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This picture shows what were known as "counting tables" [photo courtesy
The abacus was an early aid for mathematical computations. Its only value is that it aids
the memory of the human performing the calculation. A skilled abacus operator can work
on addition and subtraction problems at the speed of a person equipped with a hand
calculator (multiplication and division are slower). The abacus is often wrongly attributed
to China. In fact the oldest surviving abacus was used in !"" #.C. by the #abylonians.
The abacus is still in use today principally in the far east. A modern abacus consists of
rings that slide over rods but the older one pictured below dates from the time when
pebbles were used for counting (the word $calculus$ comes from the %atin word for
In &'&( an eccentric (some say mad) )cotsman named *ohn +apier invented logarithms
which are a technology that allows multiplication to be performed via addition. The
magic ingredient is the logarithm of each operand which was originally obtained from a
printed table. #ut +apier also invented an alternative to tables where the logarithm
values were carved on ivory sticks which are now called Napier's Bones.
(An original set o Napier's Bones [photo courtesy IBM] !
(A more mo"ern set o Napier's Bones !
+apier,s invention led directly to the sli"e rule first built in -ngland in &'!. and still in
use in the &/'",s by the +A)A engineers of the 0ercury 1emini and Apollo programs
which landed men on the moon.
(A sli"e rule!
%eonardo da 2inci (&34.5&4&/) made drawings of gear5driven calculating machines but
apparently never built any.
The first gear5driven calculating machine to actually be built was probably the
calculating clock so named by its inventor the 1erman professor 6ilhelm )chickard in
&'.!. This device got little publicity because )chickard died soon afterward in the
(#chickar"'s $alculating $lock
In &'3. #laise 7ascal at age &/ invented the %ascaline as an aid for his father who was
a ta8 collector. 7ascal built 4" of this gear5driven one5function calculator (it could only
add) but couldn,t sell many because of their e8orbitant cost and because they really
weren,t that accurate (at that time it was not possible to fabricate gears with the required
precision). 9p until the present age when car dashboards went digital the odometer
portion of a car,s speedometer used the very same mechanism as the 7ascaline to
increment the ne8t wheel after each full revolution of the prior wheel. 7ascal was a child
prodigy. At the age of &. he was discovered doing his version of -uclid,s thirty5second
proposition on the kitchen floor. 7ascal went on to invent probability theory the
hydraulic press and the syringe. )hown below is an : digit version of the 7ascaline and
two views of a ' digit version;
(%ascal's %ascaline [photo & '((' I)))] !
(A * "igit mo"el or those who coul"n't aor" the + "igit mo"el !
(A %ascaline opene" up so you can obser,e the gears an" cylin"ers which
rotate" to "isplay the numerical result !
*ust a few years after 7ascal the 1erman 1ottfried 6ilhelm %eibni< (co5inventor with
+ewton of calculus) managed to build a four5function (addition subtraction
multiplication and division) calculator that he called the steppe" reckoner because
instead of gears it employed fluted drums having ten flutes arranged around their
circumference in a stair5step fashion. Although the stepped reckoner employed the
decimal number system (each drum had &" flutes) %eibni< was the first to advocate use
of the binary number system which is fundamental to the operation of modern computers.
%eibni< is considered one of the greatest of the philosophers but he died poor and alone.
(-eibni.'s #teppe" /eckoner (ha,e you e,er hear"
"calculating" reerre" to as "reckoning"0! !
In &:"& the =renchman *oseph 0arie *acquard invented a power loom that could base its
weave (and hence the design on the fabric) upon a pattern automatically read from
punched wooden cards held together in a long row by rope. >escendents of these
punche" car"s have been in use ever since (remember the $hanging chad$ from the
=lorida presidential ballots of the year ."""?).
(1ac2uar"'s -oom showing the threa"s an" the punche" car"s !
(By selecting particular car"s or 1ac2uar"'s loom you "eine" the wo,en
pattern [photo & '((' I)))] !
(A close3up o a 1ac2uar" car" !
(This tapestry was wo,en by a 1ac2uar" loom !
#y &:.. the -nglish mathematician $harles Babbage was proposing a steam driven
calculating machine the si<e of a room which he called the 4ierence )ngine. This
machine would be able to compute tables of numbers such as logarithm tables. @e
obtained government funding for this proAect due to the importance of numeric tables in
ocean navigation. #y promoting their commercial and military navies the #ritish
government had managed to become the earth,s greatest empire. #ut in that time frame
the #ritish government was publishing a seven volume set of navigation tables which
came with a companion volume of corrections which showed that the set had over &"""
numerical errors. It was hoped that #abbage,s machine could eliminate errors in these
types of tables. #ut construction of #abbage,s >ifference -ngine proved e8ceedingly
difficult and the proAect soon became the most e8pensive government funded proAect up
to that point in -nglish history. Ten years later the device was still nowhere near
complete acrimony abounded between all involved and funding dried up. The device
was never finished.
(A small section o the type o mechanism employe" in Babbage's 4ierence
)ngine [photo & '((' I)))] !
#abbage was not deterred and by then was on to his ne8t brainstorm which he called the
Analytic )ngine. This device large as a house and powered by ' steam engines would
be more general purpose in nature because it would be programmable thanks to the
punched card technology of *acquard. #ut it was #abbage who made an important
intellectual leap regarding the punched cards. In the *acquard loom the presence or
absence of each hole in the card physically allows a colored thread to pass or stops that
thread (you can see this clearly in the earlier photo). #abbage saw that the pattern of
holes could be used to represent an abstract idea such as a problem statement or the raw
data required for that problem,s solution. #abbage saw that there was no requirement that
the problem matter itself physically pass thru the holes.
=urthermore #abbage reali<ed that punched paper could be employed as a storage
mechanism holding computed numbers for future reference. #ecause of the connection
to the *acquard loom #abbage called the two main parts of his Analytic -ngine the
$)tore$ and the $0ill$ as both terms are used in the weaving industry. The )tore was
where numbers were held and the 0ill was where they were $woven$ into new results. In
a modern computer these same parts are called the memory unit and the central
processing unit (C79).
The Analytic -ngine also had a key function that distinguishes computers from
calculators; the conditional statement. A conditional statement allows a program to
achieve different results each time it is run. #ased on the conditional statement the path
of the program (that is what statements are e8ecuted ne8t) can be determined based upon
a condition or situation that is detected at the very moment the program is running.
Bou have probably observed that a modern stoplight at an intersection between a busy
street and a less busy street will leave the green light on the busy street until a car
approaches on the less busy street. This type of street light is controlled by a computer
program that can sense the approach of cars on the less busy street. That moment when
the light changes from green to red is not fi8ed in the program but rather varies with each
traffic situation. The conditional statement in the stoplight program would be something
like $if a car approaches on the less busy street and the more busy street has already
enAoyed the green light for at least a minute then move the green light to the less busy
street$. The conditional statement also allows a program to react to the results of its own
calculations. An e8ample would be the program that the I.C.) uses to detect ta8 fraud.
This program first computes a person,s ta8 liability and then decides whether to alert the
police based upon how that person,s ta8 payments compare to his obligations.
#abbage befriended A"a Byron the daughter of the famous poet %ord #yron (Ada would
later become the Countess %ady %ovelace by marriage). Though she was only &/ she
was fascinated by #abbage,s ideas and thru letters and meetings with #abbage she
learned enough about the design of the Analytic -ngine to begin fashioning programs for
the still unbuilt machine. 6hile #abbage refused to publish his knowledge for another !"
years Ada wrote a series of $+otes$ wherein she detailed sequences of instructions she
had prepared for the Analytic -ngine. The Analytic -ngine remained unbuilt (the #ritish
government refused to get involved with this one) but Ada earned her spot in history as
the first computer programmer. Ada invented the subroutine and was the first to recogni<e
the importance of looping. #abbage himself went on to invent the modern postal system
cowcatchers on trains and the ophthalmoscope which is still used today to treat the eye.
The ne8t breakthrough occurred in America. The 9.). Constitution states that a census
should be taken of all 9.). citi<ens every &" years in order to determine the
representation of the states in Congress. 6hile the very first census of &(/" had only
required / months by &::" the 9.). population had grown so much that the count for the
&::" census took (.4 years. Automation was clearly needed for the ne8t census. The
census bureau offered a pri<e for an inventor to help with the &:/" census and this pri<e
was won by @erman @ollerith who proposed and then successfully adopted *acquard,s
punched cards for the purpose of computation.
@ollerith,s invention known as the 5ollerith "esk consisted of a card reader which
sensed the holes in the cards a gear driven mechanism which could count (using 7ascal,s
mechanism which we still see in car odometers) and a large wall of dial indicators (a car
speedometer is a dial indicator) to display the results of the count.
(An operator working at a 5ollerith 4esk like the one below !
(%reparation o punche" car"s or the 67#7 census !
(A ew 5ollerith "esks still e8ist to"ay [photo courtesy The $omputer Museum] !
(Two types o computer punch car"s !
Dne early success was the @arvard Mark I computer which was built as a partnership
between @arvard and I#0 in &/33. This was the first programmable digital computer
made in the 9.). #ut it was not a purely electronic computer. Instead the 0ark I was
constructed out of switches relays rotating shafts and clutches. The machine weighed 4
tons incorporated 4"" miles of wire was : feet tall and 4& feet long and had a 4" ft
rotating shaft running its length turned by a 4 horsepower electric motor. The 0ark I ran
non5stop for &4 years sounding like a roomful of ladies knitting. To appreciate the scale
of this machine note the four typewriters in the foreground of the following photo.
(The 5ar,ar" Mark I9 an electro3mechanical computer !
Bou can see the 4" ft rotating shaft in the bottom of the prior photo. This shaft was a
central power source for the entire machine. This design feature was reminiscent of the
days when waterpower was used to run a machine shop and each lathe or other tool was
driven by a belt connected to a single overhead shaft which was turned by an outside
(A central shat "ri,en by an outsi"e waterwheel an" connecte" to each machine
by o,erhea" belts was the customary power source or all the machines
in a actory !
(:ne o the our paper tape rea"ers on the 5ar,ar" Mark I (you can obser,e the
punche" paper roll emerging rom the bottom! !
Dne of the primary programmers for the 0ark I was a woman ;race 5opper. @opper
found the first computer $bug$; a dead moth that had gotten into the 0ark I and whose
wings were blocking the reading of the holes in the paper tape. The word $bug$ had been
used to describe a defect since at least &::/ but @opper is credited with coining the word
$debugging$ to describe the work to eliminate program faults.
(The irst computer bug [photo & '((' I)))] !
In &/4! 1race @opper invented the first high5level language $=low5matic$. This
language eventually became CD#D% which was the language most affected by the
infamous B.E problem. A high5level language is designed to be more understandable by
humans than is the binary language understood by the computing machinery. A high5level
language is worthless without a program 55 known as a compiler 55 to translate it into the
binary language of the computer and hence 1race @opper also constructed the world,s
first compiler. 1race remained active as a Cear Admiral in the +avy Ceserves until she
was (/ (another record).
The 0ark I operated on numbers that were .! digits wide. It could add or subtract two of
these numbers in three5tenths of a second multiply them in four seconds and divide them
in ten seconds. =orty5five years later computers could perform an addition in a billionth
of a secondF -ven though the 0ark I had three quarters of a million components it could
only store (. numbersF Today home computers can store !" million numbers in CA0
and another &" billion numbers on their hard disk. Today a number can be pulled from
CA0 after a delay of only a few billionths of a second and from a hard disk after a delay
of only a few thousandths of a second. This kind of speed is obviously impossible for a
machine which must move a rotating shaft and that is why electronic computers killed off
their mechanical predecessors.
Dn a humorous note the principal designer of the 0ark I 5owar" Aiken of @arvard
estimated in &/3( that si8 electronic digital computers would be sufficient to satisfy the
computing needs of the entire 9nited )tates. I#0 had commissioned this study to
determine whether it should bother developing this new invention into one of its standard
products (up until then computers were one5of5a5kind items built by special
arrangement). Aiken,s prediction wasn,t actually so bad as there were very few
institutions (principally the government and military) that could afford the cost of what
was called a computer in &/3(. @e Aust didn,t foresee the micro5electronics revolution
which would allow something like an IBM #tretch computer of &/4/;
((that,s Aust the operator,s console here,s the rest of its !! foot length;)).
(to be bested by a home computer of &/(' such as this Apple I which sold for only G'"";)
(The Apple < which was sol" as a "o3it3yoursel kit (without the lo,ely case seen
The microelectronics re,olution is what allowed the amount of hand5crafted wiring seen
in the prior photo to be mass5produced as an integrate" circuit which is a small sliver of
silicon the si<e of your thumbnail .
An integrate" circuit ("silicon chip"! [photo courtesy o IBM]
The primary advantage of an integrated circuit is not that the transistors (switches) are
miniscule (that,s the secondary advantage) but rather that millions of transistors can be
created and interconnected in a mass5production process. All the elements on the
integrated circuit are fabricated simultaneously via a small number (maybe &.) of optical
masks that define the geometry of each layer. This speeds up the process of fabricating
the computer 55 and hence reduces its cost 55 Aust as 1utenberg,s printing press sped up
the fabrication of books and thereby made them affordable to all.
The I#0 )tretch computer of &/4/ needed its !! foot length to hold the &4""""
transistors it contained. These transistors were tremendously smaller than the vacuum
tubes they replaced but they were still individual elements requiring individual assembly.
#y the early &/:"s this many transistors could be simultaneously fabricated on an
integrated circuit. Today,s %entium = microprocessor contains 3."""""" transistors in
this same thumbnail si<ed piece of silicon.
It,s humorous to remember that in between the )tretch machine (which would be called a
mainrame today) and the Apple I (a "esktop computer) there was an entire industry
segment referred to as mini3computers such as the following 7>75&. computer of &/'/;
The 4)$ %4%3<'
Dne of the earliest attempts to build an all5electronic (that is no gears cams belts shafts
etc.) digital computer occurred in &/!( by 17 >7 Atanaso a professor of physics and
mathematics at Iowa )tate 9niversity. #y &/3& he and his graduate student Clifford
#erry had succeeded in building a machine that could solve ./ simultaneous equations
with ./ unknowns. This machine was the first to store data as a charge on a capacitor
which is how today,s computers store information in their main memory (4/AM or
"ynamic /AM). As far as its inventors were aware it was also the first to employ binary
arithmetic. @owever the machine was not programmable it lacked a conditional branch
its design was appropriate for only one type of mathematical problem and it was not
further pursued after 6orld 6ar II. It,s inventors didn,t even bother to preserve the
machine and it was dismantled by those who moved into the room where it lay
(The Atanaso3Berry $omputer [photo & '((' I)))] !
Another candidate for granddaddy of the modern computer was $olossus built during
6orld 6ar II by #ritain for the purpose of breaking the cryptographic codes used by
1ermany. #ritain led the world in designing and building electronic machines dedicated
to code breaking and was routinely able to read coded 1ermany radio transmissions. #ut
Colossus was definitely not a general purpose reprogrammable machine. +ote the
presence of pulleys in the two photos of Colossus below;
(Two ,iews o the co"e3breaking $olossus o ;reat Britain !
(The ?use ?< in its resi"ential setting !
Huse,s third machine the ?@ built in &/3& was probably the first operational general5
purpose programmable (that is software controlled) digital computer. 6ithout
knowledge of any calculating machine inventors since %eibni< (who lived in the &'"",s)
Huse reinvented #abbage,s concept of programming and decided on his own to employ
binary representation for numbers (#abbage had advocated decimal). The H! was
destroyed by an Allied bombing raid. The H& and H. met the same fate and the H3
survived only because Huse hauled it in a wagon up into the mountains. Huse,s
accomplishments are all the more incredible given the conte8t of the material and
manpower shortages in 1ermany during 6orld 6ar II. Huse couldn,t even obtain paper
tape so he had to make his own by punching holes in discarded movie film. #ecause
these machines were unknown outside 1ermany they did not influence the path of
computing in America. #ut their architecture is identical to that still in use today; an
arithmetic unit to do the calculations a memory for storing numbers a control system to
supervise operations and input and output devices to connect to the e8ternal world. Huse
also invented what might be the first high5level computer language $7lankalkul$ though
it too was unknown outside 1ermany.
The title of forefather of today,s all5electronic digital computers is usually awarded to
)NIA$ which stood for -lectronic +umerical Integrator and Calculator. -+IAC was
built at the 9niversity of 7ennsylvania between &/3! and &/34 by two professors 1ohn
Mauchly and the .3 year old 17 %resper )ckert who got funding from the war
department after promising they could build a machine that would replace all the
$computers$ meaning the women who were employed calculating the firing tables for the
army,s artillery guns. The day that 0auchly and -ckert saw the first small piece of
-+IAC work the persons they ran to bring to their lab to show off their progress were
some of these female computers (one of whom remarked $I was astounded that it took all
this equipment to multiply 4 by &"""$).
-+IAC filled a ." by 3" foot room weighed !" tons and used more than &:""" vacuum
tubes. %ike the 0ark I -+IAC employed paper card readers obtained from I#0 (these
were a regular product for I#0 as they were a long established part of business
accounting machines I#0,s forte). 6hen operating the -+IAC was silent but you knew
it was on as the &:""" vacuum tubes each generated waste heat like a light bulb and all
this heat (&(3""" watts of heat) meant that the computer could only be operated in a
specially designed room with its own heavy duty air conditioning system. Dnly the left
half of -+IAC is visible in the first picture the right half was basically a mirror image of
(Two ,iews o )NIA$9 the ")lectronic Numerical Integrator an" $alculator"
(note that it wasn't e,en gi,en the name o computer since
"computers" were people! [67#7 Army photo!
To reprogram the -+IAC you had to rearrange the patch cords that you can observe on
the left in the prior photo and the settings of !""" switches that you can observe on the
right. To program a modern computer you type out a program with statements like;
Circumference = 3.14 * diameter
To perform this computation on -+IAC you had to rearrange a large number of patch
cords and then locate three particular knobs on that vast wall of knobs and set them to !
& and 3.
(/eprogramming )NIA$ in,ol,e" a hike [67#7 Army photo] !
Dnce the army agreed to fund -+IAC 0auchly and -ckert worked around the clock
seven days a week hoping to complete the machine in time to contribute to the war. Their
war5time effort was so intense that most days they ate all ! meals in the company of the
army Captain who was their liaison with their military sponsors. They were allowed a
small staff but soon observed that they could hire only the most Aunior members of the
9niversity of 7ennsylvania staff because the more e8perienced faculty members knew
that their proposed machine would never work.
Dne of the most obvious problems was that the design would require &:""" vacuum
tubes to all work simultaneously. 2acuum tubes were so notoriously unreliable that even
twenty years later many neighborhood drug stores provided a $tube tester$ that allowed
homeowners to bring in the vacuum tubes from their television sets and determine which
one of the tubes was causing their T2 to fail. And television sets only incorporated about
!" vacuum tubes. The device that used the largest number of vacuum tubes was an
electronic organ; it incorporated &'" tubes. The idea that &:""" tubes could function
together was considered so unlikely that the dominant vacuum tube supplier of the day
CCA refused to Aoin the proAect (but did supply tubes in the interest of $wartime
cooperation$). -ckert solved the tube reliability problem through e8tremely careful
circuit design. @e was so thorough that before he chose the type of wire cabling he would
employ in -+IAC he first ran an e8periment where he starved lab rats for a few days and
then gave them samples of all the available types of cable to determine which they least
liked to eat. @ere,s a look at a small number of the vacuum tubes in -+IAC;
-ven with &:""" vacuum tubes -+IAC could only hold ." numbers at a time. @owever
thanks to the elimination of moving parts it ran much faster than the 0ark I; a
multiplication that required ' seconds on the 0ark I could be performed on -+IAC in ..:
thousandths of a second. -+IAC,s basic clock speed was &""""" cycles per second.
Today,s home computers employ clock speeds of &""""""""" cycles per second. #uilt
with G4""""" from the 9.). Army -+IAC,s first task was to compute whether or not it
was possible to build a hydrogen bomb (the atomic bomb was completed during the war
and hence is older than -+IAC). The very first problem run on -+IAC required only ."
seconds and was checked against an answer obtained after forty hours of work with a
mechanical calculator. After chewing on half a million punch cards for si8 weeks -+IAC
did humanity no favor when it declared the hydrogen bomb feasible. This first -+IAC
program remains classified even today.
Dnce -+IAC was finished and proved worthy of the cost of its development its
designers set about to eliminate the obno8ious fact that reprogramming the computer
required a physical modification of all the patch cords and switches. It took days to
change -+IAC,s program. -ckert and 0auchly,s ne8t teamed up with the mathematician
1ohn ,on Neumann to design )4>A$ which pioneered the store" program. #ecause he
was the first to publish a description of this new computer von +eumann is often
wrongly credited with the reali<ation that the program (that is the sequence of
computation steps) could be represented electronically Aust as the data was. #ut this maAor
breakthrough can be found in -ckert,s notes long before he ever started working with von
+eumann. -ckert was no slouch; while in high school -ckert had scored the second
highest math )AT score in the entire country.
After -+IAC and ->2AC came other computers with humorous names such as I%%IAC
*D@++IAC and of course 0A+IAC. I%%IAC was built at the 9niversity of Illinois at
Champaign59rbana which is probably why the science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke
chose to have the @A% computer of his famous book $.""&; A )pace Ddyssey$ born at
Champaign59rbana. @ave you ever noticed that you can shift each of the letters of I#0
backward by one alphabet position and get @A%?
(I--IA$ II built at the 6ni,ersity o Illinois (it is a goo" thing computers were
one3o3a3kin" creations in these "aysA can you imagine being aske" to
"uplicate this0! !
(5A- rom the mo,ie "'((<9 A #pace :"yssey"7 -ook at the pre,ious picture to
un"erstan" why the mo,ie makers in <B*+ assume" computers o the
uture woul" be things you walk into7 !
*D@++IAC was a reference to *ohn von +eumann who was unquestionably a genius. At
age ' he could tell Aokes in classical 1reek. #y : he was doing calculus. @e could recite
books he had read years earlier word for word. @e could read a page of the phone
directory and then recite it backwards. Dn one occasion it took von +eumann only '
minutes to solve a problem in his head that another professor had spent hours on using a
mechanical calculator. 2on +eumann is perhaps most famous (infamous?) as the man
who worked out the complicated method needed to detonate an atomic bomb.
Dnce the computer,s program was represented electronically modifications to that
program could happen as fast as the computer could compute. In fact computer programs
could now modify themselves while they ran (such programs are called self5modifying
programs). This introduced a new way for a program to fail; faulty logic in the program
could cause it to damage itself. This is one source of the general protection ault famous
in 0)5>D) and the blue screen o "eath famous in 6indows.
Today one of the most notable characteristics of a computer is the fact that its ability to
be reprogramme" allows it to contribute to a wide variety of endeavors such as the
following completely unrelated fields;
• the creation of special effects for movies
• the compression of music to allow more minutes of music to fit within the limited
memory of an 07! player
• the observation of car tire rotation to detect and prevent skids in an anti5lock
braking system (A#))
• the analysis of the writing style in )hakespeare,s work with the goal of proving
whether a single individual really was responsible for all these pieces.
#y the end of the &/4",s computers were no longer one5of5a5kind hand built devices
owned only by universities and government research labs. -ckert and 0auchly left the
9niversity of 7ennsylvania over a dispute about who owned the patents for their
invention. They decided to set up their own company. Their first product was the famous
6NI>A$ computer the first commercial (that is mass produced) computer. In the 4",s
9+I2AC (a contraction of $9niversal Automatic Computer$) was the household word for
$computer$ Aust as $Eleene8$ is for $tissue$. The first 9+I2AC was sold appropriately
enough to the Census bureau. 9+I2AC was also the first computer to employ magnetic
tape. 0any people still confuse a picture of a reel5to5reel tape recorder with a picture of a
(A reel3to3reel tape "ri,e [photo courtesy o The $omputer Museum] !
-+IAC was unquestionably the origin of the 9.). commercial computer industry but its
inventors 0auchly and -ckert never achieved fortune from their work and their
company fell into financial problems and was sold at a loss. #y &/44 I#0 was selling
more computers than 9+I2AC and by the &/'",s the group of eight companies selling
computers was known as $I#0 and the seven dwarfs$. I#0 grew so dominant that the
federal government pursued anti5trust proceedings against them from &/'/ to &/:.
(notice the pace of our country,s legal system). Bou might wonder what type of event is
required to dislodge an industry heavyweight. In I#0,s case it was their own decision to
hire an unknown but aggressive firm called Microsot to provide the software for their
personal computer (7C). This lucrative contract allowed 0icrosoft to grow so dominant
that by the year .""" their market capitali<ation (the total value of their stock) was twice
that of I#0 and they were convicted in =ederal Court of running an illegal monopoly.
If you learned computer programming in the &/(",s you dealt with what today are called
mainrame computers such as the I#0 ("/" (shown below) I#0 !'" or I#0 !(".
(The IBM C(B=A a typical mainrame computer [photo courtesy o IBM] !
(There were . ways to interact with a mainframe. The first was called time sharing
because the computer gave each user a tiny sliver of time in a round5robin fashion.
7erhaps &"" users would be simultaneously logged on each typing on a teletype such as
(The Teletype was the stan"ar" mechanism use" to interact with a time3sharing
A teletype was a motori<ed typewriter that could transmit your keystrokes to the
mainframe and then print the computer,s response on its roll of paper. Bou typed a single
line of te8t hit the carriage return button and waited for the teletype to begin noisily
printing the computer,s response (at a whopping &" characters per second). Dn the left5
hand side of the teletype in the prior picture you can observe a paper tape reader and
writer (i.e. puncher). @ere,s a close5up of paper tape;
The alternative to time sharing was batch mo"e processing where the computer gives its
full attention to your program. In e8change for getting the computer,s full attention at
run5time you had to agree to prepare your program off5line on a key punch machine
which generated punch cards.
An IBM Dey %unch machine which operates like a typewriter e8cept it pro"uces
punche" car"s rather than a printe" sheet o paper
#ut things changed fast. #y the &//",s a university student would typically own his own
computer and have e8clusive use of it in his dorm room.
The original IBM %ersonal $omputer (%$!
This transformation was a result of the invention of the microprocessor. A
microprocessor (u7) is a computer that is fabricated on an integrated circuit (IC).
Computers had been around for ." years before the first microprocessor was developed at
Intel in &/(&. The micro in the name microprocessor refers to the physical si<e. Intel
didn,t invent the electronic computer. #ut they were the first to succeed in cramming an
entire computer on a single chip (IC). Intel was started in &/': and initially produced
only semiconductor memory (Intel invented both the >CA0 and the -7CD0 two
memory technologies that are still going strong today). In &/'/ they were approached by
#usicom a *apanese manufacturer of high performance calculators (these were
typewriter si<ed units the first shirt5pocket si<ed scientific calculator was the @ewlett5
7ackard @7!4 introduced in &/(.). #usicom wanted Intel to produce &. custom
calculator chips; one chip dedicated to the keyboard another chip dedicated to the
display another for the printer etc. #ut integrated circuits were (and are) e8pensive to
design and this approach would have required #usicom to bear the full e8pense of
developing &. new chips since these &. chips would only be of use to them.
A typical Busicom "esk calculator
#ut a new Intel employee (Ted @off) convinced #usicom to instead accept a general
purpose computer chip which like all computers could be reprogrammed for many
different tasks (like controlling a keyboard a display a printer etc.). Intel argued that
since the chip could be reprogrammed for alternative purposes the cost of developing it
could be spread out over more users and hence would be less e8pensive to each user. The
general purpose computer is adapted to each new purpose by writing a program which is
a sequence of instructions stored in memory (which happened to be Intel,s forte).
#usicom agreed to pay Intel to design a general purpose chip and to get a price break
since it would allow Intel to sell the resulting chip to others. #ut development of the chip
took longer than e8pected and #usicom pulled out of the proAect. Intel knew it had a
winner by that point and gladly refunded all of #usicom,s investment Aust to gain sole
rights to the device which they finished on their own.
Thus became the Intel 3""3 the first microprocessor (u7). The 3""3 consisted of .!""
transistors and was clocked at &": k@< (i.e. &":""" times per second). Compare this to
the 3. million transistors and the . 1@< clock rate (i.e. .""""""""" times per second)
used in a 7entium 3. Dne of Intel,s 3""3 chips still functions aboard the 7ioneer &"
spacecraft which is now the man5made obAect farthest from the earth. Curiously
#usicom went bankrupt and never ended up using the ground5breaking microprocessor.
Intel followed the 3""3 with the :"": and :":". Intel priced the :":" microprocessor at
G!'" dollars as an insult to I#0,s famous !'" mainframe which cost millions of dollars.
The :":" was employed in the MIT# Altair computer which was the world,s first
personal computer (7C). It was personal all right; you had to build it yourself from a kit
of parts that arrived in the mail. This kit didn,t even include an enclosure and that is the
reason the unit shown below doesn,t match the picture on the maga<ine cover.
The Altair ++((A the irst %$
A @arvard freshman by the name of Bill ;ates decided to drop out of college so he could
concentrate all his time writing programs for this computer. This early e8perienced put
#ill 1ates in the right place at the right time once I#0 decided to standardi<e on the Intel
microprocessors for their line of 7Cs in &/:&. The Intel 7entium 3 used in today,s 7Cs is
still compatible with the Intel :":: used in I#0,s first 7C.
If you,ve enAoyed this history of computers I encourage you to try your own hand at
programming a computer. That is the only way you will really come to understand the
concepts of looping subroutines high and low5level languages bits and bytes etc. I have
written a number of 6indows programs which teach computer programming in a fun
visually5engaging setting. I start my students on a programmable C7+ calculator where
we learn about programs statements program and data memory subroutines logic and
synta8 errors stacks etc. Then we move on to an :"4& microprocessor (which happens to
be the most widespread microprocessor on earth) where we learn about microprocessors
bits and bytes assembly language addressing modes etc. =inally we graduate to the
most powerful language in use today; CII (pronounced $C plus plus$). These 6indows
programs are accompanied by a book,s worth of on5line documentation which serves as a
self5study guide allowing you to teach yourself computer programmingF The home page
(9C%) for this collection of software is www.computersciencelab.com.
$-+IAC; The Triumphs and Tragedies of the 6orld,s =irst Computer$ by )cott
2annevar #ush with a >ifferential Analy<er at the Aberdeen 7roving 1round c. &/3"
Credit; 0IT 0useum
7unch card equipment in use c. &/!"
A pantograph punch
7ress used to read information
@eathkit -C 5 & -ducational Analog Computer
1ift of >avid *. 7ederson J(!4.:'
0emory technology assortment
-arly &' 8 &' ceramic core plane
('35bit magnetic shift register (@arvard 0ark I2)9)
I#0 magnetic core plane9)c. &/'"
(0agnetic core memory plane assembly
The Connection 0achine
Intel Touchstone >elta
i7)C (Intel 7ersonal )uper Computer)
Cancho %os Amigos @ospital 9nited )tates
AC02I (Dbli8) Cobot
Tokyo Institute of Technology *apan
Tomy Eyogo Company Inc. *apan
Computer Cecreations Inc. 9nited )tates
+utting Associates Inc. 9nited )tates
Personal Computer Software
At the start of the computer age in the 1950s, computer
Apple Computer Corporation 9nited )tates
The 0acintosh operating system released with the first 0acintosh in *anuary &/:3 was
based on work done for the Alto computer proAect at Jero8Ls 7alo Alto Cesearch
Center(7ACC). Apple co5founder )teve *obs had visited 7ACC in +ovember &/(/ and
was inspired by a demonstration of the Alto graphical user interface (19I) to start the
Driginal 0icrosoft 6indows &." software bo8
Dn loan from the 2intage Computer =estival
-arly 0icro5)oft employees c. &/(:
The first version of the 6indows operating system resulted from a contract between
I#0 and 0icrosoft to develop a graphical user interface (19I) for the I#0 7C. 6hen
the collaboration ended I#0 pursued its own D)M. environment and 6indows became
0icrosoftLs premiere product.
Although initial versions were rudimentary and included few applications 2ersion !."
could address memory beyond '3"E and featured a more sophisticated user interface.
=ollowing its release in &//" software vendors quickly developed a large array of
applications for 6indows.
C.- =rance 0icral (in blue) with tape drive monitor and keyboard
Credit; Thi T. Truong
7ACC 9nited )tates
Jero8 7alo Alto Cesearch (7ACC) researcher Alan Eay intended the +otetaker to be a
portable universal learning appliance. #uilt by >oug =airbairn the computer weighing
3: pounds featured an internal monitor and floppy disk drive as well as a mouse. %ike
the Jero8 Alto the +otetaker used a version of the )malltalk5(: operating environment.
Apple Computer Inc. 9nited )tates
TC)5:" 0odel &
Tandy Cadio )hack 9nited )tates
I#0 7ersonal Computer
I#0 Corporation 9nited )tates
Although I#0Ls first personal computer arrived nearly ten years after others were
available the I#0 7ersonal Computer (7C) instantly legitimi<ed and e8panded the
market. 9nlike most other contemporary I#0 products the 7C incorporated both
hardware (the Intel :":: microprocessor) and software made by other companies. I#0
published design details in their manuals that encouraged others to make copies or
NclonesO of the original machine often with improved functionality. The I#0 7C
architecture quickly became an industry standard.
Dsborne & 7ortable Computer
Dsborne Computer 9nited )tates
In &/:& Dsborne advertised the first commercial portable computer. The Dsborne &
weighed .3 pounds and became its own carrying case by attaching the keyboard to the
front of the unit. It was a success not only because of its si<e and low price but because it
also included an e8tensive software library worth more than the price of the computer
itself. >esigned by %ee =elsentein the machine used a Hilog H:" processor and ran the
C7M0 operating system.
Cobotron E :/:&
Apple %I)A I 7rototype
1ift of 0ichael 7litkins J.3!'.."".A
>over %aser 7rinter
Jero8 7ACC 9nited )tates
>ataproducts 7rinter ()M+ &)
%aser 7rint -ngine
>aisy 6heel 7rint @eads
>ot 0atri8 7rint @ead
InkAet 7rint @ead
Chain 7rint 0echanism
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