Cast Iron, Brass, Steel (2015)

Calculation Machine Mercedes Euklid 21, 32×19×34cm

I first encountered it when I was researching the history of early Soviet spaceflight. It is a semi-mechanical calculating machine that uses electricity to operate the mechanical parts. It is made of cast iron, sheet metal and steel.

The Mercedes Euclid 21 was manufactured very close to my hometown, in Zella-Mehlis, Thuringia. Although it makes a lot of noise when calculating, the machine remains silent when it comes to the question of how it was used by people.

How they worked overtime to finish the calculations they organized along the machine and how they developed specific error correction routines that later paved the way for the algorithms of the first electronic computers.

The Mercedes Euclid 21 was used by the Mathematics Department of Bell Laboratory, New York during the 1920s under Clara Froelich for scientific calculations. At the other end of gravity’s rainbow, it was used at the Keldysh Institute of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow under Alexandr K. Platonov and Raisa K. Kazakova, in the late 1950s, to calculate the orbits of the Sputnik satellite.

I was surprised because I thought that the Sputnik calculations were already done electronically. I was wrong. The Mercedes Euclid thus spans a continuum between East and West in the era of industrial, manual calculations.