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Birth of Computers


Abacus Counting System

Who invented the computer, which is part of everyday use?  To get to this point we need to start back at the time, where it all began!

The earliest form of counting device would be the Tally Stick, but the one we all remember from our childhood days would be the Abacus first used in Babylonia in 2400BC.

The Astrolabe and the Antikythera Analog Mechanical Computers, were used in Ancient Greece in 150-100BC to perform astronomical calculations.  The Panisphere in AD1000 by Abu Rayhan al-Biruni. The Equatorium by Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al–Zarqali in AD1015 and the Astronomical Clock Tower of Su Song during the Song Dynasty AD1090.

Napier Bones

Napier Bones

In 1617, John Napier Scottish mathematician and physicist invented the Napier Bones, a device similar in appearance to that of an abacus, which could perform multiplication and division calculations.  In the 1620’s the Slide Rule was invented, a device to allow multiplication and division, using the basis of distances and line intervals to create the answer.  The use of the slide rule, faded out with the invention of the Pocket Calculator.

Wilhelm Schickard, A German designed the Calculating Clock in 1623, but it was destroyed by fire during construction in 1624, and the clock was never rebuilt.

In 1642 Blaise Pascal invented the mechanical calculator, and duly named it; Pascal’s Pascaline.

The Stepped Reckoner was invented by Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz in 1672, and came about, whilst using Pascal’s Pascaline machine.

The Frenchman, Joseph Marie Jacquard invented the Powered Loom in 1801.  It used Punched Wooden Cards, which defined the weaves pattern.  These wooden cards in relation to today’s world of computers would be the equivalent of a software program.

The Arithmometer invented by Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar, was to become the first mass produced mechanical calculator in the 1820’s.  For it could add, subtract, multiply and divide.In 1837 Charles Babbage invented the first Mechanical Computer, using his Analytical Engine.  The device was never finished during his lifetime, and it was left to his son Henry, to complete the work in 1888 in a simplified form: The Mill.

Ada Lovelace daughter of the poet, Lord Byron, was analyst of the Babbage analytical engine, and went on to create the first computer program between 1842-1843.  For it was her vision that computers would be capable of performing more than basic arithmetic calculations.

Herman Hollerith invented a machine to read and record punched cards; the Tabulator, and Keypunch machines towards the end of the 1880’s, like the Hollerith Desk, used by the U.S. to carry out the 1890 census.  He went on to open a Tabulating Machine Company on the back of its success, which eventually became International Business Machines (IBM).

Alan Turing considered by many as the father of computer science.  For it was in 1936 he provided the concept of algorithm and computation with the Turing Machine, and the blueprint for the first electronic digital computer.

Just think, when you turn on your computer, your actually using a design based on the brain child of Alan Turing.

In 1947, one Howard Aiken had been commissioned by IBM to determine how many computers it would take to run the United States… His answer was six.  How wrong had he been, who would have believed most homes would have at least one computer, some sixty-six years later.

In 1936 the first computer was built by Kenrad Zuse the Z1, believed to be the first electro-mechanical binary programmable computer.

In November 1937 whilst working at Bell Labs George Stibitz invented the Model K relay based calculator, which used binary circuits to perform calculations.

John Atanasoff a Physics professor from Iowa, built the first electronic digital computer in 1937, assisted by graduate student Clifford Berry.  It hadn’t been constructed as a programmable machine, for its main purpose was to deal with linear equations.

Konrad Zuse who built the Z1 back in 1936, took his invention to the next stage in 1941, by building the first program controlled electromechanical computing machine; the Z3.


Colossus Computer

Thomas Flowers joined the Post Office Research Branch in 1930, where he became Head of Switching Research. During the 1930s Flowers pioneered large-scale digital electronics.  Then in 1943 he designed and constructed the British Computer; Colossus.

Harry Fensom joined Flowers’ inner circle of engineers at the Research Branch of the British Post Office in 1942. He participated in the construction of the code breaking machine, Colossus, and was responsible for keeping it in continuous operation at Bletchley Park.

It was the world’s first electronic programmable computer, consisting of a large number of vacuum tubes.  Even though it had its limits, when it came to programming, its main use was in breaking German wartime codes.

In 1939 development started on the Harvard Mark I, an Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator.  In fact it was a general purpose electro-mechanical computer by Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper, and financed by IBM.  It came into use in May 1944.

The ENIAC Mark I computer was the brainchild of John Presper Eckert and John W Mauchly in 1946.  The architectural design required the rewiring of the plug board to change its programming.  It was capable of adding and subtracting five thousand times a second, and had the added ability to perform, multiplication, divide and square root calculations.  It weighed in at thirty tons, used two-hundred kilowatts of power, and contained eighteen thousand vacuum tubes, fifteen hundred relays, and hundreds of thousands resistors, capacitors and inductors.

The Small-Scale Experimental Machine, also known as Baby, was completed in 1948 at England’s; University of Manchester based upon the stored-program architecture.  On the 21st June 1948, it made its first successful run of a program, using 32-bit word length and a memory of 32 words.

The Manchester Mark I, a more powerful machine was built to supersede the Baby with expanded size and power, using a magnetic drum for auxiliary storage.

Later that year, Cambridge University built the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator, which was fitted out with a built-in-program.

The Government requested Ferranti to build a commercial computer based on the design of the Manchester Mark I in October 1948.  The Ferranti Mark I, included enhancements making it more powerful and faster.  The first machine was rolled out in February 1951.

John Presper Eckert and John W Mauchly, who designed and built the ENIAC Mark I computer, updated their design in 1951, with the release of the UNIVAC, for use by the U.S, Census Bureau.  It used 5,200 vacuum tubes, and consumed some 125kw of power.  Storage was by way of serial-access mercury delay lines.

In the early 1950’s Sergei Sobolev and Nikolay Brusentsov two Soviet scientists designed the Setun, a ternary computer that operated on a base three numbering system, (-1,0,1) rather than the conventional binary numbering system.  The computer was used within the Soviet Union, but its life short lived, and the architecture was replaced with a binary system.

In 1952, IBM released their first Electronic Data Processing Machine; IBM701, and its first mainframe computer.  Then in 1954, the IBM704 came onto the market, using a magnetic core memory.  During 1955-1956, IBM developed the Fortran programming language, for use with the IBM704, which was released in 1957.

In 1954, IBM produced a smaller computer the IBM650, weighing in at 900kg and the power unit at 1350kg.  At the time of construct it had a drum memory unit which could hold 2,000 words, later increased to 4,000 words with a maximum of ten letters per word.  The IBM650 used; SOAP (Symbolic Optimal Assembly Program).

Microprogramming was invented by Maurice Wilkes in 1955.

Then in 1956 IBM created the disk storage unit; the IBM350RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control).  It used fifty 24-inch metal disks, with one hundred tracks per side, capable of storing five megabytes.

John Presper Eckert and John W Mauchly, recognized the limitations of the ENIAC, even before construction had been completed in 1951.  They started researching the possibilities where programs and working data, could be stored in the same area, on the same disk, at the time this would have been considered rather radical.

Equipment of the mid-1950’s transmitted data by acoustic delay lines using liquid mercury or a wire.  It worked by sending acoustic pulses represent by a “1 or 0” causing the oscillator to re-send the pulse.  Other systems on the market at the time used cathode-ray tubes, storing and retrieving data on a phosphor screen.

The Magnetic Core Memory, where each core equals one bit, was created in 1954, replacing many forms of temporary storage, and would go on to dominate the market for many years to come.

The Bipolar Transistor of 1947 went on to replace vacuum tubes from 1955.  The early versions were the Germanium Point-Contact Transistors, consuming less power, but reliability was an issue.

The University of Manchester, built the first transistorized computer in 1953, and the updated version was running by 1955.  It used two-hundred transistors, thirteen-hundred solid-state diodes, with a power consumption of 150 watts.  Whereas the Harwell CADET, had no tubes it had a tendency to crash every ninety minutes, but by changing to a more reliable bipolar junction transistor, they found crash times were reduced.

Upon comparing vacuum tubes and transistors, the transistors had many advantages, being smaller in design, requiring less power, which gave off less heat.  Transistorized computers contained tens of thousands binary logic circuits in a compact space.

With the creation of transistorized electronics, we saw the Central Processing Unit, within would be the ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit), which performed arithmetic and logic operations the first of many devices which would show enhanced improvements.

In a sense new technology had opened the flood gates to improved parts for the computer, where once they would have taken up the space of a large room, technology had seen them reduced in size, capable of sitting upon a table.  One invention would be the Data-Disk Storage Unit, capable of storing tens of millions letters and digits, alongside removable data disk storage units.  Input/output, a means by which a computer exchanges information.

Telephone connections went on to provide sufficient speeds for early remote terminals like the Teletype or Telex machine.

Who would have believed, that these stand-alone computers, one day would be the basis for the Internet.

Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, designed the Integrated Circuit (Microchip) in 1958 which led to the invention of the Microprocessor.  Then in 1964 IBM released its Solid Logic Technology modules in Hybrid Circuits.

Intel opened its doors in 1968, and in their early days produced the semi-conductor memory, and went on to create DRAM and EPROM.  Intel developed their Microprocessor in 1971, and crammed an entire computer on a single chip.

They produced the Intel 4004, the first microprocessor consisting of 2300 transistors and clocked at 108 KHz.  They followed up with the 8008 and 8080 models.


Altair Computer

The 8080 was used in MITS Altair computer kit.  This machine attracted one Bill Gates a Harvard freshman to drop out of college and write programs for the computer.

Alan Shugart and IBM invented the Floppy Disk in 1971, and nicknamed it the “Floppy” based on its flexibility of use.

The idea of computers co-ordinating information between one another had been around for years, using telecommunication technology.  Then in 1973 Robert Metcalfe and Xerox created the Ethernet Computer Networking System.

Olivetti, a company more associated with typewriters, presented to the world, their first personal computer the P6060 in 1975.  It had a 32-character display, 80-column thermal printer, 48 Kbytes of RAM and used BASIC language, weighing in at 40 kg.

In 1991 Bill Gates and Microsoft, supplied the world with MS-DOS an operating system to run the computer.  That same year IBM released their home computer, and so the home computer revolution had started.


Apple 1983 Computer

In 1983 Apple released their home computer with a graphical user interface.  In 1984 Apple Macintosh released a more affordable home computer with graphical user interface.

In 1985 Bill Gates and Microsoft released their new Operating System which would revolutionise the computer for decades to come; Microsoft Windows, which has been upgraded over the years.  We have now reached Windows 8.

With the 1990’s came E-mail and the World Wide Web … and computers and the Internet would change our world for ever.

computer 1

Desktop Computer

Wikipedia Images


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