FAQs for Collectors
Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ 1 – Burroughs? American Arithmometer? Registering Account? What is behind all of the names?
William Seward Burroughs invented the Burroughs Registering Accountant in about
1885. He was living in St. Louis at the time and had worked as a bank teller,
which was a driving force behind his desire to create this “banker’s
company was formed to finance the task of bringing the invention to the
marketplace, and the new company was called the American Arithmometer Company.
The machine was first known as the Registering Accountant and later
simply called the “Burroughs."
about 1904, the American Arithmometer Company moved its entire operations from
St. Louis to Detroit, Michigan. Soon
after the company moved to Detroit, the company name was changed to the
Burroughs Adding Machine Company in remembrance of William Seward Burroughs.
Burroughs Adding Machine Company (BAMCO), and later the Burroughs Corporation,
continued to be headquartered in Detroit at the same location until its
merger with Sperry (Remington, Remington Rand) in 1986. At that time, the
combined companies became Unisys, and the Detroit office was gradually
eliminated in favor of the old Sperry headquarters in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.
FAQ 2 – What is my machine worth
This website includes descriptions of the different Burroughs
models and their current collector value estimates.
FAQ 3 – How do I determine how old
my machine is?
I have copies of the American Digest of Business Machines available.
The 1924 reference manual provides a wealth of information about
Burroughs and many other adding machines of the time and provides the listings
necessary to date your Burroughs. If
you would like a copy of the Digest, please go to the American
FAQ 4 – How can I sell my machine?
I would recommend eBay.
FAQ 5 – How do I clean the keytops
of my machine?
The method of cleaning at Burroughs was to use a product called AMWAY
Industroclean. It is available from
any local AMWAY dealer and can be purchased in quarts and gallons.
Dilute a small amount of the cleaner in a dish and use a soft toothbrush.
Dip the toothbrush in the diluted AMWAY and dab it on each keytop.
Do not put on so much that it runs off the keytop.
It can be applied to about 20 keytops before you scrub each one.
Wait a minute for it to soak in and then use the toothbrush to scrub each
keytop. Use a soft, dry cloth to
wipe off the excess and the dirt. If
a keytop remains dirty, try it one more time.
Do not get AMWAY on painted surfaces of old machines, as it will dull the
FAQ 6 – How do I get the handle
out of the side of the machine?
On Burroughs portable adders (newer styles), the handle simply pulls straight
off. On older units, with glass in
the front and or on the sides, the handle must be pushed backward from the “at
rest” position until it is level with the table and the bottom of the machine.
Once at this point, the handle can be pulled directly out, away from the
side of the machine. Please be
careful that the end of the handle does not strike the glass side of the machine,
as many glass panels were broken from the handle.
FAQ 7 – Where can I get
replacement keytops for worn or missing keys?
Keytops are quite difficult to obtain and about the only source is another, more
unsalvageable machine. Great care must be taken to separate the keytop from the
keystem, and on some machines, the success rate is near zero.
Always try to remove the keys off the scrap machine before pulling the
keytops from the good machine. In
addition, removing the keytops requires that something flat be placed on the
bottom of the keytop against the keystem and pressure leveraged upward on the
FAQ 8 – What is the little round hole for
above the serial number on the front?
On early machines (adding machines and key-driven, non-listing calculators)
there was a round key used to remove the case.
The key for the adders was a slightly different size from the calculator
key and they cannot be interchanged. Some
reproduction keys have been produced and are available from collectors.
the key was designed to “lock” the case in place, some machines are
constructed in a way that the case can be removed despite the lock.
In some cases, the lock was disabled along the way by the Burroughs
service man (Field Engineer) to expedite his work.
you cannot remove the case because of the lock, (you must always remove or swing back the paper
carriage first) you can unlock it in the following manner:
Find a flat hard piece of steel at least 2 inches long and just thick enough to insert between the upper and lower case units in the very front of the machine. The Field Engineers often used feeler gauges. Once you have a gauge that is the right size, position it just to the left or right of the serial number area and insert it into the space between the case units, about 1/2 inch. Now slide the gauge over the keyhole while keeping it inserted between the case units. As you move the gauge over the serial number area, lift the upper case upward gently. As the lock is released, the case will lift. If you are not able to release the lock, try it again from the opposite direction.
– What other products did Burroughs make?
Burroughs designed other types of business machines including the Burroughs Typewriter (1935 – 1940), custom U.S. Postal Service mail sorters, check sorters and imprinters, microfilming devices, bank ATM machines, and many others. There were many custom devices built for the military, including radar systems, shipboard fire control systems, and even a sewing machine for military use in the field.