John W. Nystrom

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Nystrom's Calculator

John W. Nystrom (Swedish: Johan Vilhelm Nyström) (1825–1885) was a Swedish born, American civil engineer, inventor and author. He served as an assistant Secretary and Chief Engineer of the United States Navy during the American Civil War.[1]


He was born Johan Vilhelm Nyström in Småland province, Sweden. He received his engineering degree from the Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska högskolan) in Stockholm, Sweden. He emigrated to the United States in the 1840s, and became an American citizen in 1854. He maintained residence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he died on May 11, 1885.[2][1]

Inventions and patents[edit]

Nystrom received many patents for inventions such as a marine steam engine, a refrigerator, and calculating machines. His slide ruler invention (U. S. patent #7961) was filed with the United States Patent Office on 4 March 1851.[3]

Nystrom is most noted for his proposal to switch from base 10 to base 16 as defined in his 1862 publication titled Project of a New System of Arithmetic, Weight, Measure and Coins, Proposed to be Called the Tonal System, with Sixteen to the Base.

Numeral systems[edit]

Tonal system (hexadecimal)[edit]

In 1859, Nystrom proposed a hexadecimal (base 16) system of notation, arithmetic, and metrology called the Tonal System. In addition to new weights and measures, his proposal included a new calendar with sixteen months, a new system of coinage, and a hexadecimal clock with sixteen hours in a day.

"I am not afraid, or do not hesitate, to advocate a binary system of arithmetic and metrology. I know I have nature on my side; if I do not succeed to impress upon you its utility and great importance to mankind, it will reflect that much less credit upon our generation, upon scientific men and philosophers."
(Quotation: John W. Nystrom, ca. 1863)[4]

Duodenal system (duodecimal)[edit]

In 1875, Nystrom proposed a new duodecimal (base 12) system of notation, arithmetic, and metrology called the Duodenal System as an appendix in his book "A New Treatise on Elements of Mechanics Establishing Strict Precision in the Meaning of Dynamical Terms".

Selected works[edit]

  • A treatise on screw propellers and their steam-engines, with practical rules and examples how to calculate and construct the same ... accompanied with A treatise on bodies in motion in fluid ... also, a full description of a calculating machine (Philadelphia: H. C. Baird. 1852)
  • Project of a new system of arithmetic, weight, measure and coins, proposed to be called the tonal system, with sixteen to the base (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.; London: Trubner & Co. 1862)
  • On technological education and the construction of ships and screw propellers, for naval and marine engineers (Philadelphia: H.C. Baird. 1866)
  • Informe al supremo gobierno del Perú, sobre una espedición al interior de la república (Lima: E. Prugue. 1868) Spanish
  • Pocket-book of mechanics and engineering (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & co.; London: Trübner & Co. 1869)
  • Principles of dynamics (Philadelphia: J. P. Murphy, printer. 1874)
  • A new treatise on elements of mechanics establishing strict precision in the meaning of dynamical terms accompanied with an appendix on duodenal arithmetic and metrology (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates. 1875)
  • A new treatise on steam engineering, physical properties of permanent gases, and of different kinds of vapor (Philadelphia: London: J.B. Lippincott & Co. 1876)


  1. ^ a b "History of Computers and Computing, Calculating tools, Gadgets, Nystrom"
  2. ^ "More than 175 years of excellence". KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
  3. ^ American Slide Rule Patents (The Oughtred Society)
  4. ^ The Art of Computer Programming section 4.1, Donald Knuth.

External links[edit]