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Development of the Personal Computer in the 1970’s

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Development of the Personal Computer in the 1970’s

Personal Computers (PC’s) are everywhere. I am sitting at my desk right now writing this report on my PC. It seems like these days we take computers for granted. Almost everyone has one. Teachers assign projects that almost completely require the use of a computer. Where did this explosion of PC’s come from, though? Just a few short years ago you were lucky to have a computer. About 25 years ago people would have called you crazy if you said you had a personal computer. That’s because before 1975 there were no personal computers that were available, or affordable, to the general population. In fact, it wasn’t until much later that there really was a personal computer that anyone could use. The 1970’s served as a launching pad for the personal computer industry to blast off into the future.

In the early 1970’s computer hobbyists were starting to show frustration at the current situation involving computers. At the time the only way anyone could use a computer was to access a mainframe through a terminal on a time-sharing basis. What the hobbyists wanted was to be able to access their files any time they wanted, even if they were on a business trip. They wanted to be able to play games without someone yelling at them to get back to work. They wanted their own personal computer (Campbell-Kelley and Aspray 237-238; Triumph). Some people were already experimenting with building computers. In 1971 Steve Wozniak and Bill Fernandez built a simple computer out of parts that were rejected by local companies. This computer, which they called the "cream soda computer," worked with lights and switches and is considered by many to be the first personal computer (Polsson). This wasn’t really satisfying, though. What hobbyists wanted was a real computer that they could call their very own. This frustration was being voiced in the major electronics magazines at the time, the main two being Popular Electronics and Radio Electronics. Soon both these magazines were putting out a call for an article on building a personal computer (Triumph; Freiberger and Swaine 27-29; Shurkin 307). This wouldn’t have been possible a few years before, and it was a series of incredible advances in electronics that made it possible.

In the early 1970’s calculators were very popular. They had recently become much easier to manufacture due to the advent of the integrated circuit and large-scale integration (technology that put the equivalent of 100 transistors on a single chip).
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