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A Brief History of Computing

All information in this booklet is from The Computer History Museum website unless otherwise acknowledged. (

Napier's Bones
c. 1 !! "cotland #apiers $ones are portable single%digit multiplication tables that can be arranged to show the product of multiplying almost any multi%digit number by a single digit. &hile the tables were often made of wood or paper' higher (uality sets were fashioned from i)ory or bone' gi)ing the tables their name. Although *ohn #apier in)ented them in the late 1+!!s' a description of the ,bones- was only published at the end of his life' in his book .abdologi/' because he was concerned that others would take credit for his idea. &hile #apier also disco)ered logarithms' the bones are unrelated to that mathematical concept.

Sets of Napier's bones ready for use

1 01 2rance 3hilosopher and mathematician $laise 3ascal created his first mechanical adder at age nineteen and continued e4perimenting with its design for se)eral years. 5is design used a system of weights. &hen adding figures' turning the machines dials lifted a weight which dropped again when the dial changed from a ,6- to a ,!.- 7he action of the dropping weight turned the ne4t wheel one position. 8ore reliable calculating machines would ha)e to wait for impro)ed manufacturing methods.

Blaise Pascal, 162 !1662

9redit: :eu)res' $laise 3ascal' 1;;6' courtesy of <rwin 7omash

Pascaline "reproduction#
=oan of >wen and >ordon $ell' $1+!.?1

$eibni% Stepped &rum

1 ;0 >ermany 3hilosopher and mathematician >ottfried &ilhelm =eibni@ in)ented a mechanical calculator featuring a ,stepped drummechanism in 1 ;0. .otating the drum caused a small gear to interact with ! to 6 of the drums teeth. Aepending on the gears position along the drum' the de)ice would add )alues ranging from ! to 6 to a result register. 7he de)ice was the first mechanical calculator capable of multiplication. $ecause of its reliability' the stepped drum mechanism was employed for o)er B!! years.

'ottfried (il)elm $eibni%, 16*6 ! 1+16

9redit: <pistolae ad di)ersos' >. &. =eibni@' 1;B0' courtesy of <rwin 7omash

$eibni% stepped drum model, ,S, 1-./

C)arles Babbage
1;61 % 1?;1 <ngland 9harles $abbage was a brilliant scientist. Cn response to the numerous errors contained in mathematical tables' he de)eloped the ,Aifference <ngine'- a mechanical de)ice that could perform error%free calculation of polynomial functions. 5e completed only a small model before the $ritish go)ernment withdrew funding' forcing him to abandon the proDect. "oon after' "wedish scientists >eorg and <d)ard "cheut@ would complete a working )ersion.

C)arles Babbage, c01.6/

9redit: "cience 8useum' =ondon $abbage designed another de)ice to perform more comple4 calculations. 5is ,Analytical <ngine- was similar to modern computers: instructions from punched cards controlled how the calculating element' or ,mill'- manipulated numbers in the ,store.- 7he machine was ne)er built.

Babbage &ifference 1ngine gear and arm

<ngland 1!!1

>ift of 7homas $ergin' E1+ B.1!!B

Ada Byron $o2elace

1?0B' Ada $yron =o)elace mo)ed beyond her illustrious predecessors =eibnit@ and 3ascal' and e)en her brilliant contemporary' 9harles $abbage' to describe uni)ersal computing much as we understand it today. As a world authority on early computing de)ices' Aoron "wade states in F7o Aream 7omorrowF: FAda saw something that $abbage in some sense failed to see. Cn $abbages world his engines were bound by number. 5e saw that the machines could do algebra in the narrow sense GandH that they could manipulate plus and minus signs. &hat =o)elace saw was that number could represent entities other than (uantity. "o once you had a machine for manipulating numbers' if those numbers represented other things' letters' musical notes' and the machine could manipulate symbols of which number was one instance' according to rules' then this is a fundamental transition from a machine which is a number cruncher to a machine that manipulates symbols according to rules that is the transition from calculation to general purpose computation.F

Hollerith Census Machine

5a)ing completed the 1??! census with only months to spare' the I.". $ureau of the 9ensus established a competition for a technological solution for the 1?6! tally. A young engineer' named 5erman 5ollerith' won the competition by proposing a manual cardpunch with mechanical counting (tabulating) dials. <ach machine used pin presses and indi)idual cups of mercury to form an electrical circuit' the tabulating dials incrementing one position for each such contact closure. 2or the 1?6! census' 18 cards were punched (;!!/clerk/day) and counted by 1!! of 5ollerithJs census machines (1!!! cards/hour/machine). Cn spite of this success' 5ollerith had only one customer who bought e(uipment once a decade' making it a struggle to form a )iable company. 5e incorporated 789 (7abulating 8achine 9o.) in 1?6 to sell business% oriented machines' but had to gear up again for the 16!! census. $y 1611 he had 1!! customers and was no longer dependent e4clusi)ely on census contracts. 5ollerithJs firm merged with 9omputing "cale 9ompany and Cnternational 7ime .ecording 9ompany to form 9%7%. (9omputing%7abulating%.ecording) 9ompany. Cn 1610 7homas *. &atson Doined to take o)er the firm and 5ollerith retired as a wealthy entrepreneur. Cn 1610' the company name was changed to C$8.

c. 16B+ Arthur "cherbius' >ermany 7he <nigma encryption machine was patented by 5ugo Koch in 5olland in 1616 and first produced commercially by >erman engineer Arthur "cherbius in 161B. Cn 161? 3olish officials intercepted one being shipped to the >erman <mbassy in &arsaw. $y 16B0' 3olish intelligence had cracked the <nigmaJs method of operation. :n *uly 1+' 16B6' Dust prior to the #a@i in)asion of 3oland' they passed the secret on to the 2rench and the $ritish go)ernments. 7his three%rotor )ersion is capable of generating 1+!'!!!'!!!'!!!'!!!'!!!'!!! different code combinations by using spare rotors in different orders' )arying the initial positions' and changing the plugs on the front.

1nigma in use, 'eneral 'uderian's Command 3e)icle


Credit4 5mperial (ar 6useum

>ift of >wen and >ordon $ell' $16;.?1

1N5AC "1lectronic Numerical 5ntegrator and Computer#

1600 8oore "chool of <lectrical <ngineering' Ini)ersity of 3ennsyl)ania' Inited "tates <#CA9 was originally designed to calculate firing tables for &&CC artillery' but it wasnt completed until 160 . Although the <#CA9 was not finished in time for the war effort' it was used to do calculations for the hydrogen bomb as well as other classified military applications. &ith about 1?'!!! )acuum tubes' 1'+!! relays' ;!'!!! resistors' and 1!'!!! capacitors' <#CA9 was the largest electronic )acuum tube de)ice to ha)e been produced to that time' consuming enough power for +! homes and capable of +'!!! operations per second. 7he principal designers were *. 3resper (3res) <ckert and *ohn 8auchly with 5erman >oldstine acting as the Army liaison.
7he <#CA9 was not a stored program computer' but had to be rewired for each new Dob. 7he rewiring problem led the team to think about storing the wire configuration as a ,program- in memory' but it was too late to change the design of the machine under construction. 7he panel on e4hibit here is one of 0! that make up the <#CA9. Ct was used to read the constants set on switches of the function units and transmit these along the data bus lines that ran around the whole of the machine. 7he function table was connected )ia the large plug receptacle on the front. Cn later years the function tables were changed to store simple read%only programs in addition to constants. Intil it was struck by lightning in 16++' <#CA9 probably did more computation than had been done in all human history to that point.

7)e 1N5AC at t)e Ballistics 8esearc) $aboratory0 Presper 1c9ert at t)e :unction table and ;o)n 6auc)ly <atc)ing t)e mac)ine
9redit: $allistics .esearch =aboratory

Herman 'oldstine "left# and Presper 1c9ert )olding t)e electronics needed to store a single decimal digit
9redit: $allistics .esearch =aboratory

3acuum 7ubes ! 1-*/=s > 1-?/=s

7he key electronic component which was instrumental in making possible the first' programmable computer was the )acuum tube. 3re)iously' computing and calculating de)ices had relied on mechanical components whose physical positions represented stored numbers. Lacuum tubes' howe)er' allowed one de)ice to control the flow of electrons into another de)ice' thus by functioning as a switch. 7his was a crucial step forward in the de)elopment of the electronic computer. 7hese early computers' howe)er' relied on thousands of )acuum tubes to work. 7he )acuum tubes themsel)es were relati)ely large (the si@e of a finger) and fragile (glass tubes with all the air )acuumed out' containing delicate metal plates and wires). 7hey were e4pensi)e to manufacture' and had short life spans due to their heat generation. 3art of the maintenance of these computers was the task of identifying and replacing failed )acuum tubes and the rerunning of a program module with the replacement tube. Cn order to be reprogrammed' key components had to be physically re%wired each time. 7he best know computers of this type were the I#CLA9 and <#CA9.

'race Hopper, c0 1-**

"1-/6!1--2# :n "eptember 6th' >race 5opper recorded the first actual computer FbugF M a moth stuck between the relays and logged at 1+:0+ hours on the 5ar)ard 8ark CC. 5opper' a rear admiral in the I.". #a)y' enDoyed successful careers in academia' business' and the military while making history in the computer field. "he helped program the 5ar)ard 8ark C and CC and de)eloped the first compiler' A%!. 5er subse(uent work on programming languages led to 9:$:=' a language specified to operate on machines of different manufacturers.

;o)n 3on Neumann

*ohn )on #eumann wrote F2irst Araft of a .eport on the <ALA9F in which he outlined the architecture of a stored%program computer. <lectronic storage of programming information and data eliminated the need for the more clumsy methods of programming' such as punched paper tape M a concept that has characteri@ed mainstream computer de)elopment since 160+. 5ungarian%born )on #eumann demonstrated prodigious e4pertise in hydrodynamics' ballistics' meteorology' game theory' statistics' and the use of mechanical de)ices for computation. After the war' he concentrated on the de)elopment of 3rincetons Cnstitute for Ad)anced "tudies computer and its copies around the world.

Alan 7uring
Alan 7uring was found dead at age 01. 5e had published his seminal paper' F:n 9omputable #umbers'F in 16B ' as well as posing significant (uestions about Dudging Fhuman intelligenceF and programming and working on the design of se)eral computers during the course of his career. A mathematical genius' 7uring pro)ed instrumental in code%breaking efforts during &orld &ar CC. 5is application of logic to that realm would emerge e)en more significantly in his de)elopment of the concept of a Funi)ersal machine-.

7ransistors @ 1arly 1-6/=s

Cn the early 16 !s' transistors replaced )acuum tubes. 7ransistors were semiconductor de)ices which enabled control of the amplification and switching of electrical currents. 7ransistors were smaller' and more robust than )acuum tubes' re(uired much less power and so generated )ery little heat. 7ransistors were the first e4ample of what are now called solid state de)ices' being make of a sandwich of treated semiconductor materials (such as silicon). 7his meant that each transistor component is a small' solid de)ice that could be wired%up on a circuit board. 9omputers could now be designed with many such circuit boards' each board containing hundreds of transistors. 9omputers that used transistors were generally smaller than those that used )acuum tubes' generally about the si@e of a cupboard or wardrobe. 7hey also had more memory (up to 0! kilobytes) and were faster (performing thousands of instructions per second)' cheaper' and easier to program. 7his crude )ersion of the germanium pointNcontact transistor was de)eloped by the research team of *ohn $ardeen' &alter $rattain and &illiam "hockley at $ell =aboratories in 1-*..

5ntegrated Circuits @ 6id 1-6/=s to 6id 1-+/=s

7he de)elopment of integrated circuits allowed hundreds and thousands of transistors to be etched into a single silicon chip. 7his created e)en cheaper and faster computers. 9omputers could be built with processing speeds e4ecuting millions of instructions per second. 7he si@e of the computer was smaller' being about the si@e of a desk or trunk. .obert #oyce of 2airchild "emiconductor and *ack Kilby of 7e4as Cnstruments' Cnc. independently de)eloped the integrated circuit (C9) in 1-?.. $y creating many interconnected transistors on a single thin wafer of silicon' it became possible to dramatically reduce the si@e' power re(uirements' and cost of computers. &hile the first C9s had only a few transistors' todays integrated circuits can contain o)er 1!! million and operate at a speed of billions of cycles per second.

:irst integrated circuit


9redit: 7e4as Cnstruments' Cnc.

.!inc) etc)ed silicon <afer, transistors4 2!.,///,/// "/0 ? micron#

I" c. 166+

>ift of 8ark #oreng' E106+.1!!B

7he A.3A#<7 grows by ten more nodes in the first 1! months of 16;1. 7he year is spent finishing' testing and releasing all the network protocols' and de)eloping network demonstrations for the C999. At $$#' .ay 7omlinson writes a program to enable electronic mail to be sent o)er the A.3A#<7. Ct is 7omlinson who de)elops the userOhost con)ention' choosing the O sign arbitrarily from the non% alphabetic symbols on the keyboard. Inbeknownst to him' O is already in use as an escape character' prompt' or command indicator on many other systems. :ther networks will choose other con)entions' inaugurating a long period known as the e%mail header wars. #ot until the late 16?!s will O finally become a worldwide standard. 2ollowing the lead of Cntels 0!!0 chip' hand%held calculators ranging from the simple 7e4as Cnstruments four%function adding machines to the elaborate 5ewlett%3ackard scientific calculators immediately consign ordinary slide rules to obli)ion. Eero4 3A.9 de)elops a program called "malltalk' and $ell =abs de)elops a language called 9. "te)e &o@niak begins his career by building one of the best%known blue bo4esP tone generators that enable long%distance dialling while bypassing the phone companys billing e(uipment. 7he C999 demonstrations are a tremendous success. :ne of the best known demos features a con)ersation between 1$5AA' *oseph &ei@enbaums artificially%intelligent psychiatrist located at 8C7' and 3A..Q' a paranoid computer de)eloped by Kenneth 9olby at "tanford. :ther demos feature interacti)e chess games' geography (ui@@es' and an elaborate air traffic control simulation. An A7R7 delegation )isits C999 but lea)es in pu@@lement.

Steve Wozniak's 'Blue Box'

People get on my nerves I am not sure I understand you You should pay more attention Suppose you should pay more attention You're entitled to your opinion What makes you think I am entitled to my own opinion?

-- from a conversation between PARRY and the !octor" via the ARPA#$%

3ery $arge Scale 5ntegration "3$S5# @ 1-+/=s to present

7he 16;!s saw the de)elopment of the first microprocessors' a de)elopment that made computers the small' powerful' modern electronic computers we use today. L="C circuits ha)e hundreds of thousands and e)en millions of transistors being etched onto each semiconductor chip. Cn this way an entire processor could be conducted on a single chip. 7he speed of these computers started to be measured in billions of instructions per second. 7his also meant that computers were de)eloped that were affordable for pri)ate' domestic use. Aecade after decade' computer processing power has continued to grow' and costs ha)e declined. >ordon 8oore (co%founder of Cntel) made the obser)ation' back in 16 + that e)ery 1? N 10 months the processing power doubled and the cost of processing technology hal)ed. 7his became known as 8oores =aw.



1-+Car2er 6ead "1- *!

Car2er 6ead was born in $akersfield' 9alifornia' on 8ay 1' 16B0. 8ead has made many pioneering contributions in solid%state electronics' and was one of the leading forces in 2ery large scale integration "3$S5# design methodology. 9alifornia Cnstitute of 7echnology professor 9ar)er 8ead and Eero4 9orp. computer scientist =ynn 9onway wrote a manual of chip design' FCntroduction to L="C "ystems.F Aemystifying the planning of )ery large scale integrated (L="C) systems' the te4t e4panded the ranks of engineers capable of creating such chips. 7he authors had obser)ed that computer architects seldom participated in the specification of the standard integrated circuits with which they worked. 7he authors intended FCntroduction to L="C "ystemsF to fill a gap in the literature and introduce all electrical engineering and computer science students to integrated system architecture.

Cntroduction to L="C "ystems