Manufactured early November
The Curta looks like a small metal pepper-mill or coffee
grinder. It is, in fact, a precision instrument which performs
calculations mechanically using no electric or electronic parts.
I can best describe the sensation of turning the crank on a
Curta as being similar to winding a fine 35mm camera. To the
best of my knowledge it is the smallest mechanical calculating
machine ever built.
Invented by Mr. Curt Herzstark of Austria.
How was it invented? Over the years I've heard rumors that Mr.
Herzstark secretly developed the Curta while imprisoned in a
German concentration camp. Apparently this is almost true.
Herzstark was a prisoner at Buchenwald but the camp leaders were
aware of his work and encouraged it. They apparently wanted to
give the invention to the Fuehrer as a victory gift at the end
of the war! Herzstark was given a drawing board and worked on
the design day and night. The camp was liberated in April,
1945 by the Americans. Herzstark
survived as did his revolutionary concept for a miniature
calculator. (More details about how Curt Herzstark ended up in a
concentration camp in a future issue.)
When were the Curtas made? Although several prototypes were
made, the first production began in April,
The last Curta was made in November,
but they were still sold until early
By then, pocket electronic calculators were selling for under
$100 and a precision mechanical instrument like the Curta could
no longer compete.
By Bruce Flamm