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Answered 2009-02-12 16:18:26

Stepped Reckoner

In the 1670s, German Baron Gottfried von Leibniz took mechanical calculation a step beyond his predecessors. Leibniz, who entered university at fifteen years of age and received his bachelor's degree at seventeen, once said: "It is unworthy of excellent men to lose hours like slaves in the labor of calculation, which could be safely relegated to anyone else if machines were used."

Leibniz extended Blaise Pascal's ideas and, in 1671, introduced the Staffelwalze / Step Reckoner (aka the Stepped Reckoner), a device that, as well as performing additions and subtractions, could multiply, divide, and evaluate square roots by a series of stepped additions. Pascal's and Leibniz's devices were the forebears of today's desktop computers, and derivations of these machines, including the Curta calculator, continued to be produced until their electronic equivalents finally became readily available and affordable in the early 1970s.

In a letter of March 26, 1673 to Johann Friedrich, Leibniz described its purpose as making calculations "leicht, geschwind, gewiß" (sic), i.e. easy, fast, and reliable. Leibniz also added that theoretically the numbers calculated might be as large as desired, if the size of the machine was adjusted; quote: "eine zahl von einer ganzen Reihe Ziphern, sie sey so lang sie wolle (nach proportion der größe der Machine)" (sic). In English: "a number consisting of a series of figures, as long as it may be (in proportion to the size of the machine)".

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