Perhaps the name of the gadget featured in today’s I Remember JFK memory will ring a bell, perhaps not. But I’ll bet that one glance at the graphic will make you go “Oh, yeah!”
I wish I had my usual researched piece to offer you as far as where the Magic Brain Calculator came from, and its manufacturer, Chadwick. But there just wasn’t a whole lot I could find out. But what little I did glean, I hereby share with you.
A Boomer kid’s options for help in making mathematical calculations on the go in the 50’s and 60’s were pretty few. There were slide rules, which were only for the geeky. My oldest brother, who was in college, had one, but I had no idea how it operated.
Then there was the Addiator, manufactured by Addiator Gesellschaft in Berlin, beginning in 1920. They were sophisticated little hand-held mechanical calculators, but not terribly cheap, and once that nasty Nazi uprising took place, not freely available. But by the time WWII was over, they were back on the market, but still not real cheap.
But in the 1950’s, the Japanese factories began cranking out a low-priced version of the mechanical adding machine. Chadwick was the name of the enigmatic company that manufactured them, and they appear to have slid out of sight without leaving a trace behind.
But they did leave a legacy of thousands of Magic Brain Calculators. Durably made from high-impact plastic and aluminum, probably every one of them still exist in their original form, although many are now buried in landfills, awaiting future archaeological discovery.
The little calculators sold for a couple of bucks in dime stores, and were found in many a Boomer home in the 50’s and 60’s. For that matter, many are still buried in various present-day junk drawers, as they were virtually indestructible, and flat enough to live quietly buried by pens, pencils, and paper clips.
I know that we had one in our house. Seven-year-old I was baffled by its actual usage. Did I mention that math is NOT my strong suit? But that didn’t stop me from enjoying playing with the gizmo for hours nonetheless, inserting numerical values, running mysterious calculations, and pulling the wire handle up to clear everything.
If you too were stumped by how to make the Magic Brain Calculator do addition, subtraction, and even multiplication and division, this site has the original scanned instructions. Very cool!
The sheer indestructibleness of the Magic Brain Calculator, combined with its inobtrusive nature, ensures that many thousands still exist. At presstime, there were several on eBay with $9.95 opening bids, and one particularly nice model, with stylus intact, was going for $4.99 with just over a day left.
So if you Boomers still employed in an office want to impress the young punks you work with, pick up a Magic Brain Calculator from eBay, or possibly just dig your own out of the junk drawer. Read the linked instructions and practice making actual calculations, Then, at the next staff meeting, whip out a few figure faster than the youth can get their calculator-equipped cell phones to wake up!