Thomas de Colmar – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Thomas de Colmar

Thomas de Colmar – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Thomas de Colmar
Thomas de Colmar

Who was Thomas de Colmar

Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar was a French inventor and entrepreneur renowned for developing, patenting, and manufacturing the Arithmometer. The Arithmometer was the first commercially successful mechanical calculator.

Thomas de Colmar was born on  May 5, 1785, and died on  March 12, 1870. He also established the insurance companies Le Soleil and L’aigle, which then became France’s top insurance group under his leadership at the start of the Second Empire.

Early life

Charles-Xavier Thomas, also known as Thomas de Colmar, was born on May 5, 1785, in Colmar, the capital of the Alsace wine region, at number 8 rue Rapp. He was born to Joseph-Antoine Thomas (1758-1831), a physician, and Françoise-Xavière Entzlen (Anselin) (1759-1817). Joseph-Antoine Thomas, Thomas’s father, studied medicine at Freiburg and married Françoise-Xavier, a native of Carlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, on November 12, 1781, in Rastatt (Baden).

Thomas de Colmar
Image of Charles-Xavier de Colmar in 1846

During the 30 year war, circa 1634, the Thomas family migrated to Guebwiller in Alsace, originally from Burgundy. Charles, Thomas’s father, born in Guebwiller on February 8, 1758, graduated from the University of Freiburg in the early 1780s and practiced medicine in Colmar and subsequently at the Hospice in Rouffach, where he died on April 11, 1831 (Françoise-Xavière died in Rouffach on May 1, 1817). Joseph-Antoine was a member of the municipal council of Rouffach.


Phase 1

Thomas joined the French army in 1809 after a brief stint in the French administration. Eventually, he got the position of General Manager of the supply store for all of the forces stationed in Spain in 1813. He was elevated to Inspector of Supply for the French army shortly after. During this period, he came up with the concept for the Arithmometer to aid him with the numerous calculations he needed to do.

Phase 2

Returning to civilian life in 1819, he co-founded the “Phoenix” fire insurance firm, which he immediately quit because of his colleagues’ and shareholders’ lack of support for his innovative ideas.

He founded the fire insurance firm “Le Soleil” ten years later, in 1829, which he built via mergers and acquisitions until his death. In 1843, he founded “L’Aigle incendie,” a new insurance firm. He had covered all bases to attract a wide variety of clients in a very divided 19th century France, with the Sun (Soleil) emblem of former monarchs of France and the Eagle (Aigle) suggestive of Napoleon.

By the time he died, the “Aigle – Soleil” firm was France’s largest insurance company, and he owned 81 percent of it. It was nationalized in 1946 and eventually merged with “La National” in 1968 to become the GAN corporation, still in operation today.

What Did Thomas de Colmar Invent


Xavier (Charles Xavier) In 1820, Thomas de Colmar of France invented the first mass-produced calculator, for which he was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. While serving in the army, De Colmar came up with the idea for the project. Leibniz’s concept inspired the use of stepped drum gears for computation in the Arithmometer.

De Colmar improved Leiniz’s concept by inverting the operational function in the result registers, allowing for more extended operation without re-aligning the gears. However, like today’s desktop computers, De Colmar’s initial Arithmometer took up the entire desk and could not be moved by a single person. As a result, it inspired several competitors, leading to the development of very sophisticated calculating machines that avoided the drawbacks of the stepped-drum architecture.

Thomas was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1821. The appointment happened after the first model of the Arithmometer was introduced in 1820. Despite this, Thomas devoted himself to his insurance company. This devotion resulted in a thirty-year gap between the inventing Artitometer and its commercialization in 1852.

In 1857, he was promoted to the rank of Officier de la Légion d’honneur as a result of the Arithmometer. Nevertheless, by 1870, his factory had manufactured roughly 1,000 Arithmometers by the time he died. It made it the world’s first mass-produced mechanical calculator and, at the time, the only automatic calculator trustworthy enough to be used in government offices, banks, insurance firms, and observatories.

Thomas de Colmar: Marriage, Divorce, Children, and Personal Life


In 1812, Thomas De Colmar married Francesca (Frasquita) Garcia de Ampudia Alvarez in Seville. She was descended from a noble Andalusian family.


Thomas de Colmar and Francesca had eleven children together: Joseph Thomas Alvarez, Charlotte (Countess de Rancy), Louis Thomas, who married Livia Carafa, Duchess of Bojano and became Thomas de Bojano, Frasquita (Mrs. Soultzner d’Enschwyl), and Henriette (Mrs. Soultzner d’Enschwyl) (Countess de Dalmas).

Thomas de Colmar: Awards and Achievements

Chevalier of the Legion d’Honor

During his extended life, he received several honors, including Chevalier of the Legion d’Honor for creating the Arithmometer in 1821.

Other Awards

Knight of the Ordre of la Couronne de Chêne; Commander of the Ordre de Saint Grégoire le Grand; 1853, Croix de Chevalier du Sauveur; 1854, Knight of the Ordre des Saints Maurice et Lazare; 1857, Officier de la Légion d’honneur, and many others.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Thomas de Colmar?

He is most known for creating, patenting, and producing the Arithmometer, the first commercially successful mechanical calculator, and founding the insurance businesses Le Soleil and L’aigle.

What did Thomas de Colmar invent?

Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar invented the Arithmometer in 1820.

Why did Thomas de Colmar invent the Arithmometer?

The Arithmometer was created to speed up and improve the accuracy of the massive quantity of daily computations required by insurance firms.

When was Thomas de Colmar born?

Thomas de Colmar was born on May 5th, 1785

When did Thomas de Colmar die?

On March 12, 1870, Thomas de Colmar died at the age of 84, at one of his Paris properties, the Hôtel du 156 Boulevard Haussmann, of severe bladder illness. The Sun King (as he was known) left a massive wealth of more than 24 million dollars.

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