Luigi Torchi – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

The calculating machine of Luigi Torchi (© Biblioteca Braidense, Milan, Italy).

Luigi Torchi – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Luigi Torchi was a carpenter and inventor who was credited for inventing the first direct multiplication machine. This particular machine was introduced in 1834. Torchi’s device was the second key-driven machine in the entire world, after James White’s invention, which was introduced in 1822.

Early life

The lack of information regarding Torchi’s machine may be attributed to Torchi himself. He didn’t allow any inspection of his calculator so as to avoid possible plagiarism. 

Quick Facts

Full Name
Luigi Torchi
Net Worth
Place of Birth
Fields of Expertise
He created the first direct multiplication machine with a full-keyboard. He also invented a horseless carriage and a pendulum level.

There is very little known about the life of Luigi Torchi. What is known includes that he was born in 1812 and that he lived in Borgo San Gottardo, a neighborhood in Milan. He worked along this southern area of Milan as a mill carpenter.


Luigi Torchi worked as a carpenter and also as an inventor. He developed several devices based on his skill as a mathematician. Torchi’s keyboard calculator is one of many devices and machines that eventually led to the creation of the modern-day computer. His career and influence are part of personal computer history.

What Did Luigi Torchi Invent? 

Invention 1

Almost nothing has been published regarding Torchi’s direct multiplication machine. Most of the sources available praise the machine with its keyboard calculator. Only two documents propose a more thorough description of Torchi’s calculator. One is a hand-written statement called, Report of the Award Committee. The second is an article published in the journal “La Fama” in 1936. There we can find the description of the operations and the only known picture of the machine (see sketch below). The machine was made with wood and iron wires, with dimensions 50 x 50 x 60 cm.

The calculating machine of Luigi Torchi (© Biblioteca Braidense, Milan, Italy).

There is a document that presents a drawing of the machine. There are, however, no documents that detail exactly how it worked. Torchi’s machine was in an exhibition in Brera from 1834 to 1837. 

In spite of the lack of information about the machine, there were two important aspects of the device. First, it was a full-keyboard calculator, and second, it performed multiplication instantly. Hal Open Science states that Torchi’s direct multiplication machine gained quite a bit of interest locally. A total of 1000 lire was given by the government so an improved model of the device could be made with iron. The original prototype was made with wood.

Mathematician Gabrio Piola and astronomer Francesco Carlini were in charge of the assignment for Torchi’s invention. Carlini was so enthusiastic about Torchi’s device that he asked the government to build a more reliable metal model for Brera’s Astronomical Observatory. On May 6th, 1840, the authorization was confirmed with the following letter:

“The Government authorized the direction of the Imperial Royal Observatory to build the machine for counting, imagined by the carpenter Torchi for the amount of 1000 lire.” Carlini summoned Torchi: “I invite you to meet me in order to take concert and fix the price.”

At this point, the story seems to come to an end. Every trace of the machine is lost and we do not know whether Torchi ever replied to Carlini’s letter or accepted the proposal, but it seems sure that the improved model was never built.

Why was the metal prototype for Torchi’s machine never built? Maybe the calculator was not as reliable as the descriptions indicated. Perhaps Torchi was not self-confident enough to work with different technology and with greater precision. 

In 1872, Giovanni Schiaparelli examined what still remained of Torchi’s device. Schiaparelli was a famous Italian astronomer who is credited with being the first to describe the canals on Mars. He found Torchi’s machine to be lacking many parts, including almost all of the front that contained the keyboard and where the results were to be located. Schiaparelli concluded that to thoroughly examine and repair the machine would require an extensive amount of time and clever craftsmanship.

So what happened to the calculator? It was almost certainly exhibited in Brera between 1834 to 1837. After that, it was brought back to Torchi’s shop. But then it was again taken to Brera in 1872 when it was examined by Schiaparelli. It was likely very damaged at that time, and because it was built with perishable material, it didn’t survive much longer after that.

Invention 2 

The ingenuity of Luigi Torchi was seen in at least two other instances. In 1835 Torchi invented a horseless carriage, using energy from a water stream. The stream moved along the canal towing path, dragging the barge. In October 1835, an experiment was performed in the presence of H.M. the Viceroy. The boat and the barge went along a 212-meter stretch in 13 minutes and 25 seconds. For this achievement, in 1837 Torchi was awarded another prize by the Institute. He received a silver medal and the fame of this invention spread as far as to France. It’s possible that Torchi’s horseless carriage inspired the later invention known as the Steam Man.

Invention 3 

Several years later, in 1858, Torchi designed an improved “pendulum level”. A basic pendulum is a leveling instrument that usually consists of a horizontal arm and a plumb line. 

Luigi Torchi: Awards and Achievements

Award 1

This incredible carpenter and inventor received his first known award in 1834. The Imperial-regio Instituto Lombardo di Scienze Lettere e Arti in Milan Lettere (Royal Imperial Lombard-Venetian Institute of Sciences, Arts and Letters) awarded his mathematical machine the Gold Medal in 1834. 

The device was called the Macchina pei Conteggi. Torchi was working as a local carpenter at the time. One of the initiatives of this particular body was the institution of the Premj d’Industria (Prizes for Industry) which was awarded every year to those entrepreneurs and firms that achieved distinction in their areas of activity.

Award 2

In 1937 Torchi received another award from the same Institute. This time he was awarded the Silver Medal. His invention was rather famous, with articles written about it as far as France. The Mémorial encyclopédique et progressif des connaissances.specifically wrote a piece about Torchi’s device. 

Luigi Torchi likely died before 1872. Details regarding his death have not yet been found in city archives in Milan. This makes it probable that Torchi died in an area quite far from the Lombard capital.

Up Next…

Want to find out more about other inventors in the computing world? See below!

  • The History of Calculating Tools. Everything you wanted to know about adding tools!
  • Curta Calculator. This really useful calculator was nicknamed the “math grenade”.
  • Saxonia Calculating Machine Explained: Everything You Need to Know. This great device was developed by three different mechanics.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Luigi Torchi?

Luigi Torchi was an Italian who worked as a carpenter and inventor. He developed several devices.

What did Luigi Torchi invent?

Documents reveal that Torchi invented several inventions, including a calculating machine with a keyboard calculator, a horseless carriage, and an improved pendulum level.

How did Luigi Torchi invent the direct multiplication machine?

It is not known exactly how Torchi invented this particular machine. It is likely that his understanding of mathematics and carpentry led to the creation of this device.

When was Luigi Torchi born?

Luigi Torchi was born in 1812.

When did Luigi Torchi die?

It is not known when Torchi died.

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