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Bowmar

By Guy Ball and Bruce Flamm

To many, the "Bowmar Brain" is synonymous with the early pocket electronic calculator. Originally an LED (light emitting diode) display manufacturer, Bowmar/Ali, Inc. (USA), found they could not sell their displays to Japanese electronic calculator makers. Reviewing their business plan in 1970-71 and examining the new trends in the marketplace, Bowmar decided to design and manufacture portable calculators which would be sold by other marketing companies.

Bowmar 901B

Bowmar 901B

In September 1971 they modified their plans and began shipping their first model, a hand-held unit, under their own nameplate. This model (the 901B) was also produced for other companies including Craig (model 4501) and Commodore (C110). Bowmar soon became one of the world's largest producers of electronic calculators, mainly pocket models, for sale by themselves and by other companies such as Sears, Radio Shack, etc. (under their own nameplates). Early Bowmar calculators were made in the USA. In later years some were also made or assembled in Mexico.

In the mid-1970s, as the calculator "boom" was in full swing, Bowmar could not get enough integrated circuit chips from their suppliers and could not keep pace with the marketplace in low cost and new features. By 1976 the company had gone bankrupt, leaving a legacy of technical and marketing innovations.

(Key - 4-funct=basic 4 arithmatic functions, sealed batt=rechargeable batteries sealed in the case, dimensions in inches.)

  • 901B 4-funct, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.0", the original Bowmar "pocket" calculator, TI's Klixon keypad, fall 1971 price $240,
  • 901D aka Bowmar 10, 4-funct, 10 digit red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.0", same case as 901B except for white and black colors, 1972 price $150,
  • 905 4-funct, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x6.0", sloped case, tan color, 1972 price $99.95, 90112 see MX8.
  • 90506 4-funct, %, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x6.0", slope case like 905, variations: one example has Klixon keypad - one does not, c1972,
  • 90512 4-funct, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x6.0", sloped case like 905 but black, c1972, one example of the 90512 has a "Century Mark IV" logo on the front.
  • 90911 4-funct, red LED, 3-AA rep batt, 2.75x6.0", fold-back cover, c1972.
  • 91801 see MX40.
  • 91802 see MX40.
  • MX8 aka 90112, 4-funct, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.0", same case as 901B, differences unknown, possibly just a new number series for the 901B, c1973.
  • MX10 aka 90150, 4-funct, 10 digit red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.0", same white case as 901D, differences unknown, possibly just a new number series for the 901D, c 1973.
  • MX20 aka 90901 or Brainchild, 4-funct, red LED, 3-AA rep batt, 2.75x6.0", same black case as 90911, fold-back cover, 1973 price $59.95.
  • MX25 4-funct, %, red LED, 3-AA rep batt, 2.75x6.0", same black case as 90911, fold-back cover, 1975 price $35.
  • MX40 aka 91801 and 91802, 4-funct, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x6.0", 2 color variations - 91801 was red and 91802 was yellow, although there appears to be an all-red case and a red and black case both numbered 91801 in addition to yellow and yellow and black case both numbered 91802, sloped case like 905, Klixon keypad, 1973 price $79.95.
  • MX50 aka 90505, 4-funct, %, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x6.0", sloped case similar to 905 but has chrome edge, 1973 price $99.
  • MX55 4-funct, %, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x6.0", sloped case like 905, one example of the MX55 has a "Century Mark IV" logo on the front, 1974 price $69.
  • MX60 4-funct, %, red LED, 3-AA rep batt, 3.0x6.0", sloped case like 905, Klixon keypad, 1973 price $89.95.
  • MX61 aka 90601, 4-funct, %, red LED, 3-AA rep batt, 3.0x6.0", sloped case like 905, Klixon keypad, silver case.
  • MX70 aka 90701, 4-funct, mem, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.25", boxy shape reminiscent of 901B, 1973 price $129.95.
  • MX75 aka 90705, 4-funct, mem, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.25", Klixon keypad, looks like MX70, USA, 1974 price $99.95.
  • MX80 -- aka 90152, 4-funct, mem, 10 digit red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.25", Klixon keypad, looks like MX70, 1973 price $119.95.
  • MX90 -- 4-funct, mem, %, sq rt, recip, sgn chg, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.25", 1974 price $80, looks like MX70.
  • MX100 -- aka 92001 or MX100-2, sci-funct, mem, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.25", looks like MX70, 1974 price $179.
  • MX120 -- aka Super Brain, sci-funct, red LED, 3-AA rep batt, 3.0x6.0", same black case as 90911, fold-back cover.
  • MX140 -- sci-funct, mem, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.25", has 2 separate function keys, 1974 price $160, looks like MX70.
  • Century Mark IV -- see MX55 and 90512.
  • Count -- 4-funct, mem, %, sgn chg, sq rt, blue fluor, sealed batt, 3.0x5.5", thin metal case, looks like Rockwell 24MS, only known non-standard Bowmar design, possibly a final model produced after company was in bankruptcy or receivership.
  • Math Mate 1 -- 4-funct, %, red LED, approx. 3.0x6.0", blue keys.
  • Math Mate 2 -- 4-funct, mem, %, red LED, approx. 3.0x6.0", brown keys.

 

 

Footnote - The end for Bowmar:

In Feb. 1975 the journal "New Scientist" reported[1]:

"Even those closest to the pocket calculator business have been overwhelmed by the pace of developments and the nose dive in prices. Indeed, so bloody has been the price war at the cheap end in particular that many a proud name has fallen by the wayside. Last week the second largest calculator manufacturer in the United States, Bowmar Instrument Corp, became the latest casualty. The company may yet survive—as an acquired or merged operation—but it will have to be slimmed down considerably.

Bowmar's problems are typical of the times. Envious of the handsome profits being made by the assembly houses who put calculators together from other suppliers' components and sell them at substantial profit [such as Bowmar], the giant US semiconductor manufacturers started to integrate their own companies vertically and moved heavily into the calculator assembly business. Texas instruments was followed by Rockwell and, more recently, National Semiconductor. They brought with them a price advantage on the vital integrated circuits, plus greater technological ability and superior financial resources—and, above all, control over the supply of microcircuits to competitive manufacturers.

Texas Instruments quickly moved into the number one position in the United States— which is by far the largest calculator market in the world, accounting for 40 per cent of all machines sold. It became clear that the only survivors in the big league would be those that were vertically integrated. And so Bowmar as an assembly house took the necessary plunge—investing $7 million in a large semiconductor plant in Chandler, Arizona. Their timing, however, couldn't have been worse: by then, many manufacturers had developed overcapacity, the shops and warehouses were stocked to overflowing, and everybody was strapped for cash. By mid-February, Bowmar reckoned its after-tax loss had soared to $20 million on a year's sales of $80 million. The company filed for protection under the federal bankruptcy law."

 

Footnote - Bowmar Renaissance:

In February 2012 the Fort Wayne Daily News reported that the Fort Wayne-based Bowmar LLC was now in business again after being bought by investors in the Main Street Venture Fund.

As reported above, in 1976 the company had filed for bankruptcy protection. However, it managed to continue by withdrawing from the consumer market and producing precision mechanical devices, including some used in the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module and F-4 Phantom fighter planes. Through a series of acquisitions and mergers it ultimately became part of White Electronic Designs.

Now Main Street investors have purchased the Fort Wayne facility, restored the Bowmar name, and have bought back the founder of Bowmar, Edward White.

So the proud Bowmar name is alive once again.
Thanks to Max Stone for providing the link to this interesting information.

 

 

See also Bowmar in the Calculator Companies section of this site.
For further photographs of Bowmar calculators see the Calculator Photo Library on this site.

 

References:

  1. Valry, Nicholas (27 February, 1975), "The electronic slide-rule comes of age", New Scientist, 506.
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