The Adix: Proto-Steampunk Calculator
By James Grahame
The Adix is a mechanical column adder from the early 1900s, manufactured by Pallweber & Bordt in Mannheim, Germany. The brass and aluminum mechanism allows you to add only single columns to three digits with a simple reset mechanism. Still, it offered a real keyboard and was much faster than error-prone hand calculations.
Adix calculators in good condition sell for well over $1000. Part of their charm is that - like steam engines - they're fascinating to watch in action. You get the feeling that you understand intimately how they function, even if you don't really grasp the fine details. The charm of precision engineered mechanics is at the heart of the 'steampunk' movement, although lately the term has been co-opted to mean "modern electronics in a neo-Victorian case." This, on the other hand, shows that the steampunk movement is rooted firmly in the mechanical reality of a century ago.
This machine and dozens like it are on display on Nathan Zeldes' "Possibly Interesting... History of Computing" pages which feature dozens of classic computing devices ranging from the obscure (Correntator slide adder) to the commonplace (Apple Newton).