Calculator blasts from the past

One of the real treats of the ICTCM was the Saturday 8:00 AM session titled “Three Decades of Handheld Devices: How Mathematics Teaching Changed Along with Them” given by John Kenelly. Prof. Kenelly has a long history of involvement in the development of calculator technology, and he gave a fascinating talk full of good thoughts on the direction of handheld technologies today, war stories from the past, and good jokes. (Example of the latter: “Getting a spreadsheet to work on a calculator is like getting a dog to walk on its hind legs — it can be done, but it ain’t pretty!”)

I will try to say more about Prof. Kenelly’s ideas about the future of handheld technologies in a later post, but for now I wanted to share one of the really cool parts of his talk — the calculators themselves, some of which are now antiques. He had a bag full of these old-school devices (some of which are less than 10 years old but still old-school) which he generously let us paw over.

Here is a Hewlett-Packard HP 35, the world’s first handheld scientific calculator, from 1972. Check out that red LED display and, in contrast with the NSpire, the sheer paucity of keys on the keyboard:


Here’s a rare example of a Casio fx7000, from 1985 — the world’s first handheld graphing calculator.


I was downright startled to learn that sitting right across the aisle from me at this talk was Hideshi Fukaya, the lead engineering on the development team for the Casio fx7000 and the person rightfully considered to be the inventor of the graphing calculator.

Moving ahead up the timeline, here is a Casio Cassiopeia. More of a palmtop computer than a calculator, and it ran Windows CE. Anybody remember good old WinCE and why that abbreviation was particularly apt?


I guess I am just a sucker for old-fashioned calculators.

Aside: I’d love to do a spreadsheet in which one column has the year in which a calculator was made and another column has the number of buttons on the calculator, and run a regression analysis on it.



Filed under Calculators, Educational technology, Geekhood, Technology

5 responses to “Calculator blasts from the past

  1. I suppose the TI-Nspire would classify as an extreme outlier on your statistical analysis.

  2. I have an HP-15C on a shelf in eye-sight. Needs batteries. I should get it powered back up.

    And what number were those TI’s with the red displays that you could turn on by pushing +-*/ all at once? Or was that turn off?

  3. Tony King

    There are many calcultor collectors worldwide – I am one of them!Most collect only the old ones with the red LEDs or blue-green VFDs, but I also collect scientific calcs.

    I am really looking forward to the rest of this article – Thank you very much for the interviews!

  4. “Here’s a rare example of a Casio fx7000, from 1985”

    Wow! That gave me a start. I have that exact calculator (fx7000G) sat right by me on the desk now at work. Got it for my 16th birthday in 1991, and still going strong. Great calculator, even if I don’t exactly stretch its capabilities these days. 🙂

    When you say “rare”, does that mean that (ahem) it might actually be worth some money? Not that I’d dream of selling it, of course (as people say on Antiques Roadshow)…

    Somewhere at home I have one of my most treasured possessions from childhood: a Sinclair Enterprise programmable calculator. Was still working last time I looked at it, and I still have the books of programs (ought to use if for calculating my mortgage payments!).

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