Zu Curt Herzstarks Curta Calculator, dem ersten Taschenrechner der Welt, den er im Konzentrationslager Buchenwald zumindest konzeptionell fertigstellte und der 1948 auf den Markt kam, hatte ich schonmal was vor ein paar Jahren. Aber damals kannte ich die Geschichte hinter der Maschine noch nicht und jetzt hat AT&Ts Techchannel ein weiteres Video von meinem Lieblingsirren Clifford Stoll online gestellt, in dem er diese erzählt.
The Curta was conceived by Curt Herzstark (1902–1988) in the 1930s in Vienna. By 1938, he had filed a key patent, covering his complemented stepped drum, Deutsches Reichspatent (German Empire Patent) No. 747073. This single drum replaced the multiple drums, typically around 10 or so, of contemporary calculators, and it enabled not only addition, but subtraction through nines complement math, essentially subtracting by adding. The nines' complement math breakthrough eliminated the significant mechanical complexity created when "borrowing" during subtraction. This drum would prove to be the key to the small, hand-held mechanical calculator the Curta would become.
His work on the pocket calculator stopped in 1938 when the Nazis forced him and his company to concentrate on manufacturing measuring instruments and distance gauges for the German army.
Herzstark, the son of a Catholic mother but Jewish father, was taken into custody in 1943, eventually finding himself at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Ironically, it was in the concentration camp that he was encouraged to continue his earlier research: "While I was imprisoned inside [Buchenwald] I had, after a few days, told the [people] in the work production scheduling department of my ideas. The head of the department, Mr. Munich said, 'See, Herzstark, I understand you've been working on a new thing, a small calculating machine. Do you know, I can give you a tip. We will allow you to make and draw everything. If it is really worth something, then we will give it to the Führer as a present after we win the war. Then, surely, you will be made an Aryan.' For me, that was the first time I thought to myself, my God, if you do this, you can extend your life. And then and there I started to draw the CURTA, the way I had imagined it."