James Appleby – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

James Appleby – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention. This is certainly the case when it comes to calculators. Throughout history, humans have sought to create devices to automate calculations in order to make them faster, more accurate, and more efficient.

Interestingly, some inventors of these calculators weren’t inventors by trade. Many were craftsmen or laborers who tinkered with inventing devices during their free time. Others, such as James Appleby, weren’t even part-time inventors. They were simply people who realized that a calculator would make their job easier and ensure that their math was accurate. So they invented one.

Quick Facts

Full Name
James Ramsey Cuthbert Appleby
January 2, 1807
Place of Birth
Shaftesbury, Dorset
Fields of Expertise
Accounting Machine

Who Was James Appleby?

James Appleby was among the early inventors who developed the Calculating incredible machine to aid in money calculation. He borrowed the idea of the abacus and developed his reliable but straightforward device. 

Appleby’s Accountant Machine was designed to be portable. (Courtesy of Mr. Walter Szrek)

Early Life

James Ramsey Cuthbert Appleby was born on 2 January 1807 in Shaftesbury, Dorset. He was a child of George (1767-1841) and Elizabeth Appleby. He spent his entire life in Shaftesbury, working as a linsey (a type of cloth) maker and hosier and later as a parish clerk. James Appleby died in 1891 in Shaftesbury.


Linsey Maker and Hosier

James worked as a linsey maker and later followed his father’s steps to becoming a Hosier. No record shows whether Appleby started as a Linsey maker or developed his invention first. However, we believed this was one of his starting careers before creating a perfect calculating machine.

Parish Clerk

James Appleby later became a clerk at St. James’ Church. He was responsible for all the parish records and accounts. His early experience as a hosier had a significant impact on his new career as a clerk. His role also opened his mind to creating an effective calculating device to produce error-free results. 

What Did James Appleby Invent?

Accountant Machine

James Appleby invented the money-calculating machine. The device is labeled: “Accountant Machine by RC Appleby, Saint James, Shaftesbury, Dorset, 1856”. A stylus is present in a fitted compartment.

The outer material was made of mahogany wood and measured 37×10.5×4. According to an online auction listing for one of the surviving devices, the eight numbered strips are crafted from boxwood and feature 20 columns of manuscript numbers, including pounds, shillings, pence, and farthings. The device had a numbered metallic frame, which covered the beads held by a beam. The device was hinged in the center, so it was easily portable and durable. James’ accountant machine was an early invention that managed to survive to our time. 

James Appleby’s Accountant Machine was based on the abacus.

The calculation was done by counting the value of the beads. Each bead had a different figure; therefore, an accountant could quickly perform complex mathematics by shifting high-valued beads. 

James Appleby: Marriage, Children, and Personal Life

Net worth

Nothing is known about James’ net worth.


James Appleby was never married. 


James did not have any children. 


James Appleby died in 1891 in Shaftesbury.

Personal Life

Nothing is known about James’ personal life.

James Appleby: Published Works and Books

James did not publish any work or write any books.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was James Appleby?

He was the man behind the invention of a tremendous calculating device to help in accounting.

What did James Appleby invent?

He invented the accountant machine.

How did James Appleby invent his "Accountant Machine?"

James’ invention was based on the early ideas of an Abacus. He created a similar device to aid in money calculations.

When was James Appleby born?

James was born on 2 January 1807.

When did James Appleby die?

He died in 1891 in Shaftesbury.

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