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Soroban Engineering



Soroban Engineering was an American computer systems manufacturer located in Florida. According to their 1963 General Catalog, they received their first order for a coding keyboard in March 1954. Soroban offered encoding typewriters (known as the Computeriter) and standalone keyboards. Soroban keyboards were electromechically encoded and used a ball bearing rollover interlock.

Soroban’s encoding system is described in US patent 2836809, filed by John H MacNeill in February 1955 (“assignor to the United States of America as represented by the Secretary of the Air Force”) and granted in May 1958. This includes the ball bearing cage mechanical interlock also seen later in Invac’s photoelectric encoder keyboards. The example shown is that of a hexadecimal keypad rather than a full alphanumeric keypad. The keyboard may have originated as part of the Florida Automatic Computer; John Harmon MacNeill (27/10/1919–19/12/2016) was one of the people involved on this project and is said to have been a member of US Air Force personnel at the time.

The 1963 General Catalog describes Soroban’s FK-2 keyboards. These likely take the implementation described in US patent 3069674 filed by Soroban Engineering in October 1959 and granted in December 1962. This patent covers enhancements to the design, including a way to increase the count of keys without incurring a penalty of heavy keystroke force resulting from the original design. FK-2 keyboards came in three sizes: FK-2S (“small”, up to 21 keys) FK-2M (“medium”, 22–44 keys) and FK-2L (“large”, 45–64 keys). By default they offered 8 bits of encoded output, customisable up to 16 bits.

A soroban (算盤, そろばん) is a type of Japanese abacus, hence Soroban Engineering’s logo being that of an abacus.

Soroban Engineering production facility photograph from Florida Memory.