can be found.
Friden commented that the miraculous (because it used Large Scale Integration (LSI) MOS integrated circuits) Victor 3900 was technologically advanced, but more difficult to operate, and rather expensive compared to its own machines. Interestingly, they didn’t seem to hammer on the Victor 3900 like they did the Cogito 240/240SR. It’s not quite clear why Friden didn’t appear to consider the Victor machine to be a real market threat, as Victor was a major force in the calculating machine market, and had a lot of experience with building high-quality mechanical and electro-mechanical adders and calculators.
A summary of Japanese competition was given in the form of a chart that outlined basic parameters such as capacity, math capabilities, cost, etc. No real in-depth analysis was done, but they did comment that the Sharp Compet 20 (no square root) and Compet 21 (square root) were the most competitive machines amongst the Japanese offerings, though still making it clear that the Friden stack-based math architecture was superior to any of the Japanese machines. They did indicate that the massive growth in the number of players in the electronic calculator business in Japan was something to be concerned about.
Comparisons were made between various printing electronic calculators on the market at the time, including the Monroe EPIC 2000, the Olivetti Programma 101, the Philips EL-2500, and the Wanderer Conti. They pointed out that having printed output was a competitive advantage in business applications over Friden’s CRT-based calculators, but made it clear that the noise made by the printers in these machines was a definite downside as compared to the silence of Friden display calculators. The report went into reasonable detail about the Monroe EPIC 2000, pointing out (something I didn’t know) that the machine used a similar stack-based architecture to the Friden EC-130. They underplayed the programmability of the EPIC 2000 as something that most users were likely not to be able to make much use of. They had little comment on the groundbreaking Olivetti Programma 101, but pointed out that delivery times were as long as six months after an order was placed. One can imagine that the capabilities of the Programma 101 were daunting to Friden to say the least. They also complained about the keyboard action on both the Philips and Wanderer machines, saying that they were “unreliable”.
A section on “Scientific” calculators included the Mathatronics Mathatron 8-48; the Wang LOCI 1 & LOCI 2 and the initial Wang 300-series (300, 310, 320) calculators; and the Wyle Laboratories Scientific.
They commented that the Mathatron was overly complicated, and that Mathatronics was too small of a company for them to be concerned about. An interesting tidbit was learned here in that they actually evaluated a machine called the “EMD 8-48”, which was a version of the Mathatron 8-48 manufactured under license by French company Electronique Marcel Dassault. I wonder if there are any surviving examples of this machine anywhere.
They had pretty high praise for the Wang calculators, pointing out the advanced mathematics functions that these machines offered. Their competitive stance against the Wang machines was that Wang Laboratories was a small company, and likely would not be a formidable competitor. Little did they know.
There wasn’t much information given about the Wyle Scientific, but they commented that they thought this machine was a prime example of a calculator designed by a bunch of electronics engineers who didn’t have much of a clue of the practical applications for an electronic calculator. They also said that “recent developments” would soon make a machine like the Scientific obsolete (perhaps they were thinking about the Olivetti Programma 101 when they wrote this statement?).
The unearthing of old documents such as this can give some really great insights into the mindsets of those deeply involved in the business of calculating machines at the time. Especially enlightening are internal documents that are targeted toward the sales and marketing staff, because they give a lot of editorial opinion relating to the originator’s attitides regarding their competitors and their guesses on the future of the business.
I will be putting this document online in the museum soon. Watch the Old Calculator Museum Change Log to see when it becomes available. For someone interested in old calculators, it is really a lot of fun to read.