Commodore’s History in the Adding Machine Business

Jack Tramiel and Manfred Kapp weren’t strictly in the typewriter business even from their earliest business ventures together.  Nearly all of their ventures focused on office equipment generally, rather than typewriters or adding machines specifically.  Shortly after their partnership began around 1954 they purchased an Everest adding machine dealership in New York, and by 1955 they negotiated an exclusive Canadian distributorship for the Everest machines which resulted in them founding Everest Office Machine Company (Canada) Limited on September 21, 1955.  This Everest entity, likewise, was in the business of selling all manner of office equipment and not just adding machines.

The Founding of Commodore

On a business trip to Great Britain in 1958, Jack Tramiel met a man named Erik Markus who was the owner of an English company going by the name Typewriter Sundries Limited. Mr. Markus made mention of a typewriter manufacturer in Czechoslovakia that was looking for reliable distributors for their product.  Thus was founded Commodore Portable Typewriter Company Limited on October 10, 1958.  The company was ostensibly founded to market and distribute Consul typewriters from Czechoslovakia, but even from Commodore’s earliest days, much like prior Tramiel/Kapp business ventures, they were already dabbling in other office equipment including adding machines.

Nisa: The First Commodore Adding Machines

October 3, 1960 Eaton’s Advertisement

The first Commodore-branded adding machine I’m aware of was manufactured by Nisa in Czechoslovakia.  It was a fully mechanical adding machine.  These appear to have been sold in the Toronto area around 1960.  The one pictured below from my personal collection features the “old” Commodore logo on the top side that was known to be in use in 1958 and 1959 and also the “new” cursive Commodore logo on the bottom serial plate that was recorded as having first been used in 1959.  Other examples of this device that I’ve seen contain only the 1959+ cursive Commodore logo.

I’ve not found any other documentation about these Nisa devices, but one must assume these Czechoslovakian devices found their way into an OEM Commodore deal as a result of Jack Tramiel’s Consul typewriter dealings with the Czechoslovakian exporting company, Kovo, around the same time.  It has been well documented that T. Eaton Company was one of Commodore’s significant early typewriter customers, so it is unsurprising that these Nisa devices were seen in an Eaton’s advertisement of the era.

 

Commodore (Nisa) mechanical adding machine photo gallery

 

Willy Feiler Adding Machines

Manfred Kapp made a business trip to Czechoslovakia in late 1960 or early 1961 to visit their typewriter supplier.  Upon his return, Kapp stopped in Paris to visit an exhibition of goods that might have suited Commodore’s business portfolio.  It was here that Kapp met with Erik Markus from Typewriter Sundries Limited, the man who previously connected Commodore with their source for Czechoslovakian typewriters, and who also happened to be the former son-in-law of a man named Willy Feiler.  Mr. Markus introduced Kapp to the “Quick” adding machine: a device that was being manufactured by Willy Feiler Zaehl und Rechenwerke GmbH in West Germany and was newly available for distribution in the North American market.  Jack Tramiel soon negotiated North American rights to the Feiler machines and began selling them with Commodore branding.

“Quick” (Feiler) 6/7 mechanical adding machine photo gallery

“Quick (Feiler) 9/9 electric adding machine photo gallery

Commodore (Feiler) advertisement and an early Commodore pitch to US dealers that featured the Feiler machines

The end of the Feiler era of adding machines at Commodore

The Feiler adding machines became a core part of Commodore’s business in the early 1960s.  Sales were so successful that Jack Tramiel visited Germany and pressed Willy Feiler, the original founder of the company, to increase production.  Mr. Feiler was getting on in years and was not interested in putting any more money into his company to grow it.  Instead, he accepted an offer for Commodore to purchase his company.  The deal was consummated in early 1963 and Commodore Business Machines (Canada) Limited, flush with financing from Atlantic Acceptance Corporation, purchased Willy Feiler in early 1963 for $1,247,893.72.  After Commodore’s purchase of the Feiler plant in West Germany, they set up another plant in Shannon, Ireland to manufacture the Feiler machines.

When Commodore’s primary source of financing, Atlantic Acceptance Corporation, collapsed in 1965, it threw all of Commodore’s business operations into complete disarray.  Commodore ended up selling the Feiler plant to raise necessary capital on April 26, 1966.  This sale would temporarily force Commodore out of the adding machine business.

Ricoh adding machines

In 1966, Commodore’s Vice President of Manufacturing, Thomas K. McGourty, negotiated an OEM deal with Ricoh in Japan to allow Commodore to re-enter the adding machine market.  The first two machines that were introduced were the Commodore 201 and 202.  The 201 was a re-branded Ricoh model that was sold as both a Commodore 201 and Ricoh 201.  The Commodore 202 was purported to be a Commodore exclusive product, but Ricoh-branded versions of it do exist.  The 202 case was designed by Thomas McGourty from Commodore and they were manufactured by Ricoh.

Commodore (Ricoh) 201 adding machine photo gallery

Commodore (Ricoh) 202 adding machine photo gallery

Thomas McGourty’s design inspiration for the Commodore 202 adding machine

Thomas McGourty’s son Larry McGourty tells the story of what inspired his father’s 202 adding machine design:

Dad told me while traveling back to Norfolk from a meeting at Commodore headquarters in New York City he was following a Ford Mustang all the way home. He noticed a detail of the Mustang tail light, it was three protruding elliptic rectangles. He realized that if he used an inverted elliptic square cut out for the keyboard section of the case it would soften the front edge and take away the boxy look of the current adding machine without adversely affecting internal cabinet space. He needed a case sample for a trade show coming up shortly. This was before 3D printing and quick tooling, so I was drafted to help build the prototype case in a couple of days out of thin pieces of sugar pine wood, Nitrostan red putty and thin layers and layers of lacquer paint with lots of wet sanding in between. The picture in the brochure if I recall correctly, is actually the handmade case, not a production case. He used the elliptic rectangle design again on some of the very first handheld calculators made by Bowmar which Commodore OEMed.
The inverted elliptic rectangle/square design worked so well it went on to became an office product design standard you see it again and again especially for calculators. And now you know, it too was a product of ‘Mustang Mania.’

Commodore (Ricoh) 207 adding machine photo gallery

The end of mechanical adding machines at Commodore

Commodore established a relationship with Casio beginning in 1967 and embarked on a program to bring electronic calculators to market.  The last new mechanical adding machine design I’ve seen documented was the model 207 shown above, which hit the market in 1969.  Once sales of Commodore electronic calculators began to take off, the mechanical adding machines were phased out.

Other Commodore adding machines (maybe?)

The above is not a complete listing of every adding machine model ever put to market by Commodore.  It’s intended to be representative of all the major manufacturers and main product lines.  There are many individual models that are not represented.  The remainder of this post will focus on a few adding machines that may have existed but might not have.

Remington Adding Machines

Nov 1961 Macy's Ad

Nov 1961 Macy’s ad

When Commodore expanded to the United States in 1960 they were operating leased retail locations in stores like Macy’s.  In this November 7, 1961 Macy’s advertisement from the New York Daily News, you can see the familiar Feiler “Quick” 6/7 on the top left.  To the right of that, there are two additional Commodore adding machines shown which are physically similar, if not exact, to Remington models of that era.  The Herald-Superior retail locations in Macy’s were well-documented as dealing in the Remington line of products, and Macy’s ads of that era often did feature Remington products even alongside Commodore branded products.

What we see here, however, are purported to be Commodore branded adding machines, not Remington.  Likewise, although not related specifically to this blog post, the Commodore cash registers shown in this ad also appear to be Remington cash registers.

I’ve never seen a Commodore adding machine of this design in the wild.  That doesn’t mean they never existed, though.  If you’ve seen one, have one or have documentation about them, don’t hesitate to let me know!

 

Barrett Adding Machines

Excerpt from Commodore’s 1967 Annual Report

Jack Tramiel’s message to shareholders in Commodore’s 1967 annual report mentions that Commodore has procured everything necessary to begin manufacturing mechanical adding machines based on older Barrett designs.  I’m unaware of these ever hitting the market.

 

 

Any other adding machines?

If you’re reading this and you have information about any other early mechanical adding machines that were marketed under the Commodore brand, please let me know.  As I mentioned already, I’m aware there were many models and subtle variations of models that aren’t listed here – Quick adding machines made for the UK market that have different keys, etc.  I’m not looking for subtle variations of the models that are already documented here.  Those are all covered in Bo Zimmerman’s canonical list of all Commodore products.  I’m most interested in learning about any other manufacturers or major products that aren’t shown above.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.