In those days, the event that kicked off the Christmas season in our house was the usually simultaneous arrival of the Sears and Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogs towards the end of September. (Spiegel had a catalog, too, but it was smaller, and was usually only looked at when one was forced to hand over the big two to not-so-patiently waiting sibs.) Each was just jam packed with tiny color pictures of every toy imaginable. That's where I first saw the Digi-Comp 1, and I instantly knew that this was just what I needed to further my plans for benevolent world domination. It was a real computer, for heaven's sake. It said so, right in the blurb:
"Digi-Comp 1 is the mechanical equivalent of an electronic digital computer."
The teeny little picture of it in the catalog even looked like a real computer. It had that long horizontal rack like all those computers I'd seen on TV had (you know, the card sorter). Onto my Christmas list it went.
So I waited. And planned. And waited some more. And antici... pated. For weeks and weeks.
My parents were all in favor of educational presents, and since I was less likely to make obnoxious smells with the Digi-Comp than with the chemistry set I'd gotten the year before, Christmas morning, there it was. It wasn't wrapped. (My mother never bothered to wrap things when we were young.) Eagerly, I opened the box, and...
It was a kit, and it was a lot, um, smaller than I expected (about 12" x 4" x 3"). And that card sorter? It was just these lame wires that fit into the notches on these plastic strips that you were supposed to move back and forth. By hand! And what was up with all the frelling rubber-bands? I went back to the now falling apart Christmas catalog, and peered at the picture, hoping there had been some terrible mistake.
My dreams of world domination collapsed into a pile of cheap polystyrene, wire, and rubber-bands.
I eventually put it together, but my heart wasn't in it. I seem to recall bending one of the wires, or something, so it never worked quite right, and although I tried a few of the "computer experiments" in the manual, they weren't very satisfying. See, my father was a navigator, and (since this was back in the days before there were electronic calculators) he needed a quick and simple mechanical means to do addition and subtraction while flying. So he had an Addiator. I'd been playing with his Addiator since I was five, and by this time I even had my own. It did everything the Digi-Comp did, plus it did it in base 10, which was far more useful to me.
A replica of the Digi-Comp 1 is now available, and while I'm curious, it's $50 that I can think of far better uses for than purchasing one of my bitterest disappointments. Far better to look back, and ponder what might have been.