LS Place Home

08/23/2002

Bowmar Brain

Go On, Go Home
Next?
Last?
Send Me Love

Since my dad's death, my mom has been going through all his stuff. My father was the ultimate pack rat. He was a guy who kept stuff. All the stuff he ever came in contact with it seems. Today my mom watched Annabel while Gen took Jake and Bobby to a production of Charlotte's Web. And my mom dropped off a little surprise for me.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the Bowmar 901 B Calculator.


Click for larger image.

And with my dad being the pack rat that he was, the box also included the original charge card receipt.


Click for larger image.

For those of you not familiar with the advent of the personal electronic handheld calculator, let me point out a few things. This model 901B was the first model that Bowmar came out with, indeed it was one of the first calculators being release in September of 1971. It had four functions. You could use it to add, subtract, multiply and divide. And that was it. The display 8 digits and LED which is a fancy acronym for Light Emitting Diode, but really means "funny red numbers that are almost illegible."

My dad, being both a geek and Mr. Cutting Edge when it came to technology was only able to withstand the temptation for only two months before running out to buy one. The date on the charge slip puts the date at 11/21. The retail cost for this marvel of the technology age was $119.95. But if you can make out some of the detail on the charge slip, you notice a couple of strange things. First of all, Dad went out to the local Stix, Baer & Fuller which was the department store in St. Louis at the time. They are now part of Dillards, but I don't know the how or why that happened. But the really interesting things involve the tax. The handwritten slip shows the tax (sales tax, I assume) on $119.95 to be $4.76. My first thought is "how did the salesperson figure it out? Did they use a calculator? But then I realize that this was 1971. There were no salespeople in the politically correct sense that we know it. It was either a salesman or a salesgirl. Nice, huh? Anyway, putting my sexist conclusions aside, what percentage of 119.95 is 4.76? Unless I had having a complete brain freeze and have forgotten the correct way to calculate percentages, the applicable tax rate here is 0.039683201333889120466861192163401. God, I hope the person used some type of calculator for that.

Retail plus tax brings this transaction to a grand total of $124.71. That was a lot of money in 1971. Lets use a convoluted calculation to see just how much money my dad spend on the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide. A quick search of the Internet shows that a gallon of gas in 1971 was 36 cents. So the total cost to fill the gas tank (21.5 gallon capacity) of my truck in 1971 is $7.74. Divide that cost of a tank of 1971 gas into the cost of a brand new Bowmar 910B and I could have filled my gas tank 16.11 times instead of getting rich, creamy, LED goodness. Now let's move to today. If a gallon of 2002 vintage gas costs roughly $1.39 then it costs $29.89 to fill my tank. Multiply that number by 16.11 fill ups and you get $481.44. That's a lot of money to spend away when you've got a perfectly good, low-tech slide rule hanging on your belt. I wonder how my dad explained it to my mom.

But the real shock isn't my poorly constructed gas equivalency test. The real test is 1971 calculator v/s 2002 calculator. This Office Depot calculator only costs $3.99 and throws in percentage, square root and memory functions to boot. Although even this isn't the worst. You can fill out a credit card application in the mall and they'll give you a calculator that is more powerful than the ole Bowmar Brain. Plus solar powered. Where was THAT in 1971?

Anyway, it's a little part of my dad that I can keep in a box and look at from time to time. Everything about this thing is so him that it is comforting just to have it.