Thursday, May 21, 2009

Scientific Calculators: The Good Old Days Are Now

Pictured above is the HP-35, Hewlett-Packard's first pocket calculator and the world's first scientific pocket calculator. The HP-35 was available from 1972 to 1975, and retailed then for $395 (more than $2,000 it today's dollars).

Market studies at the time had shown no market for pocket sized calculators. However, HP co-founder Bill Hewlett began development of a "shirt-pocket sized calculator," and it turned out that the marketing studies were wrong. In the first months orders were exceeding HP's expectations as to the entire market size. 100,000 HP-35 calculators were sold in the first year, and more than 300,000 by the time it was discontinued in 1975, 3 and 1/2 years after its introduction.

The new HP
35s Scientific Calculator was introduced in 2007 to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the HP-35, and it sells today for about $50, or 1/40th the price of the original HP-35 in constant dollars.

HT: Lee Coppock

Update: The calculator used three rechargeable 'AA'-sized NiCd batteries assembled into a removable proprietary battery pack. Thanks to Tseeba for the information.


At 5/21/2009 8:50 PM, Blogger fboness said...

I still have my HP-45. That one is battery powered. I bought it used and stole it for $250.

At 5/21/2009 8:55 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Nothing says nostalgia like a cool, ole slipstick...

At 5/21/2009 9:22 PM, Blogger Ken Braun said...

And today, from the same company, $395 is enough to buy a netbook and have money left over:

At 5/21/2009 9:24 PM, Blogger Ken Braun said...

Excuse me -- I should add that this is an HP mini netbook and you can get it shipped to your home from Best Buy for just under $395.

At 5/21/2009 11:05 PM, Blogger Highgamma said...

I bought a used HP-55 for $25 in 1979. One of the keys stuck, but I was glad to have it.

At 5/21/2009 11:25 PM, Blogger Hot Sam said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/21/2009 11:34 PM, Anonymous Penny said...

Hard to believe we sent men to the moon using slide rules. That's like running a corporate balance sheet with an abacus.

Ever see Chinese kids use an abacus? It's amazing.

At 5/22/2009 1:54 AM, Blogger sethstorm said...

Can't say that's the case for products developed during Fiorina's time (and onward).

I'll stick to my US built HP28S and Singapore built HP48GX. The stuff from Fiorina's era onward is definitely a bad departure from The HP Way.

At 5/22/2009 10:29 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

You gotta wonder who was doing their market analysis. That's like someone going to (whomever made the first cell phone) and saying that there really isn't a marker for portable phones. I mean why would you want to carry a phone around with you when you can just use a pay phone?

I'm still amazed at how many of the old school guys I work with still have their HP calculators from the 1980s. They are true workhorses, though I could never get used to RPN calculators myself.

At 5/22/2009 12:43 PM, Anonymous Bobtrumpet said...

The HP-35 was battery powered. Three AA sized NiCd rechargeable batteries.

At 5/22/2009 1:44 PM, Anonymous tseeba said...

"Notice the electric cord in the picture above, it was not battery operated." Wrong! Reading the Wikipedia entry linked in the post you will find "The calculator used three 'AA'-sized NiCd batteries assembled into a removable proprietary battery pack." Actually, I purchased one of these in about 1974; I thought it was a really good deal, because the price had just been reduced to $295, from the original $395. I can assure you that it did have batteries, as I used it extensively in my college Physics classes (i.e., in the classroom).

At 5/22/2009 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, you had to reconfigure your entry procedure from what you would do logically on paper. We called it "reverse polish notation" and you damned near had to go to school to learn it.

At 5/23/2009 5:07 AM, Blogger sethstorm said...

We called it "reverse polish notation" and you damned near had to go to school to learn it.
Helps if you have a multiple line stack.

As for RPN, there weren't as many issues that it had compared to algebraics at the time.

At 5/24/2009 4:42 AM, Blogger KO said...

HP makes a $40 business calculator that's not RPN, the 10BII.

It should have been the choice for the CFA exam over the TI, but the 12C is so prevalent and they couldn't have 2 from the same manufacturer.

At 5/26/2009 11:21 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Capitalism is an amazing machine.

No, Robert, haven't you gotten the memo?

It's a vast, heartless, and cruel bulldozer running over everyone in its path!!

It is the cause of billions of lifetimes worth of horror, misery, and degradation.

In the last century, it killed upwards from a hundred million people outright.




Did you say capitalism?

Ah. Sorry.

Never mind....

At 5/26/2009 11:28 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

RPN (postfix notation) did require that you shift your thinking processes to match the problem, no question.

That's why it wasn't a problem for engineers and tech types, who do that sort of thing automatically as a part of their job, so the skill is readily accessible, while the average person, not taught anything but infix notation (i.e., "algebraic") had a hard time with the concept.

It wasn't so much that you had to do to school to learn & understand it, you had to unlearn the stuff you learned in school just enough to understand it.

The popular tech literature of the times had plenty of arguments over this topic, describing the merits of RPN over algebraic.

In the end, algebraic won not on merits but on ease of adoption for the common citizen. "Ease of adoption" has won more arguments than merit all through history. It's a large part of M$'s dominance, for that matter.

At 5/26/2009 11:46 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Hard to believe we sent men to the moon using slide rules. That's like running a corporate balance sheet with an abacus.

No IBM 360 ever officially supported by IBM was as powerful, in terms of base CPU and memory, as a 512k Mac. Yeah -- 1985 technology...

(The mainframes of the time did have lots of specialized co-processing setups which makes the comparison slightly apples-and-oranges)

Today's computers constantly do jobs that were not only unimaginable but rather improbable at the time. The Mick Jagger video for Hard Woman, for example, was done using a Cray supercomputer. Now go look at the graphics on any first-person shooter and see what $300 will buy you in place of a multi-million dollar hyper-cooled specialty box.

At 5/26/2009 11:49 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

P.S. it says something about the Cray when you are made aware that wiring in the device was specially color-coded and the lengths specifically cut because of timing delays in electrical signals running around the box were that precise that the length of wires mattered.

And again, now go look at that $300 game box's capabilities.


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