John Wolff's Web Museum

The Victor Adding Machine Company


Contents

Victor (UK), manual
Victor 600 Series, 1950s

Overview

Victor Badge

The Victor Adding Machine Company was established in Chicago in 1918 to build a "simplified" adding machine designed by inventor Oliver Johantgen. Darby tells how the struggling company faced almost certain collapse until they secured a deposit on a machine from one Carl Buehler, the owner of a successful chain of butcher's shops and meat markets. Buehler soon discovered that the new company was sadly lacking in capital, production facilities, and business experience, and that his promised adding machine was largely "vaporware". However, Buehler recognised the potential of a low-cost machine that could be sold to businesses such as his own, and agreed to bankroll the company and assist in getting the project off the ground. He was quickly elected President of Victor, soon becoming the majority stockholder and installing his eldest son A.C.Buehler as manager.

The Buehlers' approach to the adding machine business was much the same as to their meat business. Their aim was to produce a basic but good-quality product, to be sold in quantity at low margins to the broadest possible market. The machines would be sold primarily to small businesses, factories, and shopkeepers rather than banks and insurance companies. Under the Buehlers' guidance Victor produced its first non-printing machines in 1919, an extended printing version in 1921, a machine with direct subtraction in 1928, and an improved design with an optional electric motor drive in 1931. The company turned a profit in 1922, and built its 100,000th machine in 1926. Victor hired inventor Max Garbell to develop a low-cost typewriter in the late 1920s, but the project was unsuccessful and was discontinued at the start of the depression.

Carl Buehler died in 1932, leaving ownership of both the meat and the adding machine businesses in the hands of his four sons. A.C.Buehler became President of Victor and steered the company through the depression years, finally becoming sole owner when the family businesses were divided in 1945. Darby tells how Victor attempted to maintain employment during the depression by working 4-hour days, and providing Buehler Bros meat to the factory at wholesale prices. Buehler himself took a 50% pay cut - an example that has some relevance today. The Buehler family were very active in their local communities, and made many substantial contributions to schools, hospitals, and local organisations. Their philanthropic foundations are still active in the Chicago area.

Oliver Johantgen also died in 1932, leaving the company without its chief designer. Max Garbell filed several patents for different calculator mechanisms in the mid-1930s, but these seem to have had no more success than his typewriters. As business improved after the depression, Victor recruited Thomas O Mehan as head of research and development. Mehan had earlier designed the "Brennan" calculator, which became very popular when re-launched as the Remington "Monarch". Beginning in 1937, Mehan produced new designs for a series of small, light, and simple calculators which formed the basis of Victor's extensive product range into the 1970s.

In the early 1950s Victor engaged the services of Oscar Sundstrand as a consultant. Sundstrand had recently retired from a 30-year career as chief designer of the Underwood-Sundstrand adding and accounting machines. Sundstrand developed the Mehan Victor into a fully-automatic four-function machine which formed the high end of the "Custom" and "Premier" series.

Victor production line, Chicago, 1967 During the 1950s Victor began to diversify into other areas such as cash registers, toys, and sporting goods. The company moved to public ownership as the major partner in a "merger" with the Comptometer Corporation in 1961. By the mid-1960s the Victor Comptometer Corporation was producing more than 75 basic models, and claimed 25% of the American calculator market. The illustration opposite shows part of the production facilities in Chicago in 1967. (Click to enlarge).

Victor had decided against entering the computer business in the 1950s, but began work on electronic products during the 1960s, particularly in the areas of data collection and printout devices. The company began selling small-business computers and calculators from Nixdorf in Germany in the late 1960s.

The company suffered a major setback with the collapse of the mechanical calculator market in the early 1970s, and the death of A.C.Buehler in September 1971. Buehler's son A.C.Jnr became chairman until the company was sold to Walter Kidde & Co. in 1977. The various parts of the Victor business have been divided, restructured and sold many times since. The descendants of the business products division are still in business as Victor Technology, and are still selling electronic calculators under the Victor name.



The Johantgen Victor.

Oliver Johantgen Oliver Johantgen (1875-1932, photo ex Darby) was a small-town inventor who took an interest in adding machines from an early age. In 1906 he filed the first of a series of patents for a ten-key printing calculator using an early pin-box mechanism. The patent assignments and the single-row keyboard suggest that the machine may have been intended for the ill-fated Duntley adding typewriter. In 1915 Johnatgen designed a new machine with a 2-row keyboard, and in 1916 (at age 41) he was able to obtain financial backing for his new inventions. He worked full-time for the next 2 years to develop the machine that was to become the first Victor - the Model 110.

The Victor 110 was a full-keyboard non-printing machine with a front-mounted register, which reached the market in 1919. In 1921 the machine was extended at the rear to include a printing mechanism and was released as the 200 series. An improved 300 series appeared in 1923, and a machine with direct subtraction in 1928. The 300 series grew to include 6, 8, or 10 column machines, versions for fractions, time, or feet and inches, and export models for Sterling currency. The 500 series with an optional internal motor drive appeared in 1931.

All of the Johantgen Victors were based on his original Model 110 of 1918. His aim was to "promote simplicity of construction and reliability in operation, without requiring that extreme accuracy be obtained in the formation or finishing of the parts". The machines were built on a fairly large scale, which contributed to their exceptional durability.

Johantgen died in 1932, but his machines continued in production as Victor's "heavy-duty" models until the 1960s.


 

Victor 500 Series Victor 500 Series, S/N 387213
10 columns, manual, Sterling currency (with farthings)
Dimensions: 285W x 455D x 250H
Weight: 16.0kg
Manufactured: Victor Adding Machine Company,Chicago, 1931 to 1960s

This 500-series Victor is a 10-column manually-operated machine for Sterling currency (with farthings). The external appearance is largely unchanged from the 1921 model, apart from the arrangement of the function keys. The 500 series has Total, Sub-total, Subtract, and Non-add keys next to the operating lever on the right-hand side, with Error and Repeat keys on the left. The machine performs direct subtraction, but shows complements rather than true values when the balance goes negative. There is a large visible register at the front of the machine which displays the running total. The printing mechanism has 10 columns plus symbols, and can be fitted with a two-colour ribbon to show the totals in red.

The Johantgen machines are simply and solidly built, with a pressed-metal base and painted cover. The handle on the operating lever is made of wood. Victor felt that the machines were so reliable that they had no need to establish a service department until there were over 100,000 in use. The machine illustrated was built in Chicago in 1947, and was used in the accounts department of a laundry and dry-cleaning business in a large country town in South Australia. This unrestored machine is still in perfect working order after more than 60 years.

Detail of "Durabilitas" crest above keyboard(29kb)
Rear-panel label (29kb)



The Mehan Victor.

Thomas Mehan Thomas O Mehan (photo ex Darby) was an engineer from Chicago who designed a small, light-weight adding machine in the mid-1920s. The machine was named the "Brennan", after businessman Thomas Brennan who financed the manufacturing operation. The Brennan was an 8-column ten-key machine with a visible register and subtraction by complements. The machine went on sale in 1929, just in time to become an early victim of the depression. The manufacturing rights were sold to Remington, who re-named the machine as the "Monarch" and put it into production at their plant in Norwood, Ohio. Mehan filed a couple more patents for the machine in 1933 and 1935 (giving his address as Norwood), but appears to have relinquished the Monarch development to Walter Landsiedel of Remington in 1936. Mehan returned to Chicago in 1937, and was appointed as head of Victor's research and development department in 1938. He remained with Victor until his death in the mid-1950s.

The first Mehan Victor was a very small, light, and simple add-only machine with a five-column keyboard. It was introduced in 1939 and sold for $47.50 - less than half the price of Victor's cheapest machines. In 1940 Mehan modified the design so that the machine could be assembled with either a full keyboard or a ten-key keypad, while retaining the same calculating mechanism and the same external casing. The full-keyboard machines were the 600 series, and the ten-key were the 700. Larger 8-column machines with direct subtraction followed early in 1941. Mehan was reassigned to military research projects when America entered the war at the end of 1941, but he returned briefly to calculators to add a credit balance or true negative total mechanism in 1948.

Although manufactured in the USA from 1939, the Mehan Victors did not reach Australia until after the war years, when Sterling-currency machines were imported from Victor's British agents. As wartime tarrifs and Commonwealth preferences were eased in the mid-1950s, the machines were sourced directly from Chicago. The Victor machines were popular in Australia at the time of the decimal currency conversion (1966), and continued in production into the 1970s. Although there were frequent changes to the external styling, the Mehan Victors are easily recognised by the distinctive function control tabs on each side of the printing mechanism.

In addition to the Victor adding machine line, Mehan also filed a series of patents for larger bookkeeping and accounting machines with multiple registers, split printing, and automatic carriage control. He developed machines which could be controlled electromagnetically, and designed a networking system which could request and receive data from machines distributed around a department store. His electromagnetic mechanisms formed the basis of the later "Digit-Matic" line of modified calculators that were used as print-out devices for early computers and digital electronic instruments. He even filed an illustrative design patent for an electronic calculator in 1947 - 15 years before such a machine became a reality! It is interesting to note that Mehan's last patent (for a remote-controlled accounting machine, filed by his widow in 1955) returns to the same heavy-duty printing mechanism that was used in his first Brennan machine from 30 years earlier.


 

Victor (UK) 600 Series, manual Victor (UK) 600 Series, S/N B/13360
8/9 columns, manual, Sterling currency
Dimensions: 180W x 320D x 170H
Weight: 5.7 kg
Manufactured: Block & Anderson, UK, late 1940s

Tarrif protections imposed after the 1939-45 war led several American companies to establish assembly or manufacturing plants in Britain. Victor entered an arrangement with Block & Anderson, a well-established firm of office equipment supliers, to produce machines for the Sterling-currency market. Most Victor machines sold in Australia in the immediate post-war period were made by (or for) Block & Anderson, rather than by the Chicago factory. They were distributed in Australia by Macdougalls, a major firm of stationers and office suppliers, who also handled the Marchant line of non-printing calculators.

This early 600-series Victor is a manual adding and subtracting machine for Sterling currency (without farthings). The machine has a pressed-metal base and a heavy brown Bakelite cover. The function tabs on each side of the printer are rocked up or down to select the machine functions. They are usually arranged with Total and Sub-total on the right, and Subtract (when fitted) and Non-add on the left.


Victor (UK) 600 Series, electric Victor (UK) 600 Series, S/N EB30246
8/9 columns, electric, Sterling currency
Dimensions: 180W x 320D x 180H
Weight: 7.2 kg
Manufactured: Block & Anderson, UK, late 1940s

A similar 8-column Sterling machine, driven by a small GE universal motor. Some of Victor's "portable" electric machines could be ordered with a mechanism to allow manual operation when away from mains power.

Block & Anderson logo (30kb)


 

Victor 60-60-4, manual Victor Custom, Model 60-60-4, S/N 1328-532
10/11 columns, manual, Sterling currency
Dimensions: 235W x 365D x 180H
Weight: 7.7 kg
Manufactured: Victor Adding Machine Company, Chicago, 1950s

This Model 60-60-4 is a larger 10-column adder and subtractor for Sterling currency. Other models in the "Custom" series were available with ten-key keyboards, electric operation, and true negative totals. The extra function keys (only for Subtract on this manually-operated model) were added by Erhard Lippert in 1951. The machine illustrated was built in the Chicago factory in 1957.

The streamlined die-cast casing for the Custom series was produced by industrial designer Robert Budlong (1902-1955) in 1950. Budlong is best known as the designer of the classic Sunbeam toaster, and for his distinctive work for Zenith Radio and their Trans-Oceanic portables.


Victor 6-83-4, full keyboard Victor Model 6-83-4, S/N 2595-464
8/9 columns, manual, full keyboard
Dimensions: 200W x 340D x 175H
Weight: 5.5 kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, 1960s

This 600-series machine is an 8-column adder-subtractor for decimal currency, in a mid-1960s plastic casing. The name badge shows the stylised "VC" logo of the Victor Comptometer Corporation.


Victor 7-83-4, ten-key Victor Model 7-83-4, S/N 2513-279
8/9 columns, manual, ten-key
Dimensions: 200W x 340D x 175H
Weight: 4.7 kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, 1960s

This mid-1960s 700-series machine is the same as the 600-series above, but fitted with the ten-key numeric keypad.

There were long arguments about the superiority of the various keyboards, ever since Sundstrand introduced the now-familiar numeric keypad in 1914. The ten-key was easier and less intimidating for the casual user, but the full keyboard was definitely faster for a skilled operator (as it was not necessary to wait for the mechanism to step across to the next column). In most cases the choice was simply a matter of personal preference. Most of the adding machine manufacturers were locked into one style or the other, but Mehan's brilliant contribution (from 1941) was to design a machine that could be built with either. Victor's salesmen were urged to "Sell the machine - let the customer have the keyboard of his choice".


Victor Tallymaster 7-7-0 Victor Tallymaster, Model 7-7-0, S/N 2390-488
7/8 columns, manual, ten-key, addition only
Dimensions: 180W x 305D x 135H
Weight: 3.7 kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, 1960s

The "Tallymaster" name was used for Victor's smallest and cheapest machines. This 1960s version is still based on Mehan's original add-only mechanism from 1939, but with 7 columns and a moulded plastic rather than bakelite casing.


 

Victor Tallymaster 37-7-0 Victor Tallymaster, Model 37-7-0, S/N 2607-490
7/8 columns, manual, ten-key, addition only
Dimensions: 195W x 330D x 170H
Weight: 3.9 kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, 1960s

This re-styled Tallymaster from the mid-1960s is essentially the same small add-only mechanism surrounded by a large amount of empty space. The left-hand control tab for the Subtract and Non-Add functions has been deleted entirely, but a Repeat key has been added at the left of the keyboard. The keyboard clearing control has been combined with the pinbox position indicator.

The machine is housed in a portable "decorator-designed" plastic casing which was aimed at extending sales into the domestic market. The case is quite well made, with a metal-cored carrying handle attached directly to the internal mechanism, and a recess underneath to store the operating handle when in transit. The paper roll is fully enclosed, allowing the machine to be set down on its rear end during transport or storage. Two sliding tabs underneath allow the cover to be easily removed to change the paper or ribbon.


Victor Tallymaster 37-57-0 Victor Tallymaster, Model 37-57-0, S/N 3438-064
7/8 columns, manual, ten-key, addition and subtraction
Dimensions: 195W x 330D x 170H
Weight: 4.1 kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, 1960s

This version of the Tallymaster includes direct subtraction, but does not have true negative totals. The left-hand control tab does not have the usual Non-Add position.


 

Victor Tallymaster 37-57-50 Victor Tallymaster, Model 37-57-50, S/N 2602-647
7/8 columns, electric, ten-key
Dimensions: 195W x 330D x 170H
Weight: 5.5 kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, 1960s

A powered version of the portable Tallymaster, with subtraction, driven by a small AC induction motor.

Tallymaster name badge (17kb)


 

Victor Digit-Matic 12-08-121 Victor Digit-Matic Model 12-08-121, S/N 2444-899
8 columns, electric, ten-key, solenoid operated
Dimensions: 205W x 340D x 185H
Weight: 6.95 kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, mid-1960s

As digital electronic instruments and data acquisition systems started to appear in the early 1960s, Victor re-visited Mehan's earlier work on electromagnetic controls to produce the "Digit-Matic" or 1200-series of calculator-based printers.

The Digit-Matic is essentially a mid-60s Victor Custom with a set of electrical solenoids mounted above the keys. The machine illustrated was originally sold as part of a nuclear pulse height analyser from Technical Measurement Corporation, and was used to print the lines of decimal data received from the digital counters. All controls and mechanisms not required for this purpose have been removed from the calculator, including even the accumulators and the tens-carry mechanism. Other versions of the Digit-Matic were available for more demanding functions, including a model which could print binary or binary-coded decimal (BCD) data directly via a mechanical code converter.

The Digit-Matic machines filled an important role in instrumentation and data collection systems until electronic printing mechanisms became available as components in the early 1970s.

Digit-Matic solenoid plate (28kb)
Internal view (28kb)


 

The Sundstrand Victor.

Oscar Sundstrand The Sundstrand family were Swedish immigrants who established a machine tool business in Rockford Illinois in the 1880s. In 1912 G.David Sundstrand filed a US patent for a printing calculator with a ten-key two-row keyboard, followed in 1914 by a much improved version with a 3-row keypad. The Sundstrand 1914 machine is thought to be the first to use the now-familiar keypad arrangement with the numbers in ascending order from zero.

David's brother Oscar (b.1889, photo ex Darby) continued the development of the Sundstrand machines during the 1920s, and remained as chief designer when the calculator business was sold to Underwood in 1927. The machines remained in production until Underwood was acquired by Olivetti in 1959.

Oscar Sundstrand retired in 1949 at age 60, but in 1952 he took up an appointment as a consultant to the Victor Adding Machine Company. Sundstrand worked largely from his home in Connecticut to update Mehan's well-proven adding and printing mechanisms. In 1954 he filed a series of patents for new control mechanisms which provided fully-automatic multiplication and division. These new mechanisms were incorporated into high-end models of the "Custom" series from 1955, and into the later "Premier" series in the mid-1960s. Sundstrand was still working with Victor in 1968.

Article from Victor "Walk and Talk" magazine, October 1952, giving details of the Sundstrand appointment. (100kb)


 

Victor Premier 71-85-4 Victor Premier, Model 71-85-4, S/N 2453-449
10/11 columns, ten-key
Dimensions: 250W x 380D x 205H
Weight: 8.2 kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, 1965-73

This Model 71-85-4 "Premier" from the mid-1960s is a manually-operated adder and subtractor for decimal currency. It includes a credit balance mechanism to provide true negative totals, but is otherwise one of the simplest models in the Premier series.

The characteristic rocking control tabs of the Mehan Victors have finally disappeared, and have been replaced with a set of standard function keys - Non-add, Subtract, Total, and Sub-total on the right-hand side, Repeat and Clear on the left.

In 1966 Victor introduced a new polyurethane detent assembly for the setting pins in the pinbox. The patent document (US 3355099, filed by Walter B Whippo in 1966) waxes lyrical about the properties of this new synthetic material, and how it is superior in every way to the old-fashioned phosphor-bronze detent springs. Unfortunately the polyurethane has turned brittle with age and the spring assemblies have all disintegrated, leaving most of the late-model Victor machines unworkable and (economically) unrepairable. The "old-fashioned" springs in the earlier models are still going strong.

Setting pin with failed polyurethane detent springs (25kb)


Victor Premier 71-85-54 Victor Premier, Model 71-85-54, S/N 3290-920
10/11 columns, electric, ten-key
Dimensions: 250W x 380D x 205H
Weight: 9.4 kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, 1965-73

Premier Model 71-85-54 is a motor-driven adder-subtractor, with a credit balance mechanism for true negative totals. The Add key serves two functions - it adds if a keyboard entry has been made, or takes a total automatically if the keyboard is clear. The fully-automatic models have a set of three control levers for multiplication and division along the left-hand side of the keyboard, but I have yet to find such a machine in Australia.

The machine illustrated was built in November 1967 (dated on the motor), and incorporates the failed polyurethane detent assembly.



The Electronic Victor.

The completion of the first electronic computer (the ENIAC) in 1946 may have inspired Tom Mehan's dream of an electronic Victor in 1947 - almost 20 years before such a machine became a reality. As electronic calculators started to appear on the market in the early 1960s, Victor commissioned the development of a CRT-based calculator (the 3900) using custom integrated circuits from General Micro Electronics. After this proved to be unsuccessful, Victor entered an arrangement with Nixdorf in Germany to sell an electronic printing calculator (the Victor 1500) and a range of early small-business "computers" from 1968.

At the same time, Victor invested heavily in their own electronics department in order to support their involvement with the Nixdorf machines, the Hugin cash registers, and the Electrowriter which they had inherited from the Comptometer Corporation. Victor produced their own CRT-based calculator (the 1400 series) using standard SSI chips in 1969, followed by the 1800-series of LSI-based calculators in 1971, and a fully electronic cash register in 1976. After Victor was sold to Walter Kidde & Co. in 1977 the business products division became a separate company, and was heavily involved with the Sirius microcomputer (also sold as the Victor 9000) in the early 1980s. The descendants of Victor's calculator division are still in business as Victor Technology, and are still selling electronic calculators under the Victor name.


 

Victor Tallymate 85 Victor Tallymate, Model 85, S/N 017436
Functions: ASMD
Technology: MOS-LSI (TMS0105, 1 chip)
Display: 8 digits, 7-segment vacuum fluorescent display
Dimensions: 97W x 230D x 47H
Weight: 580g including batteries
Manufactured: Made in Japan for Victor Comptometer Corporation, Business Products Division, Chicago, 1972.

The Model 85 "Tallymate" from 1972 is a basic four-function calculator in a portable battery-powered case. (It is much too large to be considered a "pocket" calculator). The name pays tribute to the earlier mechanical "Tallymaster" machines, and the name badge carries the Victor Comptometer "VC" logo.

The Tallymate uses a "general-purpose" MOS-LSI calculator chip (the TMS0105) from Texas Instruments, and an early vacuum fluorescent display module from ISE (DP88F). Interfacing and level shifting is provided by discrete components, including 26 individual transistors. The calculator draws about 1.5W from 6 AA batteries or an external 6-9V DC supply. A battery voltage meter is mounted at the top right of the display.

The Tallymate has a large instruction label on the underside, but the operation is entirely conventional. The power switch (left) has a third position for constant "K" mode, while the right-hand switch selects 2 or 3 decimal places or floating-point mode. There are two small LEDs above the display for negative and overflow indicators.

Internal view (36kb)


Victor 1800 Victor 1800 Series, Model 18-1721, S/N 4676-666
Functions: ASMD, trig, log, powers, 1 memory
Technology: MOS-LSI (Rockwell, 6 chips)
Display: 14 digits, 7-segment neon (Panaplex)
Dimensions: 250W x 290D x 130H
Weight: 2.78kg
Manufactured: Victor Comptometer Corporation, Business Products Division, Chicago, 1973

Victor's Business Products Division manufactured and sold a range of attractive and functional electronic calculators under the "Victor 1800" label from around 1971. The machines used a set of LSI processor chips developed by Rockwell in America.

This Model 18-1721 is a high-end "scientific" calculator that was built in mid-1973. In addition to the basic arithmetic functions, it provides trig and log functions and their inverses, powers, square roots, and reciprocals. It operates in degrees or radians, and in common or natural logarithms. There is a single (accumulating) memory register.   More...


Victor Medalist 204 Victor Medalist 204, S/N 9499795
Functions: ASMD, percent, count, 1 memory
Technology: MOS-LSI (Rockwell, 1 chip)
Display: 12 digits, 7-segment vacuum fluorescent display
Dimensions: 215W x 215D x 75H
Weight: 1.2kg
Manufactured: Made in Japan for Victor Comptometer Corporation, Chicago, 1977.

The Victor Medalist 204 is a general-purpose office calculator using a single-chip processor (A4540) that was developed by Rockwell in 1976. The nameplate credits the Victor Comptometer Corporation rather than the Business Products Division, but the "VC" logo does not appear on the machine. A later version of this model (S/N 11600440 from 1981) credits Victor Business Products, which by then had become a separate company. The Medallist calculators retained the style and colour scheme of the earlier machines, but were made in Japan instead of Chicago.

Internal view (1977 version)
Internal view (1981 version)



Resources for further information:


Original text and images Copyright © John Wolff 2007-14.
Last Updated: 25 October 2014

Back to:    Home    Calculating Machines    Printing Calculators