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Columbia. Statistical Lab Equipment for Economics Faculty Request, 1948


One detects George Stigler’s style in the justification below for the purchase of two pieces of calculating equipment for the use of economics faculty at Columbia in 1948: “…the economist requires more than a library, a pen, a desk, and possibly a crystal-ball to prosecute his studies. He requires empirical material, lots of it, and this material is often numerical.” In the same budget request we also find a list (with current costs) of mundane faculty office furniture items, classroom accessories, and a dictionary for the department administrator.

Cf. An earlier posting for the purchase of a calculator by Henry Schultz at the University of Chicago in 1928.


Columbia University
in the City of New York
[New York 27, N.Y.]


January 13, 1948

Dr. Frank D. Fackenthal, Acting President,
213 Low Memorial Library.

Dear Mr. President:

I beg to submit the requests of the Department of Economics for fixed equipment and physical changes for the fiscal year 1948-49. The greater part of the sum asked is for non-recurring items. The total request is for $1,465, divided as follows:

1) New furniture necessitated by recent alterations in Fayerweather and Hamilton Halls


2) Ordinary needs for 1948-49


3) Statistical equipment for Economics Faculty


            Item 1) represents furniture equipment urgently needed as a result of the alterations in the two halls. The details are given on the following page. A part of this equipment has already been asked for during the present fiscal year and all of it should, if possible, be provided at once and paid for on the present budget.

Item 2) is explained on the second page following.

Item 3) represents a request for technical equipment which would be of great service in the work of members of the Department. This request is explained and justified in detail in the appended statement prepared by a Departmental committee consisting of Professor Stigler, chairman, and Professors Haig and Harriss.

Respectfully yours,
[signed] Carter Goodrich


1) [New furniture]

Item For Cost
Book shelves A. R. Burns $30.00
Clothing tree A. R. Burns $ 5.00
Club chair R. Nurkse $75.00
Legal size filing cabinet R. Nurkse $75.00
6 straight chairs H. Taylor $30.00
Swivel chair C. L. Harriss $15.00
4 coat racks H. Taylor $20.00
Small table O. Hoeffding $20.00
[Total] $270.00

2)        Ordinary needs for 1949-49

Item For Cost
Wall map of Europe R. Nurkse $   20.00
Grid-panel blackboard in classroom W. S. Vickrey $   20.00
Dictionary G. D. Stewart $     5.00
Other needs $150.00
[Total] $195.00


3) Proposal of a Statistical Laboratory for Faculty in Economics


  1. The need

Contrary to a widely held opinion, the economist requires more than a library, a pen, a desk, and possibly a crystal-ball to prosecute his studies. He requires empirical material, lots of it, and this material is often numerical. Statistical analysis, broadly defined, is the social scientist’s laboratory, and in principle the social scientist must spend more time in his laboratory than the natural scientist in his because the social scientist’s findings become obsolete even in the absence of improved techniques and doctrines. The statistical method is important in all branches of economics; it is noteworthy that the present proposal is energetically supported by five teachers of economic theory.

Granting the necessity for quantitative work, and noting the frequency with which such work leads to fairly extensive computations, the faculty requires access to computational equipment (and, one is tempted to say, assistance). At present this access is small and fortuitous. The available computational equipment is being used extensively by students, and it is common to be unsuccessful for several days before obtaining use of a machine. Since the department of economics has no such equipment, a protracted use of the machines (that is, more than say 6 hours a week) is properly objected to by the administrator of the laboratory, but usually this is an unattainable limit.

  1. The detailed proposal

1.  Equipment. We propose to purchase two machines:

Underwood Sundstrand, tape adding machine, Model 1014p
Marchant Calculator, Model ACT – 10M

2. Cost. The purchase price of these machines would be:

Sundstrand: $330 less 10 percent plus 6 percent = $316.80
Marchant:     $750 less 15 percent plus 6 percent = $682.50,

a total of $999.30. The annual cost of servicing the machines would be (1) nothing the first year, (2) $18 for the Sundstrand and $36 for the Marchant thereafter. In addition there would be the cost of the tapes for the Sundstrand, electricity, and space.

These machines will last, at a very conservative minimum, 10 years. Hence, the pro-rate annual cost of the laboratory would be on the order of $170 (of which $100 is depreciation), or $10 per member of the department.

  1. Administration. The machines would be most generally useful if they were placed in some small room to which the faculty had access. A much less efficient alternative would be to keep them in the departmental office when not in use.


Source: Columbia University Archives, Central Files 1890- (UA#001). Box 406. Folder “1.1.313 (1/4);  Goodrich, Carter; 7/1946 – 6/1948”.

Image Source: Marchant Calculator, Model ACT-10M. Smithsonian. The National Museum of American History.

Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier

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