Goodbye, Mr. Merryman

Posted: March 6, 2019

Jerry Merryman helped invent something that makes math a lot easier—the calculator! He died on February 27. He was 86.  

Three men get the credit for inventing the hand-held calculator. They all worked at Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas. Jack Kilby and James Van Tassel were the other two inventors. The team wanted to build a computing device. Mr. Kilby, the boss, told his team, “It would be nice if it were as small as this little book I have in my hand.” Mr. Merryman designed the circuits for the calculator in three days.

Mr. Merryman was born on June 17, 1932. He grew up in Central Texas. He was always good with technology. By the age of 11 or so, he had become the radio repairman for the town.

“He’d scrape together a few cents to go to the movies in the afternoons and evenings and the police would come get him out . . . because their radios would break and he had to fix them,” says Mr. Merryman’s wife, Phyllis.

Mr. Merryman went to Texas A&M University. But he didn’t finish. Afterward, he worked in ocean science weather science. He also worked in the Gulf of Mexico measuring the force of hurricane winds. He started at Texas Instruments in 1963. He was 30. His friends and family say he was always creating something. His daughter Melissa Merryman remembers him making his own tuning fork for their piano. She said she asked him how he made it out of that “hunk of metal.”  He told her: “It was easy. I just took away all the parts that were not an F sharp.” He also put a telescope in concrete and attached a motor to it. The motor would power the telescope to follow a planet through the night.

Mr. Merryman and the other inventors started working on the calculator in 1965. Thier invention changed the world. Technology used for the calculator made present-day computers possible! But Mr. Merryman was humble. People remember him for never boasting or bragging about himself. “He always said that he didn't care anything about being famous,” says his wife. “If his friends thought he did a good job, he was happy.”

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. ― James 4:6

This 1997 photo shows Jack Kilby and Jerry Merryman, right, at the American Computer Museum in Bozeman, Montana. (Phyllis Merryman via AP)