The first machine that I can remember that was capable of any sort of mathematical calculations was a Burroughs, hand operated, adding machine. It was a strictly mechanical device, and it’s functions were extremely limited. It would add or subtract, but if you wanted to multiply 5 by 15, you would enter 15 and pull the lever 5 times.
It may seem strange to many people that it took so long to develop electrical and electronic calculators. This is really not so strange because the development of all electrical devices was slow, and we were getting along pretty well with what we had. The natural course of events brought on a calculator that operated electrically, however, the only thing electrical about it was the motor that took the place of the lever that entered the numbers. They were still mechanical as far as the calculation was concerned. We didn’t have transistors and micro chips, or whatever it is that they put in these things. We did have vacuum tubes, but we thought that the only thing that they were good for was to operate a battery powered radio, and they were pretty rare in the early 1920’s.
Another thing that might have discouraged the development of electrically operated devices was that the availability of electric service was not all that common or dependable until the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. In fact, it was in the late 1930’s that power lines were first extended into the rural areas of our country, and then not by the existing power companies. Not, that is, until the advent of the REA’s.
The RURAL ELECTRIC ADMINISTRATION was one of FDR’s innovations and it surely made believers of the privately owned utility companies. They did their best to get their lines built before the REA got their service ready, because which ever one got their service in first, got the customer. In many cases the Power Company. would be building on one side of the road and the REA contractor would be building on the other side.
Getting an easement or permission to build on a farmer’s property was no problem because they were all so anxious to get power that they would give easements to both suppliers and take the one that got there first. There are, in fact, still many places where the REA is on one side of the road and the Power Company is on the other. But they have since learned to get along with each other, to the extent that, in some places, you can find both suppliers on the same pole.
Before the REA’s, the Power Companies couldn’t justify building a mile or more of pole line to serve a customer that couldn’t possibly use more than six or eight light bulbs, but when research revealed that, if the farmer were to put an electric motor on the well pump instead of that old Fairbanks Morse gasoline engine, and then put another one on a feed grinder and burn lights most all night in the chicken house to make the hens think that it was still daylight, the load would become very desirable. The REA’s probably deserve more credit for the migration of our population, to the lakes and the interurban areas of our country, than any other one factor.