Underwood All-Electric Adding Machine - Only for those with exceptional credit.

Future-dwellers, behold the past, and snort in derision. Apart from being a general mission statement for everything we do here, it's especially appropriate for today's ad for the Underwood phone-size, all-electric adding machine. It only weighs 71/2 pounds and only costs... well, lets save that sweetmeat for a little later.
My mom likes to look at these old magazines too. Whenever I receive a new shipment, I drop them off with her for a few days and she pores over them, but for entirely different reasons than I do. She ignores the ads and reads the news and articles. Kids today. Whatever.

Every time I plop a pile of ancient ephemera on her kitchen table, Mom marvels at the cover price. "Twenty-five cents!" she marvels. "You can't get anything today for a quarter!" she continues, marvelingly. She does this every time. Dutifully, I ask her "How much money did you earn in 1958, mom?" I do this every time. It was probably between three and four thousand dollars, rounded down because she was a woman and The Fifties were kind of an asshole about that. Memory is selective, isn't it? LIFE magazine cost a quarter. Never mind the fact she probably took home less than two dollars per hour. It's all relative.

Any old whatever, Underwood wants you to buy their calcula- uuh, "adding machine", and why not? It's about the size and weight of a phone, which at the time was a breakthrough. Previously, adding machines were more television-ish in size and heft. Entering numbers and pulling a handle required similar effort and noise as operating an offset printing press. So, this electric model was downright futuristic. It could do times, and minus, and... the plus key is probably obscured by the "magic glove".

She rolled her strength or less on a D20.
What kind of magic gloves are they? Well, assuming that's a woman holding the Underwood in one hand, and if she's using it for more than a few seconds, those are going to have to be +2 Gloves of Ogre Power. Or, it's just a guy who likes to wear sparkly things. Come to think of it, a sparkly-thing-loving guy would need the +2 gloves as well.

I like that the manufacturer's name isn't just inked on the machine. It's a metal badge. If Underwood made a car, this would be the badge on the trunk. It shows us that the adding machine was built more like a refrigerator than a watch. I'd love to see one of these machines up close. If I found one in an antique store in working condition, I'd buy the hell out of it, but not for much. I'm not stupid rich, but I do have some disposable income. I'd probably pay up to $50 for a working Underwood like this one. It wouldn't be a trailer queen, either! I'd find excuses to add things up, just to feel and hear the chunkitta chunkitta verrt verrt of it. "It's 3:12 right now and you'll be back in 45 minutes? That means it'll be... chunkitta chunkitta verrt verrt ...357 o'clock when you return!" That's academic, of course. You'd find an excuse not to come back. I wouldn't blame you.

So what did all this computing power cost? $168.50, plus tax. Adjusting for inflation, that comes to $1255 in today's money. Referring to the link I mentioned earlier, that's almost half the average annual American income for the same year*. You could buy a Ford for $1900. Oof. After you bought the calculator, you could use it to figure out how you're going to eat for the rest of the month. Those gloves had better be magic.

Hey, look who it is! Once of my favorite fonts! Two Cent MT. Looks like it's kind of bold here, but that's definitely old Two Cent. That's a good hobo name, by the way. Somebody make a note of that.

Click for bigger.

*UPDATE: Thanks to Anonymous Accountant for pointing out my blatant and sloppy math (see comments). I am completely full of shite (as they say in the you kay) there. The cost of this adding machine is more like half the monthly income of your average 1958 dweller, not half the annual income. Still pricey but not quite as insane as I thought. It was pretty early in the A.M. when I wrote this post. Maybe I'll go on down to the proofreading pool and give them some what-for. That'll make me feel like a big man again.


MrsBug said...

Underwood.Underwood. Underwood. I kept reading this doggone name as Underwear through the whole piece.

Bee said...

Do the sparkles emit from the gloves or the adding machine? I want whichever one it is.

Anonymous said...

Are your research and proofreading elves on spring break getting drunk and chasing girls gone wild? Your math is a bit off: $169 is about half the _monthly_ income of an average 1958 wage earner. You are comparing the inflation adjusted price to the unadjusted annual income.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Holy crap! Right you are! Let it be known that my math was wrong! Thanks for the wake up call, secret accountant! I guess my "Principles of Accounting" blog will have to wait a while.

I think you'll agree, however, that my font identification was right on the money. Blam! I still got it!

Anonymous said...

Phil -

Would your "Two Cent MT" be the same font as "TW Cent MT Bold"? They look an awful lot alike. I always thought it stood for "Twentieth Century" - but I really like "Two Cent" better. As a matter of fact, I'm gonna start calling the next pan-handler-hobo guy I see "Two Cent MT".
Unless I get into rap. Then I'll be "MC Two-Cent MT" my bitches!! What up wit dat? Fo' Shizzle. Font-ificated, Yo!

MC Anonymous 2

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Sure, Two Cent MT Bold is just a bold version of Two Cent. Same type face, though. I used to have a pamphlet from the early fifties about being an effective salesman that was all in Two Cent. My buddy found it in a box in the basement when he moved into his house. It's the most "fifties" body text font, in my opinion.


BrainThought said...

I just wonder, why does the keypad on these things start 7,8,9 and a touch-tone phone keypad go 1,2,3 and yet, design wise, they're the same function (As in, entering numbers into something)?

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Hmm. Maybe because of cash registers? The keypad on my computer keyboards have always been the same, with 1 at the bottom. Good question, brain. Anyone???

Maybe, assuming the hand's resting position is at the bottom of the keypad, the more frequently used numbers are in easy reach, down at the bottom of the keypad? I'm not sure that 1 and 0 are more frequently used, but that seems about right. A phone's keypad is used for dialing ten digits at a time, but an adding machine's or cash register's is used for hours at a time. So, fatigue, maybe?


Anonymous said...


PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

That's a good find, Anon. Now if we knew the origins of the "ten key" configuration, with the small numbers on the bottom. That's the REAL mystery. I suspect the "most frequent keys within easy reach" theory.


M Feilmeier said...

chunkitta chunkitta verrt verrt!

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