The 7 Best Printing Calculators
The Evolution Of Calculation Innovation
Over the next 300 years, incremental versions of mechanical calculators came and went, but it wasn't until the industrial revolution that they gained popularity.
Math has been around for just about as long as sentient humans have. At its heart, the science relies on numbers, and those numbers can be real, like measurements of dimensions and angles, or theoretical, such as complex variables. The interactions between these numbers lead to conventions as straightforward as planning a bed of crops, or as advanced as parsing Einstein's relativity.
Human beings are incredibly smart — we wouldn't have made it this far if that wasn't the case. But while our brains excel at creative problem solving, they're usually not so well-suited to high-level computation. For as long as humans have counted, we've used tools to enhance our calculation skills. Today there are many different electronic devices that help us do math, but like any technology, the calculator comes from quite humble roots.
In the mid-20th century, archaeologists unearthed a few bones from ancient sites that were dated at about 20,000 and 40,000 years old. Called the Ishango and Lebombo bones, respectively, they each sported a unique set of notches, arranged in columns and groups along the side of the piece. At first glance, they appeared to be simple tally sticks, prehistoric record-keeping devices, and to this day some researchers insist that's all they are. Others believe that the notches' groupings are extremely significant, and indicate that these were actually very early calculators. If accurate, this would mean that the first relatively advanced mathematicians lived sometime around the year 40000 B.C.E. or earlier — or about one-fifth of the time since homo sapiens actually evolved.
There's evidence of geometric calculations and designs from several thousand years ago, and many scientists believe that heritage sites such as Stonehenge, as well as certain burial grounds and petroglyphs, utilize circular mechanics that indicate a rudimentary understanding of geometry. Beginning around the year 2000 B.C.E., the abacus saw widespread use, starting in Egypt and spreading outward. It was the next major evolution of the device that would ultimately become the modern calculator. The early 1600s C.E. saw the development of important milestones like Galileo's proportional compass, and Napier's calculating bones, from the unsung, yet historically important genius responsible for introducing logarithmic theory to the mathematical world. Over the next 300 years, incremental versions of mechanical calculators came and went, but it wasn't until the industrial revolution that they gained popularity. The development of vacuum tubes and transistors paved the way for several decades of rapid advancement, eventually leading to the modern calculator.
What's The Point Of A Printer?
The 1950s and 1960s weren't known for lightweight, portable electronic devices, and calculators followed in this tradition. Nonetheless, as soon as these bulky, desktop machines were available, they saw immediate military, business, and finance applications. Cathode-ray tubes and filament lamps evolved into LCD screens, and printed displays advanced in a number of forms. While mechanical printing calculators first came about in the late 1800s, electronic versions proved the perfect lasting companion to the burgeoning field of accounting during the massive, worldwide economic expansion of the 20th century.
Even though integrated digital displays now come standard on almost every calculator, printing varieties still offer the benefit of a permanent record, a must for any professional bookkeeper. A simple, one-line device relies on the user's perfect accuracy and decent memory to make multi-step calculations. With a printer, one look at the last few lines is all it takes to recall particular payment amounts or find input errors. Furthermore, a financier can tear away the relevant string of calculations and store it right alongside a client's file, a bundle of receipts, or a stack of credit card slips. This makes it easy for one or more workers to check their footing (and even cross-check their cross-footing), which goes a long way toward preventing potentially time-consuming and expensive mistakes.
Why They're So Special
Also called adding machines, these devices differ from standard calculators in a few important ways aside from just the printer. They perform considerably fewer functions than today's advanced scientific and graphing calculators, though they do usually have a set of memory controls as well as a variety of finance-related operations. Unlike most pocket calculators, which are small and lightweight, these are generally somewhat large and hefty and always very stable, usually with sturdy, non-slip feet. Their desktop design, coupled with traditionally ultra-responsive and clicky keys, allows skilled number-crunchers to input numbers at high speed with few errors. Also, adding machines most often have buttons dedicated to controlling the printing mechanism, as well as built-in date and timestamps. And because they're designed for financial purposes rather than scientific or educational means, their displays will always refer to values of currency. In fact, many of them feature built-in equations that keep you from making any errors during the tedious currency conversion process.
Still another type of printer mimics the typical point-of-sale receipt printer by simply applying direct heat to thermal paper.
The printers themselves use one of three primary methods of putting marks on paper. Many use a simple ink-roller system, while others use a system called thermal transfer that involves a roll of pigmented, heat-sensitive ribbon and special paper. Both of these come in 1- and 2-color varieties, with black and red typeface often representing positive and negative inputs, respectively. Still another type of printer mimics the typical point-of-sale receipt printer by simply applying direct heat to thermal paper. This type is considered easier to maintain, as it doesn't have ribbons or ink to replace, though the paper is prone to smudges and distortion, and may not hold up as well over time.
Savvy investors, small business owners, and corporate auditors are all likely to need a quality, reliable adding machine, as will anyone knee-deep in taxes. They're not terribly expensive, and the value of accurate, easily verified bookkeeping is hard to overstate. Their long-serving design and generally robust construction ensure that the right choice will prove to be a very worthwhile investment.