Jerry Merryman, Inventor of the Pocket Calculator, Dies at 86

Jerry Merryman
Jerry Merryman, an inventor of the hand-held electronic calculator, has died at the age of 86. Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Jerry Merryman, one of three men credited with inventing the hand-held electronic calculator, has died at the age of 86, the Associated Press reported.

The Texas native passed away at a hospital in Dallas on February 27 as a result of heart and kidney failure. According to his stepdaughter Kim Ikovic, Merryman had been in poor health since the end of last year after suffering complications from a surgery to install a pacemaker.

Merryman helped to develop the calculator in the mid-1960s while he was working for American technology company Texas Instruments (TI) alongside James Van Tassel and his boss Jack Kilby—co-creator of the first integrated circuit and Nobel Prize winner.

"It was late 1965 and Jack Kilby, my boss, presented the idea of a calculator," Merryman told NPR in 2013. "He called some people in his office. He says, we'd like to have some sort of computing device, perhaps to replace the slide rule. It would be nice if it were as small as this little book that I have in my hand."

"Silly me, I thought we were just making a calculator, but we were creating an electronic revolution," he said.

After two years of development, the team filed a patent for the finished prototype in 1967. The battery-powered product—known as "Cal-Tech"—could fit in the palm of the hand and was capable of addition, multiplication, subtraction and division, according to the National Museum of American History.

Cal-tech, first hand-held electronic calculator
The prototype Cal-Tech handheld electronic calculator was built in the Semiconductor Research and Development Laboratory at Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas. The National Museum of American History

While TI never actually sold the Cal-Tech itself, Japanese tech company Canon helped the firm to refine the design after realizing its potential. This collaboration eventually led to the release of the Canon "Pocketronic"—one of the world's first commercial hand-held electronic calculators—which became available in 1970 and 1971 in Japan and the U.S. respectively. The original prototype of the Cal-Tech which Merryman and his team built now resides at the Smithsonian Institution.

People who knew Merryman described him as a brilliant but humble man with a keen sense of humor. According to one former colleague, Merryman completed the circuit design for the calculator in just three days.

"I have a Ph.D. in material science, and I've known hundreds of scientists, professors, Nobel prize-winners and so on," Vernon Porter, an ex-colleague and friend, told the Associated Press. "Jerry Merryman was the most brilliant man that I've ever met. Period. Absolutely, outstandingly brilliant. He had an incredible memory and he had an ability to pull up formulas, information, on almost any subject."

Merryman was born on June 17, 1932, and spent his childhood in Hearne, Texas. He went on to attend Texas A&M University, although he dropped out to work in the college's department of oceanography and meteorology before being hired by TI at the age of 30. He stayed at the company until his retirement in 1994.

Jerry Merryman, Inventor of the Pocket Calculator, Dies at 86 | Tech & Science