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A limited number of copies of the AMERICAN DIGEST OF BUSINESS MACHINES (1924) is available.  Use the link on the home page to find out how to get your copy.


The following information was taken from a 1943 publication by Burroughs called the "Instructions for Operating the Burroughs Calculator".

The Burroughs Calculator

The Burroughs Calculator performs additions, multiplications, subtractions, and divisions . . . easily . . . quickly.  It is a non-listing, direct key actuated type of machine - results appear in the dials instantly upon the depression of amount keys.


Simple to Operate

the operation of a Burroughs Calculator is extremely simple.  There is no crank to turn, no lever to pull, no motor bars to operate in order to record amounts.  To clear the machine, only one operation is required - depress a motor bar or key if an electric machine; pull a level if a hand machine.


The keyboard is simple - similar to a listing machine.  It has color divisions for dollars and cents.  Thus figures are added the same way they are written in columns on ruled paper.  the first two columns at the right are for units and tens of cents; the next three columns are for units, tens, and hundreds of dollars, etc.

On each keytop there is a large and a small figure.  the large figures are used for additions and multiplications - to increase amounts.  the small figures are used for subtractions and divisions - to decrease amounts.

The odd numbered keys are concave and the even numbered keys are flat. This facilitates the location of the keys by sense of touch.

Many Styles and Sizes

Burroughs Calculators are available in a choice of sizes, either manually or electronically operated. Electric Calculators are furnished with single accumulators or with two accumulators.  Duplex machines (those with two accumulators) are equipped with a key for direct subtraction from the rear accumulator.

Burroughs Leads in Calculating Machine Development

The Earliest Burroughs

The first model of Burroughs Calculator, known as the Burroughs non-lister, Style 520, was first offered for sale in 1911.  This machine was commonly known as the "box type" on account of its shape. Box type machines have not been manufactured by the Burroughs Company for nearly thirty years, but there are a number of them still in use, giving satisfactory service.

The First Big Improvement

In 1914, Burroughs redesigned the Calculator and eliminated the long-lever type construction.  In this new model, Burroughs was first to introduce the principle of gear controlled mechanism which adds and carries simultaneously - a mechanical principle not obtainable in the older style level controlled machines.  By further improvements in construction, the new Calculator was made smaller and lighter than the old "box type" machine because approximately 50 percent of the total number of parts was eliminated.

Style 5 05 05

The Style 5 05 05, a machine with 5 columns of keys and 6 columns totaling capacity, was released for sale in the early part of 1928.  It was the first time that a low-priced key-driven Calculator was offered to handle the many calculating jobs involving small amounts.  Today this machine is still the lowest priced key-actuated Calculator on the market.

The First Electric

In 1928, Burroughs introduced the first electric key-actuated calculating machine.  All calculations were thereby made easier and with greater speed than ever before possible on any machine not motor driven.

Proved Production

Many users state that the Burroughs electric keyboard increases production from 10 per cent to 15 per cent over hand-operated key-driven Calculators.  This is due to the short, uniform, easy, positive key action.

Accuracy of Registration

Accuracy of registration is assured by the motor-driven computing mechanism.  the depression of a key causes the motor to register the full value of the key on the dials.  Partial registration is impossible.

Electric Key Touch - Light and Uniform

The key touch is light and is exactly the same for all keys.  the key depression merely actuates the motor.  The motor furnishes the power to operate the computing mechanism.

The short key depression and light touch make possible a greater span of the keyboard.  For example, $10.90 may be easily held with the thumb and middle finger of the right hand when multiplying.

Increased rhythm and ease of operation - made possible by the light, uniform key action - result in reduction in operator fatigue and increase in speed of calculating.

Intermittent Motor

The motor starts automatically when a key is depressed - and stops automatically when the key restores.  It does not run when the machine is not being operated, thereby eliminating the nervous strain of having to listen - constantly - to the sound of a running motor.

The First Duplex

Burroughs was first to offer an all electric Duplex Calculator (in 1933).  This machine has two accumulating registers which make it possible to obtain answers of separate calculations - then, without any extra effort, to obtain a grand total.  the result of each calculation appears in the front dials.  When the front dials are cleared, the result automatically transfers to the rear accumulator.  If desired, the front accumulator may be cleared without transferring the result of both accumulators may be cleared simultaneously.  Also, if desired, fractions may be prevented from transferring to the rear accumulator, thus only full-cents amounts are accumulated.  This assures that the total will exactly balance with the full-cent result of individual calculations.

Simplified Subtraction

In 1936 the Burroughs line of single dial electric Calculators was further modernized by the addition of simplified subtraction - an exclusive Burroughs feature - which had been previously introduced on the duplex.  At the same time, the machine was also equipped with improved keytops and quicker clearance.  Other improvements and refinements were embodied to provide faster and quieter key action and a more attractive appearance.  This machine is today one of the most popular of Burroughs Calculators.

First with Direct Subtraction

Still leading in the development of key-actuated calculators, Burroughs released for sale the Electric Duplex Calculator with direct subtraction in 1937,  This made subtraction - for the first time - just as easy as addition, on a key-actuated calculator.  By operating the subtract key, an amount in the front dials is directly subtracted from the rear dials.  This feature filled a long-felt need for a simpler and faster method of handling deductions from an accumulated amount.

Extensive Use of Calculator Equipment

The value of calculating machines in use in some of the larger business enterprises exceeds the combined value of all other classes of figuring machine equipment.  As examples, a large automobile manufacturer uses over 1,500 key-actuated calculating machines; two railroads and two mail order concerns each use over 1,000.  these are only a few of many examples.

Every manufacturing concern or wholesaler has calculations in connection with the following:

1. Calculation of wages for payroll purposes.

2. Analysis of wages for costing purposes.

3. Calculation of purchase invoices.

4. Calculation of sales invoices.

5. Other general calculating work.

Banks have a large volume of work for calculating machines in figuring service charges and interest.


Addition is accomplished by merely depressing the keys (large figures) which represent the amounts to be added.  the results appear instantly in the dials - there is no handle to pull, crank to turn or motor bar to depress.

Since the answer appears when the keys are operated, care must be taken to operate the right keys, as errors can only be detected by re-adding the amounts.  Illegible figures are the chief cause of errors; therefore, particular care should be exercised in reading figures.

There are two methods of addition - the full keyboard method and the touch method.

Full Keyboard Method

This is similar to the Short-Cut Method used on Burroughs adding-listing machines. Keys 1-9 are used and two or more keys, often the entire amount, are depressed simultaneously.  This is the preferred method when a small amount of adding is to be done by an operator who is not trained in the touch method.

Touch Method

The touch method is recommended where there is a large volume of adding.  It permits greater speed with the minimum of fatigue because a rapid rhythmic operation is possible and it is not necessary to look at the keyboard.

Only keys 1 to 5 are used.  For 6, the 3 key is operated twice.  the 4 and 3 keys are operated for 7; 4 twice for 8; 5 and 4 for 9.  Seven of the nine figures are added by use of only three keys (3, 4, and 5).


Multiplication represents over 40 per cent of the calculating work in the average office.  It is the chief factor in commercial calculations.  Although multiplication is easy and simple with a calculator, it is exceedingly tedious to multiply mentally hour after hour, using pencil and paper methods.

Simple Multiplication (Right to Left)

Machine multiplication is repeated addition.  The large figures on the keytops are used and all keys for the amount to be multiplied are depressed at the same time. To multiply 278 x 3, 278 is merely added three times.

To multiply 278 x 30, instead of adding 278 thirty times, it is merely moved one column to the left (which multiplies it by ten) and is added three times.

The multiplication of 287 x 33 is merely the combination of the above two steps.

Multiplication from Left to Right

When the product of two factors containing decimals may exceed the capacity of the machine, the multiplication should be made from left to right instead of from right to left.  One figure at a time is dropped from the key factor at the right side of the keyboard.  This may affect the accuracy of the answer two places from the right of the machine.  However, these two places can usually be omitted without affecting the commercial value of the answer.


There is only one rule for subtraction on a Burroughs Calculator. regardless of the combination of figures:

Depress the subtract control key in the column immediately to the left of the amount to be subtracted and then depress the amount, less one, in small figures.


In the average office there is, as a rule, little of no division work during the month. At the month end there is sometimes a small amount of percentage calculations to provide comparative statistics.  Rarely, however, does division work constitute more than 3 or 4 per cent of the total figure work and it is usually less.

Division is merely repeated subtraction.  The answer is simple a record of the number of subtractions made.  The subtractions are made from left to right, just as with pencil and paper method of division.

There are two methods of dividing on the Calculator.  the "cipher method" is somewhat simpler to understand and is necessary in one type of calculation (see next page).  The "trial divisor" method is faster and one less key is held on the keyboard.

Cipher Division

Enter the dividend, beginning n the next to the last column at the left of the machine.  For the divisor, use small figures, less one, and also hold the small cipher in the column to the left of the divisor amount.  If the amount in the dials directly under the divisor is larger than the divisor, subtract repeatedly until it becomes smaller.  Then move the key factor (divisor) one place to the right and repeat the subtraction operations as in the first position.  Continue this process, moving to the right each time the remainder becomes less than the divisor.  Observe the similarity to the lead-pencil method.  As the subtractions are made, the answer, which is the number of subtractions made, is recorded in the dials to the left.  the small cipher which is held to the left of the divisor causes the answer to be separated from the remainder in the dials.