From Public Document No. 34 of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “Annual Report of the Department of Public Health for the Year ended November 30, 1928,” which can be found here:


It was the last sentence that drew me to this page. Manny was my grandfather, and my mother grew up at the (Lakeville State) Sanatorium. (See RUTGER.)

Once here, though, it was impossible not to puzzle over the several averages in the report that were given to seven-digit precision. For example, 193.9426, the daily average number of patients for the year. In the late 1920s, computing 70,983/366 to seven places wasn’t a snap like it is now. More likely, it required some cranking, punching, or scribbling.

I am badly out of practice, but while this took me a good two minutes, it reminded me how much I love long division.Original Odhner


My minimally-informed guess? That the Massachusetts Department of Public Health had one of the early motor-driven calculators, like the Marchand above (center). It’s hard for me to imagine a reason to compute seven digits of precision when fewer would suffice unless it was very little extra work to get the extra digits.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong and the reality was more romantic, and there was a clerk who loved little more than long division. I suppose we’ll never know.