Burroughs Adding Machine Company
Glimpses into the Past

History - 1857-1953

by Michael Hancock


The following is a brief historical look at the Burroughs Adding Machine Company and it’s predecessor company, the American Arithmometer Company. The information provides some interesting perspectives on the company and answers a personal question I have always had about the difficulty in finding a specimen of a Burroughs machine that was made prior to 1900. As the text demonstrates few machines were sold in the early years, and the production increased dramatically after the turn of the century.

Burroughs Adding Machine Company traced its founding to William Seward Burroughs who invented and patented the first workable adding and listing machine in St. Louis, Missouri in 1885.

To produce and market his machine, Burroughs and three other men – Thomas Metcalfe, R.M. Scruggs, and W.C. Metcalfe – formed the American Arithmometer Company on January 20, 1886. Thomas Metcalfe was elected the Company’s first president; Burroughs was named vice president, Scruggs treasure, and W.C. Metcalfe secretary. The Company’s product "line" consisted of a single model, a straight adding and listing machine which sold for $475.00.

Charles E. Barney became the Company’s second president in 1891; J.H. Wyeth succeeded him in 1893.

In its first 10 years, the Company grew to include a factory and office staff of 65 employees and three salesmen in the field. During 1895 sales climbed to 284 machines. That same year Burroughs Adding and Registering Company, limited of Nottingham, England was established, and three years later the Company’s first manufacturing facility outside the U.S. was also established at Nottingham. The year 1895 also marked the Company’s first dividend payment. The Company continued to maintain an uninterrupted dividend payment record for over 100 years.

Between 1895 and 1900, sales jumped to 972 machines, the factory and office staff grew to 200 employees, and the sales force increased to 12 men. William Seward Burroughs, who had retired from active participation in the Company because of ill health, died on September 14, 1898. Joseph E. Boyer, a St. Louis manufacturer who had encouraged and supported the efforts of Burroughs for many years, became president of the American Arithmometer Company in 1902.

In 1904 the Company moved to Detroit where it built a plant of 70,304 square feet in a cornfield owned by the Ferry Seed Company. That site, which was then at the cities northern limits, is now bordered by Second and Third Avenues on the east and west and by Burroughs and Amsterdam Avenues on the north and south. All employees and their families were moved from St. Louis to Detroit on a special train in one day. Additions were made to the first factory in 1905, 06, 08, 10, 13, 16.

The following is a chronology:

1857: William Seward Burroughs was born.

1885: The first workable adding and listing machine is built and patented by William Seward Burroughs.

1886: The American Arithmometer Company is formed.

1886: The sales of the first adding and listing machine of the American Arithmometer Company began at a price of $475 each.

1886: Thomas Metcalfe was elected the first president of the American Arithmometer Company.

1891: Charles E. Barney becomes the second president of the American Arithmometer Company.

1895: Total sales for 1895 were 284 machines.

1898: William Seward Burroughs dies.

1900: Total sales for 1900 were 972 machines.

1902: Joseph Boyer became the third and last president of the American Arithmometer Company.

1903: Joseph Boyer secretly enters into an agreement to acquire the Addograph Manufacturing Company, whose director is Hubert Hopkins. The name Hopkins later becomes famous for the Moon – Hopkins machine. James Dalton, was the president of the Addograph Company, who in the same year formed another company, the Adding Typewriter Company which was later called the Dalton Adding Machine Company.

1904: The Company moves to Detroit from St. Louis, with all employees in one day on a special train.

1905: The Company is renamed the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.

1905: Total sales for 1905 was 7,804 machines.

1905: Employment rises to 1,200.

1906: Joseph Boyer attempts to acquire the Adder Machine Company

1906: The Ford Motor Company produces a business car equipped with a special rack large enough to carry an adding machine. The car is known as the "Burroughs Special".

1907: The 50,000th Burroughs machine is manufactured.

1908: Burroughs acquires the Universal Adding Machine Company of Missouri.

1909: Modern Business, an English office journal, says of the Burroughs adding machine it has just purchased: "It brings mechanical skill almost to the point of human intelligence…. it is amazing, but it is true.

1909: Burroughs acquires the Pike Adding Machine Company of New Jersey.

1910: The first "duplex" adding machine, featuring both subtotals and grand totals is placed on the market.

1911: The first subtracting-adding machine is produced. It is regarded as a major forward step for bank postings.

1911: The first model of a Burroughs calculator is introduced. Bearing a striking similarity to the Felt & Tarrent machine.

1912: New salesmen receive 4 weeks training in the Operation and application of Burroughs machines.

1917: Burroughs Adding Machine Company of Canada, Ltd. At Winsor, Ontario (20 miles from Detroit home office) is organized.

1918: Burroughs introduces a deluxe bookkeeping machine priced at $1,150 and equipped with a chain-drive motor return carriage.

1918: Construction begins on a five-floor building adjacent to the main factory in Detroit. This building was later re-built to become the World Headquarters for the Burroughs Corporation in 1966.

1920: A total of 800,000 machines have been sold worldwide and employment has reached 12,000.

1920: Standish Backus is elected president, succeeding Joseph Boyer.

1921: Burroughs purchases the Moon-Hopkins Billing Machine Company of Missouri, and the Moon-Hopkins machine is redesigned and improved. The machine combines an electronic typewriter with a calculating machine. In the service ranks, the "moon" as it was called, was a departure from past numeric only machines.

1924: Burroughs issues stock and are listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

1924: Burroughs establishes major operations in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.

1925: Burroughs introduces the "Burroughs Portable" adding machine, weighing less than 20 lbs. And selling for less than $100. Two hundred a day are produced in Detroit, and 22,000 are sold in the first eight months following release.

1925: Societe Anoyme Burroughs at Bruussels, Belgium is organized.

1925: Burroughs machines are being sold in 60 countries. Special non-decimal machines are being built and used in a variety of applications: by grocers in Petrograd, Russia; by clerks of the East Bengel Railway in India and the DeBeers diamond mines in Africa; and by Argentine cattle auctioneers.

1926: The one millionth Burroughs machine is produced.

1926: A new series of Burroughs bookkeeping machines is introduced. It included a "duplex subtractor" and "multiple register".

1928: Burroughs introduces the first electric key-actuated calculating machines.

1928: Deutsche Burroughs Rechenmaschinen, A.G. at Berlin, Germany is organized.

1929: Burroughs establishes major operations in Australia, Austria, Denmark, New Zealand, the Philippine Islands, South Africa, and Switzerland.

1930: Burroughs introduces a new "Pass Book Machine" for savings bank bookkeeping.

1931: Burroughs introduces the "Burroughs Standard Typewriter", to be introduced at national business shows in New York and Chicago.

1933: The first duplex electric calculator is released.

1935: The Burroughs product line now includes 450 standard models.

1938: A major manufacturing facility in Plymouth, MI is completed and occupied.

1940: Burroughs begins manufacturing a "service model" portable adding machine for the government in khaki color. Later production carries and Army green with special keyboard features for dust and spark protection.

1942: Burroughs production of machines, like automobile production, is now restricted to the needs of the Army, Navy, lend-lease program, and war contractors.

1944: Burroughs is awarded an Army-Navy "E" for outstanding achievement.

1946: Burroughs efforts are again directed toward the commercial business machine market. 46 new models are introduced in this year.

1947: The Burroughs "B" trademark is adopted.

1948: The Company’s revenues exceed $100,000,000 and it’s bookkeeping machines are used by an estimated 14,000 banks.

1949: Burroughs acquires Mittag & Volger and Acme Carbon & Ribbon Company.

1949: Permanent facilities are established for electronic research and development in the Philadelphia area.

1950: The first Sensimatic account machine with programmed control panel is released. It is considered the greatest advance in accounting machines in 25 years.

1951: Burroughs Electronic Accounting Machine, named BEAM, begins development. It is the first reach toward computer development at Burroughs.

1952: Burroughs builds an electronic memory system for the ENIAC computer.

1953: The Company’s name is changed from the Burroughs Adding Machine Company to the Burroughs Corporation.


13 years later, in 1966, the Burroughs Corporation hired me as a Field Engineer. At the time I was hired we still used the name Burroughs Adding Machine Company frequently and my assignment in downtown Oakland, California included hundreds of the portable adders (still in production), many of the new 10-key adders (in production), hundreds of key-driven calculators (still in production), and a number of old and new bookkeeping machines. There were a very few old style key-driven calculators in my territory as well as a few Moon-Hopkins machines and the Burroughs version of the Pike Visible, now called the Class 3.

Michael Hancock
Afterall Antiques
Brentwood, California

Copyright @1998 Michael Hancock

January, 1988

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