The Itemizer was a “handy purse size calculator” that could add and subtract. This makes it more an adding machine than a calculator but that exaggeration can be forgiven. Made mostly of polystyrene plastic with a minimal amount of steel parts and gears made of “long wearing” nylon, this weighed a very light 5 ounces. It was also small enough to fit in your hand at only 3.5″ in diameter. However, if 5 ounces was too heavy or 3.5 inches too big it did come with a strap that would allow you to fasten it to the handle of a shopping cart.
It works well enough for addition and subtraction but it isn’t intuitive. However, a quick read of the very simple instructions plus a bit of practice is all it would take to master using this. Also, unlike other types of inexpensive calculators (all of which would be mechanical at this price point at this time) it was self-contained and didn’t require use of a stylus to operate.
The patent for this was number 2819006 which was filed on March 15, 1954 and granted to George S. Clemens on September 27,1955. The patent was for a “hand adding machine” which at least implies the inventor understood that this wasn’t a calculator. For those wondering, to be considered a calculator the device must be able to perform the four basic math functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
The Itemizer in my collection is marked patent pending on the reverse meaning it was manufactured between 1954 and 1955. I’ve only seen one or two others in the past but they were also marked patent pending. It is likely that this wasn’t made much longer than 1955. It was manufactured by a company called Clemens-Joyce which was located in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Illinois. I can find no information on this company so I cannot say if they had any other items available for sale or how long they were in business.
Now, looking at the grey and white plastic construction coupled with a lack of any kind of differentiating design, unless you consider “round” a design, it would be one of a countless number of utterly forgettable failures. What really sets the Itemizer apart from others is its marketing.
Starting on the box with it’s double-entendre tagline of “for the calculating woman” to the multiple instances of stating that it was a “handy purse size” you move on to the instructions where it informs you can take your Itemizer along next time you go supermarketing [sic]. The Itemizer is billed as a gift for a bridal shower, as a “bread and butter” present for wife or mother, for the “girl in the office”, etc. Why, even the patent mentions that “the present invention relates to a hand adding machine particularly suitable for use by a housewife in purchasing groceries at self-service stores.”
While I understand that this was a different era with differing cultural norms, the in-your-face casual sexism of this makes you stop and wonder just what in the world was going on in their minds. And while there isn’t anything wrong with marketing to women, it would seem from the point of view of Clemens-Joyce that the only time a female would use such a sophisticated instrument would be to go shopping. No math for you ladies.
Patent and Other Information: