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Log this: the slide rule's an antique

By Neal McChristy

Solberg1 An abacus and the very first desktop computer - a 1964 Mathatron - are in the collection of antique equipment of Skip Solberg, Arlington, Texas.

But there are many, many slide rules - circular ones, cylindrical ones and of course, the old slide rule that slid out of the pocket protectors of the '60s engineering student and were also the ancestor of the calculator and computer.

"Generally, you have to be over 40 or 50 years old to even know what they are," said Solberg, an Arlington computer systems analyst.

The slide rule's link to office machines brought this comment from Gordon Smith, Oxford, Miss., on his Web site, The Slide Rule Home Page:
"Ever since the invention of the transistor, people have sneered, uncaring, at this workhorse of the sciences. Caught up in the glitz and hype of such slogans as 'Capable of Millions of Operations per Second,' (Oh, yeah, like that matters) people have no more use for these instruments, which perform mathematical functions from simple multiplication to trig and complex numbers, depending on the type you own, quite nicely, thank you very much."

The first slide rule was invented by William Oughtred in 1620 (he has a slide-rule society named after him). John Napier had invented the logarithm and Oughtred put it on two scales sliding against each other.

Solberg2 It was the invention of the "dividing engine," a screw-lathe like device that could mark increments precisely, that made the device able to be mass-produced. Until the early 1900s, the device was used mainly to calculate the alcohol content of alcoholic beverages.

Solberg bought his first slide rule 32 years ago. "Slide rules are becoming the hot collectible right now," he said. He has slide rules of solid brass and a variety of circular ones that place up to 50 feet of scales on the rule.

Solberg also has shows twice a year, including the Antique Science and Technology Show and Swap Meet held April 29 this year and the Slide Rules and Antiques Calculating Devices Convention and Swap Meet that will be October 2000 (for slide rules and calculating devices).

The upcoming spring show is for any type of vintage or antique scientific or technology-related devices, said Solberg.

Solberg recently acquired the Lenwood Museum of Calculation in Dallas,a private museum. The museum is open by appointment and available for people who wish to buy, sell or trade items.

Editor's Note: To reserve space for the April 29 Antique Science and Technology Show at the LaQuinta Inn (in Arlington near Six Flags Over Texas), e-mail Solberg at, or contact him at 717 Salsbury Circle, Arlington, Texas 76014 or telephone 817/467-0368.

Web sites:

The Slide Rule Home Page

Related Slide Rule Stuff

The Oughtred Society home page

Sphere Research Slide Rule Site

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