The History of Computers

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The History of Computers

Thousands of years ago calculations were done using people’s fingers and pebbles that were found just lying around. Technology has transformed so much that today the most complicated computations are done within seconds. Human dependency on computers is increasing everyday. Just think how hard it would be to live a week without a computer. We owe the advancements of computers and other such electronic devices to the intelligence of men of the past.

The history of the computer dates back all the way to the prehistoric times. The first step towards the development of the computer, the abacus, was developed in Babylonia in 500 B.C. and functioned as a simple counting tool. It was not until thousands of years later that the first calculator was produced. In 1623, the first mechanical calculator was invented by Wilhelm Schikard, the “Calculating Clock,” as it was often referred to as, “performed it’s operations by wheels, which worked similar to a car’s odometer” (Evolution, 1). Still, there had not yet been anything invented that could even be characterized as a computer. Finally, in 1625 the slide rule was created becoming “the first analog computer of the modern ages” (Evolution, 1). One of the biggest breakthroughs came from by Blaise Pascal in 1642, who invented a mechanical calculator whose main function was adding and subtracting numbers. Years later, Gottfried Leibnez improved Pascal’s model by allowing it to also perform such operations as multiplying, dividing, taking the square root.

Technology continued to prosper in the computer world into the nineteenth century. A major figure during this time is Charles Babbage, designed the idea of the Difference Engine in the year 1820. It was a calculating machine designed to tabulate the results of mathematical functions (Evans, 38). Babbage, however, never completed this invention because he came up with a newer creation in which he named the Analytical Engine. This computer was expected to solve “any mathematical problem” (Triumph, 2). It relied on the punch card input. The machine was never actually finished by Babbage, and today Herman Hollerith has been credited with the fabrication of the punch card tabulating machine.

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He got the idea when riding a train and watching the attendants poke holes into the passengers’ tickets (Evans, 51).

From the 1940’s to the 50’s, computers were often constructed of vacuum tubes. The ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) was developed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert in 1946. One reporter described the machine as being “faster than thought” (Evans, 82). In 1947, John von Neumann sought to improve the device. He came up with the idea of storing information in a high speed memory system. This led to the development of the EDVAC (Electronic discrete variable computer). It used Magnetic Tape, which was a major advancement. In time, the UNIVAC became a popular all-purpose computer. It was built by the Eckert- Mauchly Corporation in 1951.

The twentieth century was filled with important inventions that are still widely used today. Invented by four men at Bell Labs in 1947, the transistor became one of the most essential inventions of the times. Today, silicon is used to build transistors which are used in integrated circuits. But what can be done without the development of computer languages? In the mid 1950’s “high level” programming languages were made known. FORTRAN and COBOL became the most successful languages. In 1964, the System/360 was released by IBM. It set the precedent for future computers. By the 70’s personal computers were being brought into the society. This same decade led to the creation of the computer language BASIC and the formation of the Microsoft Corporation by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Microsoft Windows was first established in 1985. Today, it is stated to be running in over 10 million computers worldwide (Evolution, 18). It was not until 1973 that the idea of the Internet was initially developed by Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf. In 1981, the IBM PC was released. Computer development was flourishing. The Apple Macintosh came out in 1984 and IBM’s PS/2 System was released in 1987. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee came up with the concept of the World Wide Web. This system would allow for the exchange of ideas around the world. Today, it is used in almost every household to talk to family, buy merchandise, or research information.

With the collaboration of so many brilliant mathematicians and scientists, computers have become increasing more productive and efficient. Calculations have gone from counting on our fingers, to using high speed electronic computers. They have become essential to the functioning of our everyday lives. We have Schikard, Pascal, Babbage, Gates, and many more to thank the computers we use today.

Works Cited

Evans, Chistopher. The Making of the Micro: A History of the Computer. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981.

“Evolution of Computers: From Stone to Silicon.” Computer Science Southwestern Inventist Industry. 10 September 2003 <http://cs.swau.edu/~durkin/articles/history_computing,html>

“Triumph of the Nerds: A History of the Computer.” PBS Online. 9 September 2003
<http://www.pbs.org/nerds/timeline/pre.html>


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