The 1970s ushered in an era of electronic games, from arcades to simple handheld devices. Calculator maker Texas Instruments thought there might be a little room for something more educational, and introduced a device called the Little Professor. It looked a lot like a typical calculator with one distinct difference – it didn’t give you the answers.
First released in 1976, the Little Professor was a handheld device featuring an image of an old man with his nose buried in a book. Below his face, a keypad allowed you to input numbers and set your difficulty level.
Above his head (right where you would expect the ol’ professor’s brain to reside) was an LED display. The device also featured a handy wrist strap to keep you from dropping the kindly educator on the concrete.
The toy worked like a calculator in reverse. The Little Professor gave you mathematical problems to solve by way of addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. Children had three opportunities to enter in the correct answer, displaying “EEE” on the readout if your answer was incorrect. Miss it three times and the device showed a little mercy, giving you the correct answer.
The Little Professor contained a respectable 16,000 possible equations, offered via five levels of difficulty.
Sales of the toy skyrocketed, with over a million units sold by 1977. With a purchase price of less than $20, parents saw it as a worthy investment in their children’s education, while kids were enamored with the electronics, many blissfully unaware that the toy was actually teaching them math.
And the popularity of the toy has never died down completely. Texas Instruments still manufactures the Little Professor calculator to this day. You can even download a reasonable facsimile as an Android app.
Were you the proud owner of a Little Professor game as a kid? If so, I’d love to hear your recollections of this iconic toy in our comments sections below, as we pay tribute to one of the best learning toys to come out of the 1970s decade.