• 1902 July 26
    (b.) -
    1988 October 27


An Austrian engineer, he was an inventor and manufacturer of calculators. Born in Vienna, the son of Marie and Samuel Jakob Herzstark, his father was Jewish and his mother, born a Catholic, converted to Lutheranism and raised him Lutheran. He worked for Rechenmaschinenwerk AUSTRIA Herzstark & Co.founded in Vienna by his father in 1905, which introduced the first electrically-driven calculator based on improved designs of the Thomas Arithmometer. During World War II, his plans for a mechanical pocket calculator (the Curta) literally saved his life. In 1938, while he was technical manager of his father's company he had already completed the design, but could not manufacture it due to the Nazi German annexation of Austria. Instead, the company was ordered to make measuring devices for the German army. In 1943, perhaps influenced by the fact that his father was a liberal Jew, the Nazis arrested him for "helping Jews and subversive elements" and "indecent contacts with Aryan women" and sent him to the Buchenwald concentration camp. However, the reports of the army about the precision-production of the firm AUSTRIA and especially about his the technical expertise led the Nazis to treat him as an "intelligence-slave". His imprisonment at Buchenwald seriously threatened his health, but his condition improved when he was called to work in the factory linked to the camp, which was named after Wilhelm Gustloff. There he was ordered to make a drawing of the construction of his calculator, so that the Nazis could ultimately give the machine to the F?hrer as a gift after the successful end of the war. The preferential treatment this allowed ensured that he survived his stay at Buchenwald until the camp's liberation in 1945, by which time he had redrawn the complete construction from memory. The Prince of Liechtenstein bought the design and the calculator was initially manufactured by the CURTA division of Contina AG of Liechtenstein. It was produced until 1972, when the electronic calculator forced it from the market. His invention is referenced in chapter four of William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. The chapter is entitled 'Math Grenades', referring to protagonist Cayce Pollard mistaking them for hand grenades at first glance.
  • Date of Birth:

    1902 July 26
  • Date of Death:

    1988 October 27
  • Noted For:

    Designer and manufacturer of the Curta, one of the first mechanical pocket calculators
  • Category of Achievement:

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