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Abacus, The First Computer or Calculator



Abacus, The First Computer or Calculator

The word “abacus” is obtained from the word “abax”. “Abax” is a Greek word that means a “calculating table or board.” Though the precise date of its invention is unknown, it is predicted that the device was designed in China around 500BC.

Nowadays, abaci are frequently constructed as one having a bamboo frame with small beads sliding on wires. Initially, it used to be beans/stones that used to move in grooves in tablets made of wood, metal, or stone or in the sand.


The existence of abacus: Why did it exist?

Nowadays it’s hard to imagine counting without numbers. There was once a time when numbers (as we see it today) didn’t exist. So what was the earliest human device?

The earliest counting device was the human hand or the fingers. But that had many limitations. With larger quantities, other natural items like twigs and pebbles were used to count. Merchants who dealt in goods needed a specific way to count their purchases and sales. They also had to find a way to calculate the cost of the goods. For that exact reason, a counting device was used and thus, abacus came into existence.


The Chinese Abacus

This abacus is also known as suanpan. The Chinese abacus mainly came with more than 7 rods. Each rod in the upper deck used to have 2 beads. The bottom half usually had 5 beads that were mainly used for decimal and hexadecimal computation. The beads were usually rounded and were generally made of a hardwood. The counting of beads was done by moving the beads up and down as per requirement.

You can refer to the image of the suanpan below to get a clear idea of its appearance.

Chinese Abacus


Suanpans had multiple applications. They can be used to count quantities as per requirement. With more sophisticated techniques, suanpans can be used to do various operational arithmetic involving additions, subtractions, multiplications, divisions, square roots, etc.

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The Japanese abacus

This abacus is also known as soroban. The soroban had an odd number of rods; each having 5 beads. Refer to the image below to get a clear idea of its appearance.

Japanese abacus

The soroban is used for-

      • Representation of numbers,
      • Addition,
      • Subtraction,
      • Multiplication,
      • Division.


Russian Abacus

The Russian abacus is also known as the “schoty.” It commonly has a single slanted deck, a bit like this one here.

Russian Abacus


This abacus is often used vertically like a book from left to right. The Russian abacus was a cheap, simple, and reliable device used for all commercial purposes. It was very popular in the Soviet Union. The Russian abacus started losing its popularity after the mass manufacturing of micro calculators in 1974.


Learning Benefits

Before we start this discussion, we would like to inform you of the fact that in this column, we’ll be talking about modern abacuses on the whole. The modern abacus has several benefits such as:

      • Capable of boosting better and faster calculation skills,
      • Increases the student’s endurance for pressure and stress.
      • Improves critical problem-solving abilities in students.
      • Sharpens observance and concentration in students.
      • It provides a clearer logical comprehensibility of basic operational arithmetic to students.
      • Strengthens mental visualization abilities.
      • Improves reading and writing capabilities.
      • Boosts photographic memory,
      • Improves listening skills,
      • Makes math useful, meaningful, and fun.
      • It helps the students improve their memory and sharpens their overall mentality.
      • Provides students with a solid base for basic operational arithmetic including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
      • Develops self-esteem.


So you see that learning basic operational arithmetic through abacus has many benefits. Although in this digital world, we have a number of apps and games that serve this purpose to the best possible extent sometimes the traditional methods are the simplest and the best. Mathematics is looked upon as a source of trouble by many students. That’s mainly because the base isn’t clear. It’s not strong enough to provide them with that confidence. Thus, hands-on learning becomes essential.



Read more on Education related stories in The Weekly Trends magazine.

Sudipto Das writes educational content periodically for LearnPick, MyPrivateTutor and backs it up with extensive research and relevant examples. He's an avid reader and a tech enthusiast at the same time with a little bit of Arsenal Football Club thrown in as well.

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