The Invention of the First Calculator
Warren P. Waters worked at the Semiconductor-Components Division of Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas from June 1962 to January of 1966. He was the Manger of Exploratory Development, Semiconductor Research and the Development Laboratory. During this time, Warren Waters co-authored the patent with Jack Kilby for the first handheld Texas Instruments calculator. But he was later rehired as a supervisor for Hughes Aircraft in California in 1966, so his name was taken off of the patent that was submitted to the patent office. The code name of the first Texas Instruments calculator was “Cal Tech,” which was the alma mater of Warren Waters. It took Kilby and his team of scientists years to figure out what my Dad had invented, and to resubmit the patent. The patent was in the names of Kilby, Merryman and Van Tassel. Kilby got the credit, as he was the lead scientist on this team. This is one reason why Kilby is listed on 60 patents. If my Dad had stayed with TI, and finished getting this patent submitted, Kilby would have gotten the main credit just the same. However, this does not change the fact that the calculator was my Dad’s idea, and that he was the one who wrote the original patent.
I asked my Dad why he had invented the calculator? He said that he was trying to come up with a better slide rule. My Dad was an expert at using the slide rule, but he realized that other people struggled with it. So, he wanted to make life better for everyone.
Later on in the 1970’s when the first Texas Instruments calculator was released, my Dad told my Mom “I just made a million dollars for TI”. With many later generations of Texas Instruments calculators, I think my Dad probably made a billion dollars for them. However, we have to understand that scientists who were employed by large aerospace and technology firms never got royalties or proceeds from their inventions. They received paychecks and a living. I think they may have gotten an extra bonus for the holidays when the patents went through. The legal rights to these patents were held by the firms that paid for the research. Even so, those patents were only good for seventeen years, and then became public domain.
While the first Texas Instruments calculator was still in production, it was sold for around 600 dollars, which was enough to purchase a used car in the 1970’s. It was the first occurrence of what we would call “Geek Chic” today. People who were lucky or rich enough to afford one, would wear them in holsters on their belt. They had to be guarded from theft by locking them down on desks, as everyone wanted this calculator. Oddly, I don’t think my Dad ever purchased that calculator. He went on using his slide rule for many years. He may have purchased a calculator years later, but I do not know if it was from Texas Instruments.