The History of Computers

In order to fully understand the history of computers and computers in general, it is important to understand what it is exactly that lead up to the invention of the computer. After all, there was a time when the use of laptops, P.C.s, and other machines was unthinkable. Way back in the fourth century B.C., the abucus was an instrument used for counting in Babylonia. Many scholars believe that it likely started out as pebbles being moved over lines drawn in the dirt and then evolved into a more complex counting tool (Aspray 7). About 1200 years later, Roman numerals were finally introduced, along with the idea of the zero and other mathematical basics. This helped lay the foundation for several different men who had findings that would eventually lead us to the beginnings of computers and computing. Though they are often referred to as scholars, many of these intellectuals were most likely just merely the nerds of their time. Take Wilhelm Schickard and Blaise Pascal of the 17th century, for example. Both of these men had enough time on their hands to individually build two of the first mechanical calculators in history. Unfortunately, Schickard calculator never even made it past the model stage and Pascal machine had several snags of its own; nevertheless, both of their discoveries helped lead to more advanced computing. The next so-called geek to make his way into the computing spotlight was Charles Babbage. In 1842, he developed ideas for a computer that could find the solution to a math problem. His system was rudimentary, using punch-cards in the computation; however, his ideas were far from basic. In fact, the analysis of his Analytical Engine includes fundamentals of computer programming, including data analysis, looping, and memory addressing (History).

So things started rolling and in no time, we arrived in the 20th century and many new

advances in computing came with time. The discoveries became more and more significant and computers became more and more advanced. In 1943, a computer used in Britain for code-breaking was created, followed by the 1945 completion of the Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzor and Computer, which was used in the United States to assist in the preparation of firing tables for artillery. Computers really began to prove useful even in situations that we never thought possible, like in war and protection.

In order to fully understand the history of computers and computers in general, it is important to understand what it is exactly that lead up to the invention of the computer. After all, there was a time when the use of laptops, P.C.s, and other machines was unthinkable. Way back in the fourth century B.C., the abucus was an instrument used for counting in Babylonia. Many scholars believe that it likely started out as pebbles being moved over lines drawn in the dirt and then evolved into a more complex counting tool (Aspray 7). About 1200 years later, Roman numerals were finally introduced, along with the idea of the zero and other mathematical basics. This helped lay the foundation for several different men who had findings that would eventually lead us to the beginnings of computers and computing. Though they are often referred to as scholars, many of these intellectuals were most likely just merely the nerds of their time. Take Wilhelm Schickard and Blaise Pascal of the 17th century, for example. Both of these men had enough time on their hands to individually build two of the first mechanical calculators in history. Unfortunately, Schickard calculator never even made it past the model stage and Pascal machine had several snags of its own; nevertheless, both of their discoveries helped lead to more advanced computing. The next so-called geek to make his way into the computing spotlight was Charles Babbage. In 1842, he developed ideas for a computer that could find the solution to a math problem. His system was rudimentary, using punch-cards in the computation; however, his ideas were far from basic. In fact, the analysis of his Analytical Engine includes fundamentals of computer programming, including data analysis, looping, and memory addressing (History).

So things started rolling and in no time, we arrived in the 20th century and many new

advances in computing came with time. The discoveries became more and more significant and computers became more and more advanced. In 1943, a computer used in Britain for code-breaking was created, followed by the 1945 completion of the Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzor and Computer, which was used in the United States to assist in the preparation of firing tables for artillery. Computers really began to prove useful even in situations that we never thought possible, like in war and protection.

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In 1671, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz invented a computer that was built in 1694; it could add and, by successive adding and shifting, multiply. Leibniz invented a special "stepped gear" mechanism for introducing the addend digits, and this mechanism is still in use. The prototypes built by Leibniz and Pascal were not widely used but remained curiosities until more than a century later, when Tomas of Colmar (Charles Xavier Thomas) developed (1820) the first commercially successful mechanical calculator that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide. A succession of improved "desk-top" mechanical calculators by various inventors followed, so that by about 1890 the available built-in operations included accumulation of partial results, storage and reintroduction of past results, and printing of results, each requiring manual initiation. These improvements were made primarily to suit commercial users, with little attention given to the needs of science.

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Before this no true written calculations could be made, making this one of the most essential inventions to help computers. In 830 AD the first mathematics textbook was invented by a man named Mohammed Ibn Musa Abu Djefar. The subject of this textbook he wrote was “Al Gebr We'l Mukabala” which in today’s society is known as “Algebra” (History of Computers). So what does all of this have to do with computers? Well without numbers computers wouldn’t exist or have any reason to exist.

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The prototypes made by Pascal and Leibniz were not used in many places. They were even considered a little weird until, a little more than a century later, Charles Xavier Thomas created the first successful mechanical calculator. Thomas' calculator could add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Many improved versions of the desktop calculator followed. By about 1890, the range of improvements on the calculator included accumulation of partial results, storage and automatic reentry of past results (memory functions), and a printing of the results.

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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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The abacus provided the fastest method of calculating until 1642, when the French scientist Pascal invented a calculator made of wheels and cogs. The concept of the modern computer was first outlined in 1833 by the British mathematician Charles Babbage. His design of an analytical engine contained all of the necessary components of a modern computer: input devices, a memory, a control unit, and output devices. Most of the actions of the analytical engine were to be done through the use of punched cards. Even though Babbage worked on the analytical engine for nearly 40 years, he never actually made a working machine.

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