Ten classic electronic calculators from the 1970s and 1980s

Lo-tech delights for button-pushers worldwide

Commodore F4146R (1976)

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Just a year before the arrival of the Commodore PET microcomputer, Commodore Business Machines (CBM) was one of the most popular calculator brands, with around 30 per cent of the UK market, and a factory in England putting them together.

It won’t win any prizes for beauty, but the keyboard on the 4146 and its siblings was uncramped, and the recessed display featured 12 digits: ten for numbers plus two extra for exponents.

Commodore F4146R

Source: Bob Wolfson

Some designs were made in two versions: an SR prefix instead of the F meant ‘Slide Rule’, or scientific, rather than ‘Financial’. In the days of Hire Purchase, the dedicated functions on a calculator like this made it simple for a sales rep to work out how much you’d have to pay for your stylish new telly with sliding doors.

Texas Instruments TI-59 (1977)

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The TI-59 was a solid beast, engineered in dark brown plastic with a red ten-digit LED display. It was also a pretty powerful and flexible programmable calculator, with more memory than its main HP competitor.

Programs could be assigned to one of the alpha keys, so entering a number and pressing one would give you your result. It was even possible to use programs on the supplied memory model as subroutines to your own code.

Texas Instruments TI-59

Source: John Crane

But perhaps one of the most novel things was the built-in card reader, which accepted slim, flexible cards with a magnetic stripe on the back, which could be used to store and retrieve your programs, or share them with others. Space on the other side of the card provided for notes or labels, to be viewed when it was in the storage slot below the screen.

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