When computers were human …

For ‘Studies in Crop Variation I’, he [R. A. Fisher] worked alone. It required a prodigious amount of calculation. His only aid was a calculating machine named the Millionaire. It was a primitive, hand-cranked calculator. If one wanted to multiply, for instance, 3,342 by 27, one put the platen on the units position, set the number 3,342 and cranked seven times. Then one put the platen on the tens position, set the number 3,342, and cranked two times. It was a Millionaire because the platen was big enough to accommodate numbers in the millions. To get some idea of the physical effort involved, consider Table VII that appears on page 123 of ‘Studies in Crop Variation I’. If it took about one minute to complete a single large-digit multiplication, I estimate that Fisher needed about 185 hours of work to generate that table. There are fifteen tables of similar complexity and four large complicated graphs in the article. In terms of physical labor alone, it must have taken at least eight months of 12-hour days to prepare the tables for this article. This does not include the hours needed to work out the theoretical mathematics, to organize the data, to plan the analysis, and to correct the inevitable mistakes. (D. Salsburg The Lady Tasting Tea. W. H. Freeman and Company 2001. pp 42-43)

 

R.A. Fisher (1921) “Studies in Crop Variation I”, J. of Agricultural Science 11: 107-135.