Too Long; Didn't ReadThe simplest form of calculating machine was the Abacus, on which the schoolboys of ancient Greece did their sums. It consisted of a smooth board with a narrow rim, on which were arranged rows of pebbles, bits of bone or ivory, or silver coins. By replacing these little counters by sand, strewn evenly all over its surface, the abacus was transformed into a slate for writing or geometrical lessons. The Romans took the abacus, along with many other spoils of conquest, from the Greeks and improved it, dividing it by means of cross-lines, and assigning a multiple value to each line with regard to its neighbours. From their method of using the calculi, or pebbles, we derive our English verb, to calculate.
During the Middle Ages the abacus still flourished, and it has left a further mark on our language by giving its name to the Court of Exchequer, in which was a table divided into chequered squares like this simple school appliance.
Step by step further improvements were made, most important among them being those of Napier of Merchiston, whose logarithms vex the heads of our youth, and save many an hour's calculation to people who understand how to handle them. Sir Samuel Morland, Gunter, and Lamb invented other contrivances suitable for trigonometrical problems. Gersten and Pascal harnessed trains of wheels to their "ready-reckoners," somewhat similar to the well-known cyclometer.