The first Curta calculator was designed and made by Curt Herzstark in Lichtenstein in 1948. Two types were made with a type 2 model (15 digit result counter) being displayed here. These calculators are capable of addition, subtraction, multiplication, square roots and squaring through methods of repeated addition and subtraction of numbers.

The Curta was originally designed during WWII as the Professor Herzstark was captured by Nazi troops and placed in a prison camp in 1943. Noticing his work in a new mechanical apparatus it was agreed that his life would be spared on the condition that he complete his work and the device given to the Fuhrer as a gift after the war. The camp Herzstark was being held in was liberated in 1945 by US troops.

This calculator was used in multiple industries such as aviation, higher education, research, mathematics and rally car racing. The precision of the device allows any number up to 15 digits long to be calculated via the repeated addition/subtraction method, whilst a separate top section counts the number of turns.

The initial number you wish to add can be set on the side of the Curta and added by rotating the handle once in the lowered position.


For example to multiple the number 415 by 23 you would follow the steps below

  1. Set 415 on the side knobs and rotate 3 times. (415+415+415)=3 x 415=1245
  2. Now rotate the upper lid to line it up with the 2 and arrow and rotate it 2 times. (4150+4150)=2x4150=20x415=8300)
  3. The total should read 1245+8300=9545

In 2 movements a 2 digit and 3 digit number have been multiplied in less than 3 seconds whilst by hand this would take much longer. If you wish to see the internal mechanics of the Curta please view the video hyperlink. The parts necessary to make this powerful device were a feat of advanced engineering for its time and as such the curta in history was valued quite highly. In some cases its worth was comparable to the cost of a car.

This item is part of the UQ Physics Museum Good Old days of Calculation Tour
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