This beautiful little gadget dates to the 1920s, and is known as Kaufmann’s Posographe:

Kaufmann’s Posographe is nothing less than an analog mechanical computer for calculating six-variable functions. Specifically, it computes the exposure time (Temps de Pose) for taking photographs indoors or out (depending on which side you use). The input variables are set up on the six small pointers; the large pointer then gives you the correct time. The variables are very detailed, yet endearingly colloquial. For outdoors, they include the setting — with values like “Snowy scene”, “Greenery with expanse of water”, or “Very narrow old street”; the state of the sky — including “Cloudy and somber”, “Blue with white clouds”, or “Purest blue”; The month of the year and hour of the day; the illumination of the subject; and of course the aperture (f-number)…

The linkages, of course, are hidden inside. The linked site, above, includes a patent illustration that shows how they work. [Thanks, Alan Dove!]


Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

  • Lewis Baumstark

    The “History of Computing” pages on that site were what kicked my interest in mechanical computers into high gear.  It was the first place I’d ever heard of a pinwheel calculator.  Glad to see they’re getting some press.

  • Kent Barnes


  • Anonymous

    Lovely linkage devices like this can be thought of as a function, in this case of six(!) variables, f(u,v,w,x,y,z).  Here’s my simple-minded question:  what limits are there on the functional domain of simple linkages?  i would suppose that all(?) polynomials would be within their ability, and perhaps with some wheels (within wheels?) most of the trig functions, but complex valued Gamma functions..?  (“well, what do you mean by ‘simple linkages’?”)  (i want an Antikythera device that can compute Fourier transforms )

  • Rachel Styles

    Computers are used for almost everything these days, most people should learn how to use a computer. If you don’t know how a computer works, this article gives a great explanation on how a computer works.