Milton Jeffers – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

The patent drawing of adding machine of Milton Jeffers.

Milton Jeffers – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

While the 20th century saw inventors and mathematicians get closer and closer to the modern calculators and computers we know and use today, the 19th century saw them experimenting on wild, unique designs that — despite not looking anything like the devices we’re familiar with in the modern-day — helped to pave the way to the groundbreaking innovations of the 1900s. One such person is Milton Jeffers, an agent and broker from New York whose invention, a simple adding device, helped move the world that much closer to a real, functional calculator.

The adding machine of Milton Jeffers (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)

Who Was Milton Jeffers?

As with many inventors of his time, the answer to the question of who was Milton Jeffers doesn’t extend much further than what is known about his invention. We know that he was born in 1823, that he took out the patent for his simple adding machine invention in 1863, and that he was a resident of New York City, New York where he worked as an agent and a broker. What kind of agent and broker specifically remains unknown today. Beyond this basic information, we also know that Milton Jeffers died in 1896, just before the turn of the century.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Milton Clifford Jeffers
Net Worth
Place of Birth
Fields of Expertise
Simple adding machine, corn huskers

What is Milton Jeffers Known For?

There’s no doubt Milton Jeffers is known best for his simple adding machine. However, there are a couple of other inventions that Jeffers received a patent for in the years that followed his adding machine invention. Let’s take a look at them all below.

Simple Adding Machine

Milton Jeffers’s most notable invention is undoubtedly the simple adding machine. Jeffers received his patent in 1863, which describes the device as a lever-set non-printing adding machine. Similar in shape and function to the earlier adding devices of Jabez Burns and John Ballou and a noted improvement on Joseph Harris’s machine, Jeffers’s simple adding machine is a brass, steel, and paper device with overall measurements: 10 cm x 11.5 cm x 10 cm. 

The machine is a lever-operated adding device, characterized by a frame that consists of two round terminals connected by a central axis and two brass handles on the outside. The central shaft has six cogwheels that users turn with their fingers. Each wheel has 30 teeth and is attached to a brass ring to its right (which functions as a transport mechanism). Around the edge of each ring is a strip of paper with the numbers 0-9. One-third of each ring is covered with a piece of metal with the numbers 1 to 9 engraved on it and a window at the bottom. To input the numbers, the operator must turn the wheels forward in the same distance indicated by those numbers. The total then appears in the windows.

The patent drawing of adding machine of Milton Jeffers.

Farming Inventions 

Beyond his work on this simple adding machine, Jeffers also spent some time on a pair of farming inventions that came in the years after the patent for his adding machine. The first came in 1868 and was a combined fodder cutter and corn husking machine. With this farming machinery, corn stalks passed between a set of rollers. Then, spiral knives proceeded to slice off and remove the husk from the ear of corn. Milton’s other farming intention was also a cornhusker, this time patented in 1870. It’s not known whether or not Milton ever actually physically produced this invention or the one that came to a couple of years before it.

Milton Jeffers: Marriage, Divorce, Children, and Personal Life

If Milton Jeffers had a wife and children outside of his career as an inventor, then their names, birthdates, and death dates are not commonly known or easily discoverable online. Because of the lack of documentation from Jeffers’s life during the 1800s, all that’s known is what Jeffers did professionally, not what his life was like personally.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Milton Jeffers?

Milton Jeffers was a 19th-century agent, broker, and inventor from New York City, New York.

What did Milton Jeffers invent?

Milton Jeffers invented a simple adding machine and a couple of pieces of corn husking machinery.

How did Milton Jeffers invent his adding machine?

Milton Jeffers invented his adding machine by joining a frame of two round end pieces to a central shaft and adding two handles and six cogwheels to the outside.

When was Milton Jeffers born?

Milton Jeffers was born in 1823.

When did Milton Jeffers die?

Milton Jeffers died in 1896.

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