History of Computers

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History of Computers

In current society, computers are a staple in our everyday lives. We rely on them for schoolwork, entertainment purposes, and our jobs, as well as other everyday tasks such as checking the weather. The computer industry, as a whole, has grown rapidly over the last few decades, and has permanently woven itself into the lives of people around the world. Each day, progress is made in the technological world which cause great advancements in our communities. The world has witnessed fascinating changes from the first “general-purpose electronic computer” (Maxfield) up until our current desktop PCs through their cost, size, and efficiency.

John William Mauchly and J.Presper Eckert Jr. created the very first “general-purpose electronic computer” (Maxfield). The machine was known as the ENIAC (electronic numerical integrator and computer), and was built from 1943 to 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania. This computer was colossal in size, weighing in at 30 tons, standing 10 feet tall, and using up about 1,000 square feet of the floor it rested upon. It was primarily made up of vacuum tubes (about 18,000) which used up a great deal of power. The machine used approximately “150 kilowatts of power, which was enough to light a small town.” (Maxfield). A significant amount of time was spent fixing or replacing the unreliable vacuum tubes, which burnt out daily. There were about 50 tubes per day which needed to be replaced. In later years, it was imperative for Mauchly and Eckert to replace these tubes with a more reliable source of power.

A more efficient computer was proposed by the duo in late 1944, referred to as EDVAC (electronic discrete variable automatic computer). This new machine had 4,000 vacuum tubes (as compared to its predecessor that had 18,000) and 10,000 crystal diodes which allowed the computer to be without errors for up to 8 hours at a time. EDVAC was considered “the first storage program computer” (Parker) and had 32 words of memory. This machine was fully set up and operating at Manchester University by mid 1948.

Soon after the personal computer became a key focus for many computer companies. In 1957, IBM created the first personal computer, but unfortunately, this machine was not practical for the consumer market, with an outlandish price or $55,000. Farther down the road, in 1973, Scelbi Computer Consulting Company released the Scelbi-8H microcomputer which was $565 and came with one kilobyte of RAM.

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In 1974, a man named Ed Roberts designed a computer called the Altair 8800, which was based on the 8080 microprocessor which had just been released. Roberts soon came out with a “do-it-yourself kit” (Maxfield) in 1975 for $439, but soon after the price dropped to $375. The machine only had 256 bytes of RAM, but despite this, these at home kits were extremely popular.

Continuing with the development of personal computers, we come to a landmark event. In April of 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen created a company called Microsoft, and in the following July, came out with the program BASIC 2.0 for the highly demanded Altair 8800. This program was the “first reasonably high-level computer language program to be made available on a home computer.” (Maxfield). This allowed the Altair 8800 as well as the programs to sell even more than it had prior.

A year later (1976) Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs created a computer known as the Apple I, and on April first created the Apple Computer Company. The success of Apple I led Wozniak and Jobs to create the Apple II, which is thought of as the first actual personal computer, because not only was it affordable at a price of $1,300, but it was practically usable for people as well.

For a few years, many commercial companies believed that personal computers were simply just a fad and there were few to no programs to use for the computers out on the market. The year 1978 brought commercial software to the stores, but it was not until IBM’s release of it’s first PC in 198 that computer software truly made a distinguishable appearance.

Computers, although an everyday commodity in current society, are also very new to our world. Many aspects of our lives are computer oriented, which brings up a very interesting thought. If computers are so new to the community and have already, in a sense, dominated the world, what will the future advancements of computers and technology bring?


Works Cited

Maxfield, Clive. “A History of Computers” Maxfield and Montrose Interactive.
September 14, 2003. www.maxmon.com/timeline.htm.

Parker, Sybil P. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. McGraw-Hill
Companies Inc.United States: 1997.


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