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Rest In Peace: Pocket Calculator Inventor Dies At 86

Thomas Okon - Wikimedia / Slide Rule Museum

If you’ve ever pulled out a pocket calculator to work out some tricky math - and let’s face it, everyone has - then you owe the late Jerry Merryman a debt of gratitude.

Merryman, one of the inventors of the handheld electric calculator, passed away last month from complications of heart and kidney failure, according to his family. He had been hospitalized since December after suffering complications during a pacemaker installation.

Calculator inventor
Merryman with fellow Texas Instruments engineer James Biard.Thomas Okon - Wikimedia

As a project manager for the Dallas company Texas Instruments in 1965, Merryman was tasked with building "some sort of computing device, perhaps to replace the slide rule" by his boss Jack Kilby. He was told to aim for a product the size of a small book

"Silly me," Merryman later told NPR's All Things Considered about the project. "I thought we were just making a calculator, but we were creating an electronic revolution."

While Merryman worked with a team of others to build the device, he designed the circuitry by himself over just three days and nights.

It took years to build and hone the device, but by 1967 the team debuted their "Cal-Tech" prototype: a battery-powered, handheld calculator that could add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Calculator
The "Cal-Tech" prototype developed by Merryman's team.The National Museum of American History

After his passing, Merryman’s coworker Vernon Porter described him as "outstandingly brilliant" to the Associated Press.

"He had an incredible memory and he had an ability to pull up formulas, information, on almost any subject," Porter said.

Today, the prototype calculator created by Merryman and his coworkers sits in the Smithsonian Institution.

While Merryman’s invention never made him famous, his surviving family say that’s just how he liked it. To this inventor, a job well done was its own reward.

[H/T: NBC News]

Thank you Jerry! Rest in peace.

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