Inventor Of The Pocket Calculator And ZX Spectrum, Sir Clive Sinclair, Has Passed Away

The inventor of the pocket calculator and the ZX Spectrum, Sir Clive Sinclair, has died at home at the age of 81. 

Sir Clive Sinclair pioneered consumer electronics in the UK with his inventions. He started early, drafting a book on building a transistor before he’d even taken his A Levels. He dropped out of school and founded his own company ‘Sinclair Radionics’, publishing a number of practical handbooks to teach people to build their own electronic devices.

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Sir Clive loved the idea of miniaturisation – producing a mini-radio in 1969. He followed this up with the first ever pocket calculator in 1972 and an electronic wrist-watch in 1975. 

UK tech innovation

The UK in the 1970s was a centre of tech innovation. Acorn Computers was started in Cambridge in 1978 by a former employee of Sinclair’s, Christopher Curry. Acorn were competing against the Texan company who were producing the Commodore – a popular personal computer that cost around £700 in 1979 – around £2,700 in today’s money.

Sinclair believed that he could make a personal computer for a seventh of the cost. Together with Jim Westwood, they launched the Sinclair ZX80 in 1980. It was available as a kit for just £79.95 or you could buy it ready-built for £99.95. In 1982 he launched the ZX Spectrum which was incredibly popular and his company became incredibly successful.

Sinclair switched focus again to electronic vehicles. Sadly, these weren’t as successful as his previous inventions. He launched the C5 in 1985, which looks like a cross between a bumper cart and tricycle, which caused his vehicle division to go into receivership. He continued to follow his passion for transport, working on the Zike – an electronic bicycle. It’s clear now that he was simply decades ahead of his time – electric bikes, scooters and cars are all in-demand now. 

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Tributes to Sir Clive Sinclair

Edgar Wright, director of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver, gave tribute on Twitter:

‘For someone whose first glimpses of a brave new world were the terrifying graphics of 3D Monster Maze on the ZX81, I’d like to salute tech pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair. He made 21st Century dreams feel possible. Will bash away on the rubber keys of a Spectrum in your honour. RIP.

Sir Clive’s was clearly driven by a determination to make electronics available to all. His manuals gave people the skills to build their own computers and his focus was reducing costs and miniaturisation to make tech accessible. Sir Clive Sinclair helped to shape the modern, digital world we all live in now. 

My primary school’s computer lab was populated with offcasts from local offices. This meant I was able to learn on Spectrums – as well as Acorns and early Apples. We all grew up learning to use pocket calculators. These items are so commonplace, we forget what a huge innovation they were when they were first launched.

Despite pioneering computing for the people, the Guardian reported that he claimed not to have a computer or email address himself. Perhaps he was ahead of us again. He helped make it possible for us to get online. And he also showed us the importance of unplugging.

Sir Clive Sinclair is survived by his three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Not to mention, of course, generations of kids who grew up with tech in their pockets that seemed like sci-fi – until Sir Clive came along.

Featured Image Credit: WikiCommons/Raul Santin via Unsplash