This Monster Grew
This NCR was displayed at an exhibition on the evolution from typewriters
and calculators to computers at the
National Museum of Science and Technology in Madrid in February last year.
It's a direct descendant of a small three-bank portable typewriter designed by Halcolm Ellis in 1902.
This 1962 National Cash Register design was the first not to reference
Halcolm Ellis's original 1909 "adding typewriter". Instead, it referenced a NCR patent issued on this day (October 26) in 1943 (below),
which in turned referenced Ellis.
Halcolm Gordon Ellis's 1925 passport photograph, This taken was the year he travelled to France to oversee the manufacture of the MAP typewriter outside Paris. He died while he was there, aged 57.
Five-and-a-half years ago there was a brief exchange on the Yahoo online typewriter forum between two the sharpest minds in the typewriter collecting world.
Richard Polt drew attention to a National Cash Register Company combination typewriter-adding machine for sale on the French eBay. In less than hour, Peter Weil had replied, “Richard, I think this design is an earlier, very rare one that was made under the inventor's name-Ellis? NCR must have bought it.”
Mr Weil was, of course, correct on all points.
Richard went on to point out that there was a page devoted to the machine in Thomas A.Russo’s Mechanical Typewriters. He quoted Russo: “The design strategy of the developers of the Ellis was to provide two separate machines (adding and typewriting) under one frame. Each performed entirely independent of the other. ... While the actual typing on the typewriter is a manual operation, the carriage return and adding machine stroke mechanisms are electrically driven by an attached motor.
"The Ellis Combination Duplex Model originally sold for approximately $1275 and was not considered expensive for that period. The Ellis adding machine and typewriter was the invention of Halcolm Ellis, a resourceful and talented inventor. He subsequently developed the French MAP typewriter.”
Richard added that $1275 was $28,000 in today's money (from his experience in checking the preface to my last typewriter book, Richard knows he’s a lot better at working out these things than I am.)
Anyway, back to Mr Ellis, whose typewriter designs were not confined to the MAP (or to the Ellis "adding typewriter", for that matter). Nor were they confined to that period of 1908-17 during which Ellis was trying to perfect the "adding typewriter".
As far back as 1902 Ellis, while living in Attleboro, Massachusetts, had patented a small three-bank portable which, if it had been made, would surely have been a challenger to the Rose-Corona 3 folding typewriter. Indeed, given the patent was issued in 1904, it might well have beaten the Rose folding typewriter to the purely portable punch, by as much as three years!
It wasn’t made because the Massachusetts banker who was funding Ellis’s projects died. Ellis returned to St Louis, his portable typewriter dream in tatters.
The Ellis portable looks remarkably like the “Fox Baby”, which did attempt to challenge the Corona 3 (in 1917) – except, of course, for the down-folding carriage concept.
Ellis wrote, “The object of this invention is to provide a visible-writing type-bar machine of the utmost simplicity, very compact and easy to assemble ... This machine is neither a front-strike nor, strictly speaking, a top-strike writing-machine. The typebars swing through an angle of 90 degrees from a position of rest at 45 degrees to the horizontal through the vertical and to the position of 45 degrees to the horizontal at the printing-point.”
Possibly discouraged by the unforeseen events which overtook his own concept of a three-bank portable – including the Rose and then its off-shoot the Corona 3 making such an impact on the market – Ellis moved on to other typewriter designs.
Even before applying for a patent for his portable, Ellis had been working on the “Arithmograph” for the American Arithmograph Company of New York, where Ellis had succeeded William H.Pike as draughtsman. The American Arithmograph Company had been established in St Louis in 1886 by William Seward Burroughs, Thomas Metcalfe, Richard M.Scruggs and William Pye.
Ellis’s Arithmograph was, he said, “a machine about the size of an ordinary type-writing machine and of much the same general appearance; and it is intended to perform all the functions of a type-writing machine and of an arithmometer or recording-calculator and perform these functions not only separately but conjointly.”
Ellis's famous "adding typewriter" patent No 1197276 of 1909 (issued 1916), the benchmark for all NCR designs until 1943.
This concept to provide the main thrust of Ellis's future inventing career. Ellis broke with the AAC and formed the Ellis Adding Typewriter Company in 1905, and in 1909 he refined his “Arithmograph” with his most critical patent, No 1199276, which was applied for in 1909 and issued in 1916. This was for the Ellis Combined Adding Machine and Type Writer. The patent expired in 1930 and from that year until 1959, many teams of National Cash Register design engineers, most of them led by Raymond A.Christian, constantly referred back to it as they developed what would become the monster at the top of this post.
But in 1919 Ellis returned to an out-and-out typewriter and designed what would become the MAP.
Ellis's MAP design of 1919
Arnold Betzwieser Collection
Quite how this machine got from a drawing board in Newark to a firearms factory France is not known.
The MAP typewriter was made by Manufacture d'Armes de Paris from 1921 and decorated on its front with the coat of arms of Paris. The machine was manufactured by a subsidiary of MAP, the Société des Machines à écrire MAP, in St Denis (Seine).
On his wonderful website, Arnold Betzwieser explains the special features of the MAP.
Thomas Fuertig Collection
The Ellis Adding Typewriter Company built and marketed its machines from 1911 until 1929. The Ellis was an adding machine designed to print on ledger cards; it was supplied both with and without a typewriter keyboard. In 1913, his “adding typewriter” won Ellis the John Scott Legacy Medal and Premium in the category of “computer and cognitive science”. The award is given annually by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to “the most deserving” men and women whose inventions have contributed in some outstanding way to the “comfort, welfare and happiness” of mankind.
It has often been written that Ellis was in financial difficulty in 1929 and that his company was taken over by the National Cash Register. The truth is, where Ellis was in 1929 he wasn’t having money worries at all – he was four years dead and six feet under, in the Le Pecq cemetery in Seine-et-Oise, buried by undertaker Emil Jeanmonod! He had died in 1925 while visiting the Société des Machines à écrire MAP plant in St Denis (Seine), where the MAP was being made. Ellis and his wife Susan were staying in a hotel at 50 Rue Fontenelles, Sevres, at Seine-et-Oise, west of St Denis, when, at 3am on May 26, Ellis died of a brain hemorrhage, aged 57.
The Ellis Adding Typewriter Company did not die with him, nor did it die for lack of funds four years later. From 1929 NCR kept the Ellis company going under its own name, for a further three years, though the machine appeared as an NCR from 1930. Ellis’s mechanical engineer, Nathan W.Perkins Jr (1861-1932), along with Frederick W.Bernau (1887-1973) and Emil John Ens, kept on making improvements to the Ellis adding typewriter, and assigning them to the Ellis company right up until 1932. It was only when Perkins died that year that Ens started working with Christian at NCR. It was Bernau, by the way, who had designed the electric driver for the machine, while Walter J.Burchett designed the ribbon mechanism in 1913.
What seems more likely is that National Cash Register had waited until the Ellis patents had expired and then pounced.
NCR initially made and sold its version of the Ellis as the National Accounting Machine. But its engineers were busy right through the 1930s and into the war years, changing and improving Ellis’s original design. NCR added National typewriter bookkeeping machines and the updates went on until 1962. At one time, NCR produced 13 different models for various types of accounting and bookkeeping applications. Every one of the 21 NCR applications, going up to 1947, starts with reference to Ellis’s first “adding typewriter” patent.
Halcolm Gordon Ellis was born the son of a lawyer, John P.Ellis, in Springfield, Massachusetts, on October 17, 1867. As a young man he was known to his family by his nickname, Halley. From 1893 he was a patent attorney, working for Knight Brothers in St Louis. He was attorney for De Kernia J.T.Hiett's 1900 adding machine (see chart below). Perhaps one patent he had to witness (below) was a bit too much, so after joining the Office of Jury Commissioner, Ellis took up inventing himself.
His first patent, in 1895, was for a cotton press.
In 1901 Ellis and his engineer friend Perkins designed a small, straightforward adding machine for St Louis "promoter" Charles H.Filley. It was the start of a long and productive partnership between the two. When in 1903 Ellis moved to New York, Perkins followed. Both eventually settled in East Orange, New Jersey.
Women sit amid varied machines made by the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio. This photo was taken in 1955
This chart is from a 2000 paper The Adding Machine Fraternity of St Louis: Creating a Center of Invention, 1880-1920, published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Computer Society in its Annals of the History of Computing. The paper was
written by Smithsonian historian Peggy Aldrich Kidwell.