Vintage TI and HP calculators: Computing icons from the pre-PC era

Pat Thibodeau's article about the Smithsonian ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the handheld calculator is an indication of how much interest there is in these vintage devices. It's not just that people recognize how handheld calculators revolutionized engineering, retail, accounting, math education, and other disciplines. A lot of the interest is driven by nostalgia. For many people in the 1970s, these were the first computers that they had ever touched, and they still have pleasant memories of using them. Check out the responses to Evan Koblentz's blog entry about the 35th anniversary of the HP-35 -- dozens of commenters talked about their fond memories of using early HP calculators, and the impact they had in their classrooms and offices:

I still remember the HP35 and the HP45. One guy sprang for the $395 cost and instantly became the envy of all. No more looking up 10 place sines and cosines in Peter's Tables and no more waiting for someone to finish using the department Wang calculators. The Civil Eng profs banned calculators for use on homework and tests –they loved slide rules--but had to relent because the EEs, the MEs and the physics guys all got them and, all of a sudden, the test problems got so hard you could not do them all with a slide rule. I worked extra hours and bought a HP45 from a mail order house (saving $39 off list price). It arrived the night before the big water quality test, which I aced solely because I had that HP45. Engineering was never the same after that. My HP45 still runs, but the batteries died long ago.  

Others in the thread said that they still used their calculators from the '70s and '80s, including one MIT grad who said he'd be "sunk" if his 21-year-old HP15C calculator failed!

There are a few videos of these old machines on YouTube, including the following clip of working TI calculator -- and the box it came in -- from 1974.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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