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Pocket calcuator fit for a Fuhrer.
Curator's Choice: One of the first to be pocket sized... the Curta calculator is at the Museum of Computing.
"Along with early computers, the museum has a large collection of weird and wonderful calculators. One of the most interesting is the 'Curta', a hand held mechanical calculator that looks a bit like a small black coffee mill.
"It's a fantastic device, built with the precision of a Swiss watch and was only superceded when electronic calculators started becoming affordable in the early 1970's. What's most interesting is the man behind it, Curt Herzstark.
"Curt was born in Vienna in 1902 and was arrested by the Nazis in 1943 for 'helping Jews and subversive elements'. He was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp where he worked on his idea for a pocket calculator. When the camp authorities found out about his plans, he was ordered to continue work on it so that the Nazis could present the machine to the Führer as a gift after the successful end of the war.
"Following the end of WWII and the liberation of Buchenwald, he perfected the design and manufactured them in Liechtenstein.
"The Curta was used by contestants in car rallies right up to the 1980s. Even after the introduction of the electronic calculator they were still used in rallies to aid in computation of times to checkpoints, distances off-course, etc., since the early electronic calculators did not fare well with the bounces and jolts of rally racing.
"Contestants who used such calculators were often called 'Curta-crankers'."
Simon Webb - Curator
Museum of Computing
last updated: 03/12/2008 at 16:45