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The Adding Machine Contest

The Burroughs Registering Accountant is the adding machine in the header shot and billed as the most reliable in the world, by Burroughs of course.
Walter Olcutt’s winning machine.

I run a group on Mid Century office equipment and this photograph of an adding machine operator contest, January 1935 from the Library of Congress archives, caught my eye. I found the whole rather humorous: an adding machine operator and then I remembered my Aunt Freda, and only vaguely, who did the books for her family’s business, mentioning contests like this when she went to high school; she won on bookkeeping by the way. That was no small thing in the Depression and was the only one who got a job right out of Fitchburg High. It was a feather in cap right up until her obit, where it was mentioned.

The beaming winner in this shot was naturally captivating. Who was he? Walter Offutt, though no more is mentioned and the contest was sponsored by the American Institute of Banking. The idea behind the competition was finding the not only the fastest but most accurate operator who participated that cold night in Washington D.C. The machine I am told, by Frederico Alves, jr., is a Burroughs’s Arithematic, and as there are no cords, this is a manual version and cost about $300.00 at the time. The electric was $75.00 more.

This is slightly off-skew of the text.

The contest details

I picked 7:30 PM because I figured it started the match began after work, which was typically 4:30-5:00 PM and then ran for about 2 hours so everyone could go home and get ready for the next days’s work. As this is in the era of pre-television, most people in cities went to bed by 9:30 pm; in the countryside about an hour earlier. Surprisingly those guesstimate gives the ascendant of 05 Virgo 18 or the Sabian symbol of “people’s voice and the smiles of onlookers; a merry go round with noise and joyousness.” The keyword is Verification, and that was definitely the theme of the evening’s competition, checking and timing the operators.

Positively. Marc Jones writes it suggests a fearlessness of plunging into the activity, I had not thought about that part but that makes sense, as some amount of stage-fright had to have happened for many of the contestants. It gets the warning of “endless repetition of tasks.” That also makes sense as during the evening there must have been several nerve-wracking rounds of longer and longer tallies, before the winner was announced.

Chart Notes

and now the Chart

The Grand Trine in Water, shows not only the tenacity of the contestants themselves but their high emotions. I imagine there was a cash prize but the contest alone would have benefited them career-wise, something to go back to their office and mention: Venus is both exalted in Pisces and in its rulership in the seventh house, thus a good appearance i.e. no mistakes were important as well as the proper total,because the key was being in tune with your machine, a very Piscean trait.

Saturn is nearby and also exalted, emphasizing the accuracy issue. Overall the winner had to enjoy the sound of the keys and tactile feedback they received; one did win one just one point, it was a whole package, and true the clacking sound of hitting the right numbers was instant feedback, just like typists who without looking at the keyboard know by click they hit the wrong key. Sound of course is allied with the water elements, and Pisces is well known for being the mute in the group — No talking please! The only noise was tens of machine clanging out their sums.

Now the problems. Uranus is in Taurus where it is in its fall, obviously working with strange or unknown equipment and that is sextile newly discovered Pluto in Cancer the stage fright factor. Overall though the chart is one big Grand Sextile, so the contestants really had to be at home with their machine and nonplused by the event — it was a walk in the park for them.


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Tags:Adding Machine Contest,Grand Sextile,Grand Trine in Water,Walter Offutt
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