The Deaths of the Slide Rule

Journal of the Oughtred Society, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Fall 2014), 6-17

12 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2014 Last revised: 24 Jan 2018

See all articles by Robert A. James

Robert A. James

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

Date Written: September 1, 2014


It is generally recalled or believed that the slide rule was the preeminent means of calculation until it was swiftly displaced by the electronic calculator, notably by the Hewlett-Packard HP-35 in 1972. But sales of major brand slide rules were declining in the sixties and early seventies, and in a number of specialty applications and emerging economies, the devices continued to find utility and demand through the eighties. Thus there was not a single "death of the slide rule": instead, it met a cascading demise, quickly losing the general-application users in affluent markets but more slowly dropping specialty and developing-country segments. This survey of the literature and evaluation of the business commentary on product obsolescence provide a more complete description of how a once dominant technology was confined to diverse but increasingly isolated uses before meeting its end.

Keywords: slide rule, death of the slide rule, calculator, calculation, product obsolescence, diffusion of innovation

JEL Classification: L63, L86, O3

Suggested Citation

James, Robert A., The Deaths of the Slide Rule (September 1, 2014). Journal of the Oughtred Society, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Fall 2014), 6-17, Available at SSRN:

Robert A. James (Contact Author)

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP ( email )

Four Embarcadero Center, 22nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States


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