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Full Name (family, given): Bensene, Rick
Location: Oregon, USA
Entered: 1 Oct 2002, 8:34 p.m.
I was born in Seattle, WA in 1958. From virtually the beginning, I was exposed to a Friden Model STW-10 electromechanical calculator that was used by my Godparents in their business. I credit this time during my early formative years as the reason why I became interested in math and science, and especially machines that could perform math. By the time I could talk, I was fascinated with anything with numbers -- clocks (especially early "Digital" clocks), adding machines, pinball machines, etc. I was even fascinated by things like the odometer on the car, and the tape position counter on my Dad's reel-to-reel tape recorder. Yes -- a geek at an early age.
In '65, I saw a Friden 130 at the Pacific Science Center at the site of the '62 World's Fair in Seattle. I was amazed. It literally took both my parents to drag me away from the machine when it was time to go home.
In the early '70's, my father, who owned his own machine shop (high-precision metal parts manufacturing), started using Numerical Control machines to automate some of the machining processes, the first being a NC Mill using a control made by Wang Labs, which in itself was fascinating to me. He bought a Canon L121 desktop electronic calculator to help him with the math related to writing NC programs. When I saw this calculator, I was hooked. The Nixie tube display, and its instant and silent answers to math problems with 12 digits of accuracy was thrilling. Of course, at this time, such machines were very expensive, and there was no chance that I could have one of my own.
During school years, a had an opportunity to tinker with an Olivetti Programma 101 that the school district had arranged a loan of from a local business machine distributor. I was quite an amazing machine, with the added bonus of being programmable (my first experience at "programming" outside of writing a few simple NC programs for my Dad's mill), with magnetic cards to store programs and data on. It was only at the school for a few weeks. When it left, I was heartbroken. The school district couldn't afford to buy one.
In 5th grade, I became aware that the local high school had access to a computer -- an HP 2000/C Timeshared BASIC system. One of the neighborhood kids had an older brother who was taking computer classes at the high school. I talked to him about it, and he arranged to have me meet the teacher of the class. I was given permission to go to the high school after my regular classes were finished at grade school, and play with the computers. It was heaven.
By 7th grade, my parents scrimped and scraped, and bought me a Facit 1111 (the Facit-badged version of Sharp's EL-8...the first LSI "portable" "handheld" electronic calculator) for my birthday! It caused quite a ruckus when I brought it to school and tried using it in math class. The teacher had a fit, saying it was a totally unfair advantage. I was asked to take the calculator home and never bring it back to school. My, how times have changed.
In '73, my dad "upgraded" from his Canon to a new HP-35. What a machine. It was really handy for my advanced math classes...trig was a breeze!
In early high-school, an HP 9830A showed up "on loan" from the local HP sales office. What an amazing machine it was! A "personal" version of the HP timeshare system! I wanted one in a bad way. I pledged to myself that someday, I'd have one of these.
In high-school, I built an IMSAI 8080 for the computer lab, and wrote a lot of hand-assembled programs (including a two-user "timeshared" monitor) that were toggled in on the front panel. A great experience. I also helped build a SOL a little later. These microcomputers was totally amazing -- calculators seemed so dull in comparison.
I graduated high-school in '77, and immediately landed a dream job working for Tektronix. This place was heaven. There were high-end calculators (Tektronix 909's, and even the arch-enemy HP 9100's and 9800's) and computers (DEC PDP8's and PDP 11's) everywhere. They had a Control Data CYBER 73 "supercomputer", along with a few VAX 11/780's (one that was "allowed" to run an early version of 4BSD UNIX in the evenings for people to tinker with), and just about every type of "toy" a kid of my age could possibly imagine. My initial job was two-fold -- being a systems operator for the CYBER and writing FORTRAN programs for the CAD group to generate NC programs for a semi-automatic wire-wrap system. Over time I got to be the weekend operator for the Cyber...and had the whole machine pretty much to myself. Learned a lot about chess by playing countless games with this machine, right on the wonderful "dual tube" vector display console.
Tektronix had a "Company Store" where outdated or surplus equipment was sent. I would visit regularly. I couldn't afford computers, but calculators were there, and they were cheap. I found a Friden 130, a Tektronix 31, and an old Wang 300-series machine there. I didn't buy these with the idea that I'd keep them for a long time, just that they'd be fun to play with.
As time went on, I lost interest in these machines, but as I moved around, I managed to drag them along with me. In the mid-'90's, something happened that triggered me to drag these machines out of mothballs. The World Wide Web had become more than an engineering curiosity, and I stumbled across two websites which were an inspiration -- Dave Hicks's Museum of HP Calculators, and the International Association of Calculator Collectors (unfortunately, an great concept for an organization which unfortunately no longer exists) website. I had these old machines, and figured that perhaps I should put up my own website.
I now have literally hundreds of early electronic desktop calculators, which is my specialty. Machines from HP, Wang, Marchant, Monroe, Compucorp, Friden, Sharp, Sony, Casio...the list is long. They are all wonderful relics of our technological history, and worthy of preserving and sharing with others.
I credit Dave Hicks, among others, for bringing my latent interest in these old calculators back to life.
Best wishes to all,
Rick Bensene The Old Calculator Web Museum http://www.geocities.com/oldcalculators
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