Replica of first calculator heading back to UK

01 September 2017
Emeritus Professor Garry Tee with the replica of John Napier's promptuary
Emeritus Professor Garry Tee with the replica of John Napier's promptuary

The first mechanical calculator, created by one of the world’s most brilliant mathematicians, the Scot John Napier (Laird of Merchiston, 1550-1617), was replicated by academics at the University of Auckland in the 1970s and is now heading back to Scotland.

Honorary academic Dr Garry Tee and his former PhD student William Francis Hawkins succeeded in translating Napier’s small book Rabdologiae, in which he describes the calculator or ‘promptuary’ and how it works, from the Latin.

Garry and William then asked technicians in the School of Engineering to build it using the specifications from William’s English translation. 

Napier had declared that the 20-digit product of a pair of 10-digit numbers could be produced in one minute using the promptuary; whereas Garry and William found that after a little practice, each could do it in 45 seconds.

Earlier in August, Garry convened a special seminar hosted by the Department of Computer Science to celebrate the transferal of the University’s replica of Napier’s promptuary to Napier University in the UK to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Napier’s death.

Garry said he was delighted it was going back to Scotland to be displayed and admired in its natural home.

Article first appeared in UniNews (September 2017 issue).

Read more about the seminar.

Read more about John Napier.