Early Calculator: The Sad Story of an Inventor at Buchenwald

When he returned to Vienna after the war, Herzstark discovered that his brother Ernst had taken over the family business while he was in the concentration camp. In the 1930s, Ernst was known for little more than shooting clay pigeons and owning expensive cars.

"He wasn't particularly knowledgeable," Herzstark said about his younger brother, which is why the gifted engineer didn't want to share his valuable patent with him. Herzstark also had a bad run when it came to choosing his future business partners. The world's smallest mechanical calculator went into series production in 1948 under the name "Curta," but for Herzstark, there was no reason to celebrate.

Businessmen working with Liechtenstein's royal family had used every trick in the book to rip off the unsuspecting Herzstark, who suffered from intermittent bouts of tuberculosis. Instead of becoming an equal co-owner of the calculating machine factory, the engineer was soon essentially forced out of production.

In 1952, after a grueling battle, Herzstark agreed to be paid off with a ridiculously small sum of money. The mechanical pocket calculator remained his opus magnum. He did not produce any other major invention up to his death in 1988.

The "Curta" met an abrupt end with the dawn of a new era. When the first electronic pocket calculators, with their red and green LED letters, came on the market in 1971, the mechanical mini-computer from Vienna was suddenly obsolete.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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