Mechanik warszawski Abraham Izrael Staffel (1814–1885) i jego wynalazki

Ewa Wyka


Abraham Izrael Staffel, a Varsovian maker, and his inventions

Abraham Izrael Staffel (1814–1885) was one of the few Polish nineteenth century precision mechanics and inventors.

Although he did not implement any of his inventions into production, he was noticed on the European market and appreciated by the circle of contemporary scientists and authorities in the manufacture of precision instruments.

When he was granted a clockmaker concession, A.I. Staffel opened his own clock shop in Warsaw, first at ul. Marszałkowska 1379; after several years, he moved his shop to ul. Grzybowska 982.

The earliest information concerning the devices made by Staffel comes from 1845, when he presented a calculating machine for the first time at an industry exhibition in Warsaw47. It was the result of ten years of work. The machine served to perform four basic operations – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as exponentiation and extraction of square roots. The mechanic presented his arithmometer in at least three exhibitions. For the first time at the already mentioned exhibition in Warsaw in 184548. The machine was also positively assessed by the exhibition jury, which among others consisted of Professor Adryan Krzyżanowski, August Bernhard, and Julian Bayer, who were outstanding authorities in the Polish scientific circle. Staffel was awarded with a silver medal for it. Later, in 1846, he exhibited the machine in the Russian Empire Academy of Science. The device was submitted to assessment by W.J. Bunyakowski49 and B.S. Jacobi.50 He was then awarded with a prize of 1,500 roubles. At the end of his life Staffel decided to give his arithmometer to St. Petersburg, to the Empire Academy of Science. The device was forwarded to the Physics Laboratory at the Academy in 1876. Unfortunately, it has not survived.

Probably the only specimen of Staffel’s calculating machine which has survived in Poland is in the Warsaw Technical Museum’s collection. Its mechanism is encased in a box of walnut wood, with dimensions: length – 26 cm, depth – 14 cm, height after closing – 16 cm, diameter of wheels – about 8 cm. The inside of the cover is lined with plush, at the centre of which there is an oval metal plate with an engraved inscription: Calculating Machine, Invented and Manufactured by the Clockmaker Izrael Abraham Staffel in Warsaw in 1842. Additionally, the machine was able to convert roubles into zlotys.

More information on another calculating machine model comes from 1858. Staffel named it a ‘mechanical calculator’51; it was also a seven-digit machine and served for addition and subtraction; it did not have the function of converting zlotys into roubles. The machine was rewarded at the exhibition in Warsaw in 1858. The only prototype of it was stored in the Calculating Machine Museum of Grimme Natalis and Company; presently, it is in the State Museum in Braunschweig.

Staffel also constructed other instruments and technical devices. Some of them have survived, e.g., an anemometer – a device which served to quantify the ratio of metals in gold and silver alloys, and a fan – one of many made by Staffel apart from providing everyday clock services.

It seems that the 1840s and 1850s were the period of the most intense intellectual activity of Staffel. Most of his inventions were designed after 1842 and not later than in the 1860s.

Despite a great talent and perseverance, Staffel did not expand his activity. Certainly, the then political situation was unfavourable. It is also known that the inventor was ill for a long time and his financial situation was poor, which also limited his professional activity.

In 1885 Abraham Izrael Staffel died in poverty after a lengthy illness.

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