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Sharp EL-8 'Handheld' Electronic Calculator

Updated 10/9/2010

The Sharp EL-8, introduced in January of 1971, is recognized as the first portable electronic calculator. Prior to the EL-8, electronic calculators were generally desktop devices. Some calculators provided rechargeable batteries, and were small enough to move from place to place, with relative ease, like the EL-8's parent, the ground-breaking Sharp QT-8D, but they were just large enough that they were impractical for a jet-setting business-person to carry along on a business trip. The EL-8 is small enough that it can fit easily in a briefcase. It is definitely too large to consider a pocket calculator, but given that it was built in late 1970, it was definitely a big step ahead in the miniaturization of electronic calculators. It appears that two different cabinet color schemes were made, the off-white cabinet illustrated here, as well as a dark charcoal gray cabinet. It isn't clear if the cabinet color was changed sometime during production, or if the machine was offered in either of these colors, allowing the buyer to choose the color. The EL-8 came with a nice vinyl carrying case that has a strap for easy carrying.

The EL-8 had a clone, the Facit 1111. Sharp made the insides of the EL-8 available to OEM customers. Facit was a major OEM customer of Sharp, producing repackaged versions of Sharp calculators for sale in the European, and later, worldwide markets. The Facit 1111 uses identical internals and operates identically to the EL-8. Facit simply wrapped a slightly more boxy and angular case around the Sharp-produced insides.

Carrying Case for EL-8

The EL-8 is a simple four-function, 8 digit floating point calculator. It uses individual Itron vacuum fluorescent display tubes, with each digit made up of an eight-segment pattern. The digits formed by the Itron displays are unique looking, with a more stylized digit than the standard seven-segment representation used so commonly today. The most obvious characteristic of the Itron display is the half-height zero digit.

External AC Power Supply/Charger

The machine uses four Rockwell-made (Sharp contracted with Rockwell as the fabricator for thier LSI IC's) Large-Scale Integrated Circuits (Part numbers 2271, 2266, 2261 and 2256) mounted on a small plug-in double-sided circuit board. A fifth IC in a can-type package contains the clock-generation circuitry for the LSI chipset. These chips are refinements of the first LSI integrated circuits used in a calculator, those fabricated by Rockwell for Sharp in the QT-8D. The display, display drivers, power supply, and other miscellaneous circuitry reside on another board that plugs into the edge-connector-based backplane, along with the keyboard assembly. The machine uses a rechargeable NiCd (Nickel Cadmium) six cell (7.2V) battery pack for power when running without the AC adapter. The external power supply/charger module plugs into a connector on the back panel of the machine for operation from AC power, or for charging the NiCd batteries.

Closeup View of Keyboard

The EL-8 minimizes the number of keys on the keyboard by having a dual-function multiply/divide key. To multiply, the operator enters the multiplicand, then presses the [X] key, then the multiplier is entered, followed by pressing the pressing the pressing the pressing the [+=] key to calculate the result. To divide, the dividend is entered follwed by a press of the [X] key. The divisor is entered, and then the [-=] key is pressed to calculate the answer. The keyboard on the EL-8 is laid out the same as that of the Facit 1111, but Sharp opted for a more colorful keycap scheme, with blue zero and decimal point keys.

The EL-8 is a relatively fast machine, with the "all-nines" divided by one calculation taking perhaps 1/5 of a second to perform. The machine properly handles negative numbers, with a small vacuum-fluorescent tube located above the numbers in the display that displays a '-' when the number on the display is negative. The machine also accurately detects overflow, lighting a dot next to an area on the display panel with an "ERROR" nomenclature. The EL-8 does not detect divide by zero properly, and goes into a strange state which requires the machine to be cleared before it will return to normal operation.

Check out the page on the Facit 1111 for more information that applies to the EL-8, including internal pictures.


Text and images Copyright ©1997-2011, Rick Bensene.