The History of Computers

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The History of Computers

From primitive abaci to lab tops and calculators, the computer has evolved through time to become the essential part of our technocratic society. The development of the computer has shaped the way technology and science is viewed in different cultures around the world. The connotation of what a computer is nowadays brings to mind a monitor, keyboard, processor and its other electronic components; however, that is not how things have always been. From the Chinese using abaci to count, to the Druids' usage of stones to follow the seasonal changes, to the Europeans using Pascalines and calculators to work out mathematical problems the concept of the computer has been around for hundreds of years (Hoyle). Therefore, the history of computers is important to observe not only for the influence it brought to our culture, but the progress it has made through time.

The history of modern computers has been influenced by the earlier advancement of primordial technology. The abacus developed in circa 500 B.C for example, used pebbles, rocks, beads, or shells to keep track of the counters numbers.
Furthermore, "the abacus was man's first attempt at automating the counting process" (Hoyle). In addition, the Pascaline, invented and built by a French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal, was the first mathematical adding machine (Long 54). The Pascaline was a gear-driven machine that allowed the user to calculate answers without doing arithmetic (Hoyle). In addition to the abacus and the Pascaline, Babbage's Folly, also known as the difference machine, "hastened the development of computers. [and] advanced the state of computational hardware" (Long 55). This engine, designed by the Cambridge professor Charles Babbage, could do any of the basic functions of mathematics: adding, subtracting, multiplying, and division in series at a "rate of 60 additions per minute" (55) could all be accomplished with minimal effort. All of these ideas and concepts helped pave the way for innovators to design what we now view as the modern-day computer.

It took certain people to utilize these primitive forms of computing data to create real technologically advanced machines. Such a person, for example, was the professor Dr.

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John V. Atanasoff of Iowa State University. He created the first electronic digital computer, which he named the Atanasoff-Berry Computer or ABC (58). This machine helped Dr. Atanasoff compute long mathematical problems in his physics class. Years later, Dr. John W. Mauchly worked together with J. Presper Eckert, with inspiration from Dr. Atanasoff, to build a machine that would calculate trajectory tables for the U.S. Army. This machine was built and fully functional in 1946 and called the ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (60). The ENIAC used 18,000 vacuum tubes and was able to calculate 5,000 additions and 500 multiplications per minute (60).

The vacuum tubes of the ENIAC helped distinguish it as the "first generation of computers (61). Through the 1950's important developments led the U.S. Bureau of the Census to install the first commercial computer in 1951 called the Universal Automatic Computer, or UNIVAC I. Years later, companies such as International Business Machines helped in marketing computers. IBM put their first electromechanical computer, called the Mark I, which was a vital improvement to the way we look at computers today. The Mark I helped the computer industry branch into what we know as the information age. By the mid- 1980's IBM and the Apple Corporation, an IBM rival, helped build the first personal computers (PCs) for businesses. Apple released the Macintosh, which was the first computer with the graphical user interface, or GUI (Bellis), which allowed laypeople to be able to operate a computer more easily. Thus, this invention made the computer more accessible to the common consumer.

The Internet, developed by the government to share networks, has brought forth the information age. Nowadays, one can go into a local library, web-café, or work at their personal computer to access the Internet and link with others around the world. Furthermore, the Internet allows one to connect with information that years before could not be accessible to the average person.

In conclusion, computers have made a significant advancement through time. The computer has gone from just a thought in a mind to an actual machine capable of mathematical equations. From the beginnings of mathematical and logical thought, the concept of computers has taken a gradual and, more recently, a dramatic turn in sophistication. The abaci and Pascalines were used centuries ago, as are the Palm Pilot and desktops today. The ubiquitous machines and the Internet help shape the essence of the 21st century and have come from very humble beginnings. But through the genius and foresight of a few people, the information and technology age is upon us and can only become more prevalent.

Works Cited

Bellis, Mary. Microsoft Corporation: The Dawn of Windows. 2003. About, Inc. 14 Sept.
2003 < http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa080499.htm >

Hoyle A. Michelle. Computers: From the Past to the Present. 12 Aug. 2003. Ingang
Org. 14 Sept. 2003< http://www.eingang.org./Lecture/index.html>

Long, Larry and Nancy. Computers. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1986.


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