Tech History

January 4, 1972

First Handheld Scientific Calculator

The HP-35 was Hewlett-Packard’s first pocket calculator and the world’s first scientific pocket calculator – a calculator with trigonometric and exponential functions.

The calculator used a traditional floating decimal display for numbers that could be displayed in that format but automatically switched to scientific notation for other numbers. The fifteen-digit LED display was capable of displaying a ten-digit mantissa plus its sign and a decimal point and a two-digit exponent plus its sign. The display used a unique form of multiplexing, illuminating a single LED segment at a time rather than a single LED digit because HP research had shown that this method was perceived by the human eye as brighter for equivalent power. Light emitting diodes were relatively new at the time and were much dimmer than high-efficiency diodes developed in subsequent decades.

The calculator could also run from the charger, with or without batteries installed.The calculator used three “AA”-sized NiCd batteries assembled into a removable proprietary battery pack. Replacement battery packs are no longer available, leaving existing HP-35 calculators to rely on AC power, or their users to rebuild the battery packs themselves using available cells.

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