March 20, 2018, Vol. 24, No. 14

Take That, Slide Rules!

What was the cutting edge technology when you were in the classroom?

When I arrived at Tech from Canton, Ohio in the Fall 1970, the Marchant Electromechanical Calculators in the Forestry Dept. were the standard; and the “highest tech” that I had ever encountered.  As I recall, among the professors only Bob Sajdak had the patience needed to repair one of the things when all those mechanical wheels and carriage shifters were put out of alignment by some challenging calculation.  The machines were in a locked lab and student access to the temperamental titans was tightly controlled.

But, there was one engineering student on our floor in Wadsworth Hall whose parents had sent him off to Tech with a brand new hand–held cutting edge calculator that could add, subtract, multiply and divide.  That calculator, which would run you perhaps $1.99 today had set his mom and dad back about $400 – a healthy helping of cash in 1970.  Its magical calculation prowess was a source of envy.  Of course he was not permitted to use it in class, after all that would be tantamount to cheating; and of course he still had to become slide-rule proficient.

Jim Bernier