Fascinating
facts about the invention of the
Abacus by the Chinese in 3000
BC. 
ABACUS 
AT A GLANCE:
The Chinese abacus was developed about 5000 years
ago. It was built out of wood and beads. It could be held and carried
around easily. The abacus was so successful that its use spread form
China to many other countries.
The abacus
does not actually do the computing, as today's calculators do. It helps
people keep track of numbers as they do the computing. 
THE
STORY
RELATED INFO
BOOKS
VIDEOS
WEB SITES
WHERE TO FIND
HOW IT WORKS
DID YOU KNOW? 
Invention: 
abacus 

Function: 
noun / ab·a·cus 
Definition: 
A counting device: a
mechanical device for making calculations consisting of a frame
mounted with rods along which beads or balls are moved 
Inventor: 
Chinese
in c3000 BC 


Milestones:
 The earliest counting device was the human hand and its fingers.
 Early man counted by means of matching one set of objects with
another set (stones and sheep).  Early tables, named abaci, formalized counting and introduced the
concept of positional notation.
BC
c3000 An early form of the abacus,
built using beads strung on wires is used in
the Orient
c1000 Chinese counting boards originate
c500 Greeks and Romans are using counting devices based on the same
principles as the abacus
AD
c300 The Chinese begin development of the abacus as a mathematical
device
c500 The abacus is used in Europe
CAPs: Abacus, Chinese,
Greeks, Romans, Orient,
Babylonians,
Personal Computer,
SIPs:
abaci, addition, subtraction, mathmatics, calculator, positional notation, symbol
manipulation,
algorithm, invention, history,
inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating
facts. 

The Story:
Calculation was a need from the early
days when it was necessary to account to others for individual or group actions,
particularly in relation to maintaining inventories (of flocks of sheep) or reconciling
finances. Early man counted by means of matching one set of objects with another set
(stones and sheep). The operations of addition and subtraction were simply the operations
of adding or subtracting groups of objects to the sack of counting stones or pebbles.
Early counting tables, named abaci, not only formalized this counting method but also
introduced the concept of positional notation that we use today.
The next logical step was to
produce the first "personal calculator"—the abacus—which used the same
concepts of one set of objects standing in for objects in another set, but also the
concept of a single object standing for a collection of objects—positional notation. The Chinese abacus was developed about 5000 years ago. It was built out of
wood and beads. It could be held and carried around easily. The abacus was so successful
that its use spread form China to many other countries. The abacus is still in use in some
countries today.The abacus does not actually
do the computing, as today's calculators do. It helps people keep track of numbers as they
do the computing. People who are good at using an abacus can often do calculations as
quickly as a person who is using a calculator
This oneforone correspondence continued for many
centuries even up through the many years when early calculators used the placement of
holes in a dial to signify a count—such as in a rotary dial telephone. Although these
machine often had the number symbol engraved alongside the dial holes, the user did not
have to know the relationship between the symbols and their numeric value.
Primitive people also needed a way to
calculate and store information for future use. To keep track of the number of animals
killed, they collected small rocks and pebbles in a pile. Each stone stood for one animal.
Later they scratched notches and symbols in stone or wood to record and store information.
Only when the process of counting and
arithmetic became a more abstract process and different sizes of groups were given a
symbolic representation so that the results could be written on a "storage
medium" such as papyrus or clay did the process of calculation become a process of
symbol manipulation.

TO
LEARN MORE
RELATED INFORMATION:
History of
Computing from The Great Idea
Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
100 Inventions
That Shaped World History
by Bill Yenne, Morton, Dr. Grosser (Editor) / Paperback  112 pages / Bluewood Books
(1983)
This book contains inventions from all around the world from microchips to fire. This is a
really good book if you are going to do research on inventions.
The History of Science and Technology
by Bryan Bunch, Alexander Hellemans / Hardcover: 768 pages / Houghton Mifflin Company; (2004)
Highly browsable yet richly detailed, expertly researched and indexed,
The History of Science and Technology is the perfect desktop reference
for both the science novice and the technologically advanced reader
alike.
The
Abacus
by Jesse Dilson / Paperback160 pages / St. Martin's Press;
(April 1995)
The new edition of Dilson's marvelous book is even more userfriendly that the original;
it comes with a working abacus that can be used in concert with its easytofollow and
clear illustrations.
The Universal History of Computing: From the Abacus to the Quantum
Computer
by Georges Ifrah / Hardcover  356 pages / John Wiley & Sons
(October 2000)
The author has great respect for our ancestors and their work, and he transmits this
feeling to his readers with humor and humility. His timelines, diagrams, and concordance
help the reader who might be unfamiliar with foreign concepts of numbers and
computation keep up with his narrative.
ON THE SCREEN:
Computers
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 50 Minutes / History Channel / Less than $25.00 /
Also VHS
The incredible breakthroughs and refinements that have marked the
development of the computer are so familiar that they have lost some
of their power to amaze
ON THE WEB:
Abacus
From the history of the computer. Presented by The Computer Society.
(URL: www.computer.org/history/development/early.htm)
Abacus
The Art of Calculating with Beads
The art of counting with beads. History and instructions on how to use an abacus. They
even have a built in Java Tutor. Selected by Scientific American as a
winner of the 2003 Sci/Tech Web Awards.
(URL: www.ee.ryerson.ca:8080/~elf/abacus/)
The LEGO
Abacus
Instructions and complete plans on how to build an abacus (photo above) from LEGO parts.
(URL: www.ee.ryerson.ca/~elf/abacus/lego/)
A Brief History of the Abacus
It is difficult to imagine counting without
numbers, but there was a time when written numbers did not exist. The
earliest counting device was the human hand and its fingers.
(URL: www.ee.ryerson.ca/~elf/abacus/history.html)
The Earlest Calculating Machine In The World
Abacuses are easy to make, handy to carry around and quick to give the
answers, provided one knows how to move the beads. They have been in use,
therefore, down to this day.
(URL: www.chinavista.com/experience/abacus/abacus.html)
Abacus
Device Images & Photos
Abacus has a long history and therefore experienced many changes during its
lifetime. Originally born in China, but it very quickly spread all over the
world. During these migrations it was natural to change its original form.
(URL: www.abacus.ca/abacusimages.php)
History of the Crammer Abacus fot the Blind
Some rehabilitation centers were beginning to teach abacus operation to
blind students. At about this time, the United States Internal Revenue
Service was exploring the hiring of blind people to serve as taxpayer
assistors.
(URL: home.europa.com/~paulg/abacus.history.html)
WHERE TO FIND:
Working Abacus
Home / by American Science & Surplus /
B0001IU8AS / Less than $8.00
Computer Revolt. Tired of being beholden to the computer megacorporations?
Get back to basics with the original computer. This fine wood abacus is 12"
x 6", with (13) sets of (5) balls and (13) sets of (2). Computing speed is
considerably slower than even an old 286, but then it's guaranteed to never
need rebooting. Instructions included. Made in China, naturally.
HOW IT WORKS:
Businessmen needed a way to tally accounts and bills.
Somehow, out of this need, the abacus was born. The abacus is the first true
precursor to the adding machines and computers which would follow. It
worked
somewhat like this:
DID YOU KNOW?
 The oldest surviving counting board is
the Salamis tablet (originally thought to be a gaming board), used by
the Babylonians circa 300 B.C., discovered in 1846 on the island of
Salamis.
 The abacus is still used in China and
Japan.

Designated
trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners. 
Reference
Sources in BOLD Type. 
This
page revised March 6, 2006. 



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