Who was Alexis Petetin?

Alexis Petetin was a notable inventor in France in the 1800s. He is best known for attaining two French patents (№110349, November 27, 1875, and №163925, April 27, 1884) as well as one German patent (№32148, January 24, 1885.) All three of these patents were given to Petetin for adding machines that while not completely revolutionizing technology at the time, were spectacular nonetheless.

Early Life

Alexis Auguste Petetin was born in Besançon which is today the prefecture of the department of Doubs. Even in those days, this region of North-East France was significant, providing the young Alexis with opportunities he would not have had in other parts of the country.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Alexis Auguste Petetin
Net Worth
N/A
Children
One
Nationality
French
Place of Birth
Besançon (Doubs), France
Fields of Expertise
  • Inventor
Institutions
N/A
Contributions
Adding machines

Petetin was born on November 23, 1826. Although not much has been written about his early life, he would most likely have spent all or most of it in Besançon given the limited possibilities of travel at the time. This is not necessarily a bad thing as this important administrative center had plenty to offer. Petetin likely became a respected inventor among other things precisely because of the opportunities his home region offered him.

Alexis Petetin died sometime after 1890. The exact date of his death is not known nor do we know where he was buried. Reportedly, his home residence was at Rue Moncey 7 in Besançon where he lived with his wife, Marie Othilie Deland (1826-1890), and their daughter, Marie Cécile Petetin (1856-1886).

Career 

Petetin’s career choices would inevitably lead him to invent wonderful adding machines that surely inspired other inventors further on. However, he is also known to have been a luthier and a merchant.

Luthier and Merchant

As a Luthier, Petetin would have devoted himself to making stringed instruments such as violins and, perhaps, guitars. Given that Besançon was so important in the region, and to all of France due to its geographic location, it can be assumed that Petetin enjoyed at least some great success selling his instruments. He was also a merchant so this is a reasonable assumption.

Inventor

There is no information about how Alexis Petetin became interested in technology and coming up with new inventions. It is certain that at some point in his adult life he began to experiment with the technology available at the time to make adding machines.

What Did Alexander Petetin Invent? 

Alexander Petetin invented several adding machines. The most outstanding of these is one designed to be carried in a person’s pocket, making it the first-ever mechanical pocket calculator.

Additionneur Mécanique

Petetin might have invented other adding machines that we know nothing about, but his first patented adding machine was the Additionneur Mécanique, literally “adding machine” in French. This adding machine was large and heavy so it was not meant to be carried from place to place. It was patented in France as №32148 on January 24, 1885. By working a column with 10 keys and two 100 teeth wheels, one could get results for addition problems of up to 9,999.

The innovative design of the Additionneur Mécanique must have turned some heads back in its time and more so given its accuracy. Still, it should be mentioned that this was not the first adding machine Europeans had ever seen. The first adding machine is often attributed to Blaise Pascal who invented his “Pascaline” mechanism for addition or calculator somewhere between 1642 and 1644.

We have no way of knowing how well or poorly Petetin managed to promote and sell his adding machine. Although, it is easy to imagine that more than a few people got their hands on a copy given that Petetin was already a merchant and understood that there was profit to be made.

The patent drawing of the Additionneur Mécanique.

Additionneur de Poche à Trois Touches (three-key pocket adder) 

Although Petetin’s first adding machine could not be said to be the first of its kind, his next one was unique in a significant way. The Additionneur de Poche à Trois Touches (three-key pocket adder) could be taken anywhere. Presumably, it was not too bulky or heavy to carry in one’s pocket so you could take it to work and back home on a daily basis if you so wished.

Despite the Pascaline being introduced to the world nearly 250 years earlier, Petetin’s Poche à Trois Touches now holds the rank of being considered the world’s first true mechanical calculator. It was patented in France as №163925 on April 27, 1884.

The three different buttons on the Poche à Trois Touches are meant for units of varying quantities. You would push one button to add a single unit, another to add tens, and the third one for hundreds.

You can clearly see how useful this adding machine would have been to people in the 1800s, especially those in banking and related professions. However, one key drawback of the Poche à Trois Touches is that it could only be used to count to 999.

The patent drawing of the second machine of Petetin.

This simple device can be used only for simple adding operations up to 999. The disadvantage is that wheels are always shifted by only one tooth while pressing a button, so a button should be pressed as many times as the sum of corresponding digits.

The second machine of Petetin.

Marriage, Children, and Personal Life

Alexis Petetin dedicated himself to making stringed instruments as a Luthier at one point in his life. Hence we can reasonably assume that he enjoyed music in his free time, although we cannot say for certain. Perhaps he even played an instrument himself.

Marriage

Alexander Petetin married Marie Othilie Deland. The exact date of their marriage is unknown.

Children

Alexander Petetin and Marie Othilie Deland had one daughter, Marie Cécile Petetin. It is not known if the couple had any other children.

Alexis Petetin – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Who was Alexander Petetin?

Alexander Petetin was a French inventor best recognized for inventing adding machines in the late 1800s. One of these adding machines was not just a pocket-sized calculator but also the first known one in the world.

What did Alexander Petetin invent?

Alexander Petetin invented at least two adding machines, one known as the Additionneur Mécanique (adding machine) and the other as the Additionneur de Poche à Trois Touches (three-key pocket adder).

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