Joy of Museums Virtual Tours

Virtual Tours of Museums, Art Galleries, and Historic Sites

First Electronic Calculator Prototype

First Electronic Calculator Prototype

First Electronic Calculator Prototype

The First Electronic Calculator Prototype was developed by Thomas E. Osborne for Hewlett-Packard in 1964. This prototype changed our world as it introduced cost-effective personal calculation devices, which eventually led to the personal computer and then smartphones.

Osborne built the logic and memory for his prototype calculator into a separate box (on the left in the photo) to allow the prototype keyboard and display unit (as displayed on the right in the photo) to assume the proposed size he believed would represent the final production product.

He did this to ensure that decision-makers would not get the impression that the calculator would be huge and unsellable.

This prototype gave birth to Hewlett Packard 9100A, the first programmable calculator (computer). Following the 9100A success, Hewlett-Packard introduced the first desktop scientific calculator and the HP 35 pocket scientific calculator.

Hewlett-Packard 9100A

The Hewlett-Packard 9100A  was an early programmable calculator/computer introduced in 1968. HP called it a desktop calculator because Bill Hewlett determined:

“If we had called it a computer,
it would have been rejected by our customers’ computer gurus
because it didn’t look like an IBM.
We, therefore, decided to call it a calculator,
and all such nonsense disappeared.”

An advertisement for the 9100A in 1968 contains one of the earliest documented use of the phrase “personal computer.”

An engineering triumph at the time, the logic circuit was produced without any integrated circuits, the assembly of the CPU was entirely produced in discrete components.

With CRT readout, magnetic card storage, and printer, the price was around $5,000 ($37,000 today).

The 9100A was the first scientific calculator capable of trigonometric, logarithmic (log/ln), and exponential functions.

It also introduced the beginning of Hewlett-Packard’s long history of using Reverse Polish notation (RPN) entry on their calculators.

Programmable calculator

Programmable calculators can automatically carry out a sequence of operations under the control of a stored program, much like a computer.

The first programmable calculators used punched cards for program storage. Later, hand-held electronic calculators stored programs in read/write memory.

Before the mass-manufacture of inexpensive dot-matrix LCDs, programmable calculators usually featured a one-line numeric or alphanumeric display. 


The Hewlett-Packard Company, commonly shortened to HP, was an American information technology company headquartered in Palo Alto, California, that developed various hardware and software products for the IT industry.

The company was founded in a one-car garage in Palo Alto, California, by Bill Hewlett and David Packard in 1939 and initially produced a line of electronic test and measurement equipment.

The HP Garage at 367 Addison Avenue is now designated an official California Historical Landmark and is marked with a plaque calling it:

the “Birthplace of ‘Silicon Valley.'”

In 1999, the Hewlett-Packard Company spun off its electronic and bio-analytical test and measurement instruments business as Agilent Technologies.

It merged with Compaq in 2002 and acquired EDS in 2008. In 2015, the company spun off its enterprise business to Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Hewlett-Packard retained the personal computer and printer businesses and was renamed HP Inc.

First Electronic Calculator Prototype

  • Title:                     First Electronic Calculator Prototype
  • Date:                    1964
  • Developer:           Thomas E. Osborne
  • Company:            Hewlett-Packard
  • Country:               United States
  • Museum:              National Museum of American History

First Handheld Calculator

A Tour of the National Museum of American History

Evolution of the Calculator 2,000 BCE – 2020 | History of Calculator

A Tour of Washington, D.C. Museums

Hewlett-Packard 9100 – Computer Calculator For Math And Science

Interview with Tom Osborne, inventor of the desktop scientific calculator


“The biggest competitive advantage is to do the right thing at the worst time.”
– David Packard


Photo Credit: Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Popular this Week

Museums, Art Galleries & Historical Sites - Virtual Tours
Japanese Proverbs, Quotes, and Sayings
Greek Proverbs, Quotes, and Sayings
Ancient Artifacts - Virtual Tour
Korean Proverbs, Quotes, and Sayings
Russian Proverbs and Quotes
Ancient Egyptian Art and Artifacts - Virtual Tour
Christian Art and Biblical Paintings
Mesopotamian Art and Artifacts - Virtual Tour
Mexican Proverbs, Quotes, and Sayings