Real First

by Ron Potter

Recently I blogged about “firsts” in my life and how they shaped me (us). As I looked back through that blog of “firsts” in my life, I believe that for the most part, they were just a first for me. Many people had done those things, were doing those things, and continue to use and do them today.

First for Me

They included:

  • Typing Class
  • Survey Class (and the Curta Calculator)
  • Walking structural steel
  • Computers and Blackberries
  • Executive Consulting
  • Using software to speak into and convert to written text

Of all the things on that list, the Curta Calculator stands out as being completely unique. Mine is the only one I have ever seen. I still have it today and it’s still the only one I’ve ever seen.

History of Curta

I decided to discover the history of the Curta.

Curt Herzstark was born in Vienna in 1902. His family was in the business of building calculators in the early 1900s. The machines were big and beautiful, and expensive. Curt said, “I need a machine that will fit in my pocket and I can use to calculate.”

But then WWII started. German soldiers came to Austria where Curt lived. Curt’s mother was Catholic, but his father was Jewish. The Germans converted the calculator factory to one that made Panzer tanks. Everything was stable for a while but then two of the factory employees were caught listening to an English radio station. Their chief mechanic was beheaded. Everything changed.

The SS threw Curt into the Pankrác Prison camp where the torturing of Jews was routine. However, the managing engineer at the factory heard about Curts’s hand-held calculator (although still in his head and on a few drawings). The chief (German) engineer said to Curt, “We will allow you to make and draw your calculator. If it works we will give one to the Führer as a present after the war.” (Assuming they would win.)

The End of WWII

Herzstark had completed his drawings by April 1945 when the Americans showed up and freed all of the prisoners. Curt walked about 175 miles to the city of Weimar. It was about the only factory still standing. Curt’s drawing was so complete and clear it only took the factory about 3 months to make three prototypes. But then the Russians showed up.

Prince of Liechtenstein

The only person Curt could find who expressed any interest was the prince of Liechtenstein. About 110 miles away.
The first Curtas went on sale in Liechtenstein in 1948 (the year I was born) and continued to be produced until the 1970s when electronic calculators took over the market. 1948–1970. My prime growing up and education years.
What do you have to complain about? Here is a man that was put into a German concentration camp. He walked nearly 300 miles because he believed in what he had made. He went through pain, suffering, and atrocities and yet kept going.

Have you developed a similar character or are you brainwashed by today’s media telling us that we deserve to be happy all the time? Just buy (whatever) and it will make you happy. No, it won’t.  Become a person of character and realize that this life will bring you difficulties. It may not make you happy but it will provide a level of contentment that will carry you through life’s difficulties.

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