It’s finally here. The post you’ve all been waiting for.
The Adding Machine Post.
First of all, how did I even know what day the adding machine was patented in 1888? This doesn’t seem like information that is likely to come to me in the middle of a dream. That’s because that’s not how I found out about the day the adding machine was patented.
I found out because I – [insert big sigh here].
Okay. By day, I’m the activities coordinator for a group of residents at an assisted living facility. Okay? So, I have an activity we do every day after exercise called “On This Day in History.” I look up historical events and famous birthdays that my residents are likely to recall in some way, and then I read this information to them, sometimes with photographic supplements.
“On This Day…” gives my residents a chance to talk about events from their past that they might remember, historical or otherwise, and it gives me the opportunity to be a little pedantic, which I have been making conscious efforts to avoid, but sometimes it feels good to tell people something you know.
Anyway, on 21 August one of the events from history that was listed with all the others from that day was the patenting of an adding machine invented by William Seward Burroughs.
Hmmm. Where have you heard that name or one like it? Yes, that’s right. Very good: there was a writer named William S. Burroughs who born in Missouri in 1914, and who died in Kansas in 1997. He loved cats and heroin and guns and having sex with other men. (Sometimes much, much younger males; let’s not go there.) He was good friends with all the Beat writers, but was a little more buttoned down than the rest of them – I always think of him in a three-piece suit with a necktie knotted right against his throat. He actually looked more like an accountant than a junky writer.
Which brings us back to the invention patented by his grandfather (pictured below).
Suffice to say, the Burroughs family of St. Louis had a lot of money. It was this money that afforded William Seward Burroughs II a spot at Harvard, from which he graduated in 1936, as well as the freedom to pursue writing and shooting up heroin and sex-seeking holidays in Tangier. This money, with what he made as reporter, also financed a fateful stint in Mexico City.
Yeah. He was trying to knock a shot glass off his wife’s head with a bullet but he accidentally killed her. It was 1951.
According to Burroughs’s Wikipedia entry (and the lazy among us [this means: me] must always trust Wikipedia):
Burroughs spent 13 days in jail before his brother came to Mexico City and bribed Mexican lawyers and officials to release Burroughs on bail while he awaited trial for the killing, which was ruled culpable homicide…Burroughs reported every Monday morning to the jail in Mexico City while his prominent Mexican attorney worked to resolve the case. According to James Grauerholz, two witnesses had agreed to testify that the gun had fired accidentally while he was checking to see if it was loaded, with ballistics experts bribed to support this story…Upon Burroughs’ attorney fleeing Mexico in light of his own legal problems, Burroughs decided, according to Ted Morgan, to “skip” and return to the United States. He was convicted in absentia of homicide and was given a two-year suspended sentence.
But what does all this have to do with an adding machine?
Nothing! Except that Burroughs probably would have just died in a Mexican prison without writing another article or book if not for all that sweet, sweet adding machine money. And though Burroughs’s family’s company was formed to market and sell the adding machine, they branched out into all kinds of other office products.
Also according to Wikpedia:
“T]he biggest shift in company history came in 1953: the Burroughs Adding Machine Company was renamed the Burroughs Corporation and began moving into computer products, initially for banking institutions.”
Then in September 1986, “Burroughs Corporation merged with Sperry Corporation to form Unisys.”
And why am I just finishing a post in October that I started on or near 21 August of this year?
Despite the big build-up to this post, I think it might be because I forgot about it. Who knows?