There was no shortage of
Doubting Thomases when the Friden Calculating Machine Company, Inc.
began operations in 1933.
Friden had invented one of the leading models of calculating
machines, and now he must do it all over again - but without
infringing on any of the dozens of patents he had already taken out
on his first calculator and later sold. This, said experts in the
field, was expecting entirely too much of any inventor. Worst of
all, Friden and his associates were going into business at a time
when the country's economy was in the dismal depths of depression
there was little encouragement for Friden or his small band of
calculator builders. Friden gave that challenge the only answer he
knew. He bet his bottom dollar on the American system of free
enterprise and his own brilliant plan for the building of a
simplified Rotoflow Drive, one-way non reversible, fully automatic
plan was the only real asset the new company had. Its plant was a
small rented building on East 12th Street in Oakland, California.
There was little equipment and less money. A few men did all the
varied things that had to be done.
Today, the Friden Calculating Machine Company, Inc. is housed in a
multi-million dollar, seven acre production "palace" in San Leandro,
a fast-growing industrial center of the San Francisco Bay Area
located just south of Oakland. This most modern factory of its kind
in the nation produces Friden Fully Automatic Calculators at the
rate of one every few minutes - and it has to. Otherwise, production
would fall far behind the constant customer demand.
service is supervised by company controlled sales and service
agencies in more than 250 cities of the United States and Canada.
There are also distributors in approximately 115 other countries and
colonies, extending the Friden organization to every corner of the
almost the first moment the original hand-tooled Friden Model "A"
was shown to public view, there has been a race to provide the
needed tools and production space to meet unprecedented customer
first, in Oakland, it was simply a matter of getting the job done
with limited facilities. In those days, "everyone did everything."
of the men who today hold principal positions in Friden engineering
and production departments were all-around specialists then, darting
from drafting boards to benches, tooling needed parts by hand. The
first dies were carefully capped in charcoal, then hardened with a
gasoline blow torch. When the first heavy equipment arrived,
everyone helped set up the machinery.
men took turns sweeping out the plant, bringing wood to heat the
building, dashing out for sandwiches and other quick snacks for
workers to eat at their benches. Friden and his associates often
worked well past midnight, then returned at dawn to begin another
long day. They willingly shared the financial troubles of the
budding company, and even provided most of their own tools!
friends came to the firm's aid with funds to add to Carl Friden's
limited finances. Completion of the first model was desperately
needed to provide capital for the expansion they felt would soon be
demanded. These friends were: Waiter S. Johnson, now Friden
president and also president of the American Forest Products
Corporation and its many affiliates, San Francisco; Charles T.
Gruenhagen, secretary-treasurer of the same company, now secretary
treasurer of the Friden Calculating Machine Company, Inc.; J. B.
Lewis, then sales manager of American Box, as the lumber firm was
first known, now a member of the Friden Company board of directors;
and C. A. Webster, who was president of the Stockton Box Company at
the time, since deceased.
four executives, unlike hundreds of other businessmen who had
opportunity to invest in the young firm, had faith in Carl Friden to
overcome what seemed like insurmountable obstacles. When they
visited the small factory to see Friden's "magic" calculator, he
could show them only a skeleton of a machine. There was nothing that
would run, nothing that resembled a finished calculator.
of his new backers even asked: "But where is the calculator!" Yet
those friends invested twice more in Friden's experiments before he
had the company in full-fledged operation.
Finally, the great day arrived - the first model was completed and
the production was ready to begin. John M. Lund, now chairman of the
executive committee, came from his important executive post with a
leading calculator manufacturer to aid his old friend in sales
promotion. Associated for many years with Friden, Lund held great
admiration for his inventive and executive ability.
took the first calculator under his arm and began a tour, which
brought him to nearly every state and into Canada. When that first -
and only - Friden wasn't available, he made calls anyhow.
Demonstrations or not, he convinced dozens of outstanding calculator
salesmen of Friden superiority and took many cash-in-advance orders
vitally needed to continue plant operations.
ready acceptance of the calculator spurred pioneer members of the
company to even greater activity. They parked their cars on the
street as the punch press department, crowded out of the factory,
took over the garage. Some even took jobs to their homes, and one
worker - the late Borgar Christiansen - was continually being called
upon to "hurry home for more cover parts."
Despite this frantic production, Friden insisted that quality he
maintained throughout. It was reported that some of the first
machines to be shipped would not work upon arrival until they had
been readjusted. There were only a few completed machines in the
plant, but Friden took one of them, fastened it in a shipping crate,
and took it to the top of a 25 - step stairway. Then, while his
staff stared, he kicked it downstairs and against a concrete wall.
"We thought of stopping him," admitted one of Friden's associates,
"but, after all, it was his machine."
an afternoon of throwing around calculators, Friden worked out a
method of "floating" the machines in their crates which is still in
use today. When the calculator could be kicked down the concrete
step, land against a concrete wall and then work without adjustment,
he was satisfied.
summer of 1934, the first calculator was taken off the sales
demonstration assignment long enough to be shipped to Washington for
government tests, The machine was given typical use in Federal
offices and, on the basis of this on-the-job test, easily qualified
for government service. In the following years, thousands of Friden
Calculators have been ordered by nearly every branch of the
than three years after the first drawings of the Friden Calculator
were completed, immediate expansion became essential. Wesley L.
Plunkett, treasurer and assistant general manager (since retired),
was sent out to find a location for a new and larger plant. The
growing industrial prominence of San Leandro attracted Plunkett and,
after careful consideration of many sites, a l4-acre location
running between East 14th Street and Washington Avenue was selected.
In addition to frontage on two principal thoroughfares, it afforded
easy access to rail, truck and airline shipping facilities.
building was to be streamlined "just like the Calculator." It was to
be a credit to the San Leandro community and "large enough to fill
our needs for years to come." And, it did seem huge on that gala day
in 1936 when doors of the beautiful building were thrown open to a
growing Friden Family of almost 400 people.
first Friden Factory - "built to last years" - was sufficient for
only a year before expansion was ordered. The expansion has
continued each year. In 1945, a million-dollar building program was
completed, adding more than 86,000 square feet of floor space in
three huge buildings and several extensions to former plant
buildings. Another million-dollar burst in 1948-49 put five full
Friden acres in calculator production, and a similar program in
1952-53 still further expanded plant facilities. Additionally, the
Friden firm greeted the new year of 1954 by putting into use two
complete new buildings and two large new front wings to permit
further expansion of sales, service, research and administration
Today, the original factory unit houses only segments of the
business, sales and factory office departments, and almost 2,000
people gain their livelihood through jobs within the continually
growing plant. Almost every year, engineers and architects have been
called upon to draw plans for vast expansions to the plant area.
Dozens of smaller additions have been made.
seven acres of floor area are devoted exclusively to the manufacture
of Friden Fully Automatic Calculators, the largest rotary-type
calculator plant in America.
of the credit for this success story goes to Waiter S. Johnson, Carl
Friden's long - time friend, who assumed presidency of the concern
at the time of Friden's death in April, 1945, and the general
management of John M. Lund, now chairman of the executive committee.
Johnson has been a member of the Friden board of directors since the
company's incorporation in 1934, and has given generously of the
experience he has gained as president of a number of companies and
director of many more.
Johnson's keen judgment, production has surged ahead. With his
guidance the Friden factory has grown to be the largest calculator
factory in the nation with a straight-line production set-up second
to none in the world. Completely conveyorized sub assembly, assembly
and inspection lines speed Friden Calculators to the shipping
department at a rate unheard of in calculator production of the
Costly equipment speeds the fabrication of parts and manufacture of
highly accurate dies and gauges to save the time necessary to assure
conservative production costs. Light, airy, spacious buildings and
good employee relations insure working conditions conducive to
growth of the Friden Calculating Machine Company, Inc. and the
excellence of its product drew attention of the United States
government during the early days of the European war and long before
Pearl Harbor, the Friden Company was engaged in the production of
vitally needed war materials for our country. Even while the Friden
Calculator production continued to provide the country and the
government with as many calculators as possible, records were being
set in the manufacture of bomb nose fuses, shells. electronically
controlled tachometers and many other articles of ordnance.
part of the defense building program. the Friden Company produced
hundreds of hand operated Friden Calculators for use in the
unelectrified advance posts of the Army, Navy, and Marines.
the post-World War II years, particularly during and since the
Korean conflict, the Friden Company has continued to fill government
contracts - defense items as well as the calculators needed in
today's specialized warfare.
World War I1 nearly at an end and the Friden Company starting plans
which have led to the vast expansion of the factory and sales
organization, life ended for Carl M. Friden.
premature death (he was only 54) came as a shock to inventors and
engineers throughout the world. His typical Swedish shyness for
personal publicity kept Carl Friden from being too well known among
the general public. Among business and engineering associations,
however, and every place where invention is the subject of
discussion, Friden was a well-known personality. He held more than
500 patents in his own name, and had been told by many that this
constituted a record among American inventors.
of Carl Friden served as a spur and incentive to Walter S. Johnson,
John M. Lund, Wesley PIunkett and the company founder's highly
experienced engineering and production department personnel They
immediately rallied to carry out his plans.
defense building portion of the factory was completely remodeled and
the new buildings started, all to carry out the intent and purpose
of removing the tremendous war-time calculator sales backlog so that
regular peace time production could be resumed.
buildings are now complete, the goal has been met. Carl M. Friden,
were he still with us, could well look his Doubting Thomases
straight in the eye with an "I told you so."
he wouldn't. He was too firmly sold on America and the American
system of free enterprise. He had merely bet on his country and his
calculator - and won!
Copyright 1973, by
Barbro F. Alexander