A short history
In the beginning….
The best place to begin is in the beginning…
Man has been attempting to improve the
accuracy and capability of it’s mathematical
abilities since we learned to count…..
Early Attempts
Blaine Pascal (1623 – 1662)
Created a machine that was able to do addition and
subtraction by means of gears and a hand crank.
This was to aid his father, a French tax collector
He built it when he was 19
Baron Gottfied Wilheml von Leibniz (1645 –
Created a machine that could also multiply and
Charles Babbage (1792 – 1871)
Created a machine similar to Pascal’s
It used one formula to create tables used for marine navigation and printed
the results onto a copper engraver’s plate
Babbage's “difference engine” could only add and subtract. He quickly
desired to create a better machine
Babbage cont.
“analytical engine”
Had four components
The store (memory)
 The mill (computation unit)
 Input Section (punched card reader)
 Output Section (punched and printed output)
 Could store 1000 words of 50 decimal digits
Babbage cont.
Innovations from the invention
Data could be loaded from memory, acted upon and
then stored back into memory
 Decisions about what the “program” should do
could be based on whether a certain value was
positive or negative (“branching”)
 Operated according to user created instructions
Babbage cont.
Creation of first programming language
First programmer
Lady Ada Lovelace
Daughter of British Poet Lord Byron
Opportune Conditions
“One has only to recall the lack of significant
interest in calculating machines in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to realize
that a technology becomes important historically
not when it is developed but when it is applied
in a practical and cost-effective manner.”
-James W. Cortada
Modern technologies tend to build on previous
Calculators and punch-card driven machines were
growing in popularity from the late 1800’s into the
early 1900’s
Electrical Power Production, 1920 40
(billions of kilowatt hours)
Mathematical and Information
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (16461716)
Founded universal calculus
Leibniz notation
George Boole (18151864)
“…made the critical leap forward in mathematics
that would directly influence the evolution of any
computer that used electricity.”
Advances in technology
Vacuum tubes, relays, switches
We will discuss these in more detail shortly
Modern Computers
Generation 1
Vacuum Tubes
1st Electronic computer
Built by Britain to crack the ENIGMA encoding
system used by the Nazi’s in WWII
Was classified for 30 years
No affect on the computer industry
1st American Computer
Built to calculate artillery
trajectory tables
This task was currently
being done by hundreds
of women hired by the
Weighed 30 tons and
consumed 140 kilowatts
Programmed by 6000
multi-position switches
Maurice Wilkes, University of Chicago
Wilkes came up with the idea of having a separate
language to write code in and then creating a way to
break that down into machine usable code
Better version of the ENIAC
Created by Mauchley and Eckert's new company
Later became Unisys Corp.
Also was over-budget and late
Computers in print
Calculators were first written about by
Newsweek and Businessweek in 1945
They, along with Time and Life, ran articles on
calculators again in 1946
Computers go Prime Time
The UNIVAC I made it’s television debut on Nov. 4,
With only 27 states reporting and 3.4 million votes out of an
estimated 60 million the UNIVAC I predicted the outcome to
within 4 electoral votes
1940’s – early 1950’s
Computers were primary the domain of
theorists, engineers and educational institutes
The vast majority of funding came from the
government who had seem the benefits as related to
defense use
John von Neumann
“..was a genius in the same league as
Leonardo Da Vinci. He spoke many
languages, was an expert in the physical
sciences and mathematics, and had total
recall of everything he ever heard, saw ,
or read.” “…he was already the most
eminent mathematician in the world”
von Neumann machine
logic unit
Generation 2
Transistors (1955 – 1965)
Developed at Bell Labs in 1948
John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William
Shockley were awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in
Physics for this invention
Government dollars drive R&D
“As late as 1959, one government study
suggested that 85% of research and
development in electronics in the U.S. was being
paid for by various government agencies”
-Cortada p. 67
Late 1950’s – 1960’s
New technologies have made it economically
possible for companies to purchase a computer
to do their large scale data processing.
The “industry” has started to drive the
improvements in technology thereby taking
some of the financial burden off of the
Developed at M.I.T.
First computer to use transistors
 Didn’t become very popular
 A student that worked on the TX-0 founded DEC
Was created by DEC which
was founded by a former
M.I.T. student.
Created as a cheaper solution
than the IBM 7090 which was
the fastest computer in the
world at the time
PDP-1 = $120,000
7090 = $millions
Followed the PDP-1
Sold 50,000 units
 Cost $16,000
Released in 1964
Was 10x faster than the 7094
when it was released due to
multiple processing units
Separate processors for
addition and multiplication
Separates systems tasks and
Designed by Seymour Cray
who went on to found Cray
Super Computers which is
still one of the premiere
producers of super
Generation 3
Integrated Circuits (1965 – 1980)
Silicon Integrated Circuit
Developed by Robert Noyce in 1958
“allowed dozens of transistors to be put on a
single chip.”
IBM 360 series
360 series was the first “family” of computers
Shared arcitechture and language
Provided scalability and a common interface for
Little brother to IBM’s
360 family just as PDP-1
was a little brother to the
Sold well due to it’s lower
Still popular amongst
computer hardware
collectors and hobbyists
We begin to see computer shrinking in size and
growing in power
This enables companies to buy workstations
which hook individual employees into the giant
mainframes from their desks
Email - 1972
“Ray Tomlinson of BBN develops a program to
send messages across ARPANET. His program
uses the "@" sign to separate email users' names
from their machines.” –History Channel
Three days later Ray is the first person to
received Spam
Tech savy nerds were
able to build “little blue
boxes” which allowed
them to control the
phone switching systems
by setting the boxes to
produce certain tones
The phone companies
beat this by sending the
switching signals and the
callers voice on separate
The Social Side of Computing
Computers and the computing industry was in
an interesting phase as the industry was
beginning to be driven by the elite who were
breaking ground daily.
Companies where now beginning to try and
harness these geniuses but they really didn’t care
(for the most part) about the money
Problems in Paradise
First document network plague
In 1972 a computer had an error telling other email
servers that it could deliver mail for a negative cost
All mail on the “internet” at the time was routed to this
computer and was subsequently lost
Happened again Oct 27, 1980
 Jan 15, 1990
Generation 4
Very Large Scale Circuits (VLSI)
1980 - present
VLSI allowed for thousands, then hundreds of
thousands and now millions of transistors to be
put onto a chip
Continual improvements in technology have
made it feasible for individual employees to
actually have their own computer that they alone
work on
Centralized computer still exist and done large
tasks but also serve as a data repository for the
smaller, independent machines
“Own one today”
Computers were beginning to come home and
as such were becoming less ominous
The software and hardware really weren’t built
for the average consumer and still required a
good deal of technical knowledge to use well
Tragedy in technology
Computer Horror Story: the Therac-25
Late 1980’s
 Was the “newest” in a line of cancer treatments
which used a focused pulse of radiation to kill
cancer cells
 The machine was not properly designed and as a
result several patients were literally “cooked” by the
supposedly helpful radiation beams
Birth of the PC
In the early 80s IBM, now the king of high-end
computers, decides that they want to enter the
consumer market
Give a lone engineer a bag of money and
instruct him to build a computer
He returns with a reasonably prices computer
built from parts he bought from a local
electronics store
PC cont.
The new computer was sold as a kit that one
would assemble
Along with the kit IBM sold the manual that the
engineer had assembled when he built the first
New Type of Millionaire
Computer companies started creating a new class of
20-something millionaire’s “overnight”
Apple’s stock went public in 1980. It went from $7 to $29
in one day making both of its founders millionaires
“The Steves”
(Wozniak and Jobs)
Founders of Apple Computers
Millionaires cont.
Most of the “techies” that drove the computer
revolution didn’t end up making a lot of money
Some had not cared about the business end at all or
had fell victim to “aggressive” business partners
 Some reinvested their earned money into starting
their own companies which subsequently flopped
 Some did it for the love of the game and still do(i.e.
The Woz)
GUI’s, Mice and networks
As computers worked
their way into homes
users demanded more
All three of these were
actually developed by
XEROX at their PARC
facility but XEROX
executives decided that
the copier market was
more lucrative
More problems
Feb 25, 1991
US Patriot Anti-missle had an error in the code
resulting in a loss of accuracy of 1/100,000,000 of a
second every second
This was acceptable as these batteries were made to run
for a maximum length of 14 hrs. at a time but on this day
the battery had been going for 4 days
Economic Reasoning
Computers were an economic anomaly in that as
the technology matured, the production cost
went down and not up
The dollar cost for computing “horsepower” has
been dropping rates between 22% and 26% per year
since the 1950’s
1990’s - today
The personal computer
now can be found in the
home, the dorm, the
office, the park and most
every where else.
Families now own
multiple computers
Consumers are able to
purchase parts and build
their own
Technology Drivers
The uber-nerd has given up control of the
industry now and it is driven by the consumer
Companies will include technology that isn’t even
useful in order to make their product look more
There are now far less computer manufacturers than
there used to be and even fewer operating systems
Standardization has given the end user a simpler product
but has also limited their options
Moore’s Law
Gordon Moore published a paper in the mid
60’s which stated the one could expect
technology to double every one to two years.
New Worries
 New Viruses are constantly being written/found. These can bring
entire companies to there knees and are a very real fear for most
 Many fear entry by an individual seeking to do harm to their
 Whitehats
 Individuals who “hack in” and then fix the holes they used to get
Moore’s Law cont.
Can we maintain this rate of advancement
Computers as we know them…
Looking at the table which gives an idea of
where Moore’s law will take us in the future we
can see that around 2020 the width of the
circuitry will be in the 1 molecule range which
will be too unstable for normal usage.
Other options, such as bio-computers, are the
topic of current research
The future…
“the choice between alternatives ultimately
depends neither on technical nor economic
efficiency, but on the ‘fit’ between devices and
the interests and beliefs of the various social
groups that influence the design process. What
singles out an artifact is its relationships to the
social environment, not some intrinsic property”
-Feenberg 1999, 79
Some numbers to consider…
Sixty million transistors were manufactured last
year for every man, woman, and child on Earth.
By 2010, that figure will reach 1 billion
transistors a year
W. says…..
I was interested to read that our
government plans to spend $53 billion
on information technology next year.
Now, if you're one of the recipients of
that $53 billion, make sure that the
product actually works, please.
(Laughter and applause.) It is important.
It's important to make sure government
functions better, but more importantly,
it will help our taxpayers have better
response to democracy and get better
information more quickly. And so I'm
pleased that we're working on egovernment. I just urge people to focus
on results and not process.
Works Cited
Cortada, James W. The Computer in the United States: 1930 - 1960. N.p.: M.E. Sharpe, 1993.
Feenberg, Nadrew. 1999, Questioning Technology, London: Routledge.
Groeger, Martin. Overnight Millionaires. 8 July 2002. 4 Dec. 2002 <>.
History Channel Technology Timeline. The History Channel. 04 Dec. 2002
Lazere, Cathy, and Dennis Shasha. Out of thier minds. N.p.: Copernicus, 1995.
McCartney, Scott. "ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World’s First Computer." History Computer
Review. Aug. 2000: 107-108. InfoTrac. 5 Nov. 2002. Keyword: computer history.
President Discusses the Future Technology at White House Forum . 13 June 2002. U.S. Govnerment. 20 Nov.
2002 <>.
Rawlins, Gregory J. Moths to the Flame. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT press, 1996.
"Reverting to the bad old days." History Computer Review. 7. Infotrac. June 2002.
Rhey, Erick. PCMagazine. 3 Sept. 2002. 8 Nov. 2002
Tanenbaum, Andrew S. Structured Computer Organization. 4th ed. N.p.: Prentice Hall, 1999.
Turley, Jim. PCMagazine. 3 Sept. 2002. 15 Nov. 2002
Wertheim, Margaret. "The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet."
History Computer Review. Aug. 2000: 109-112. InfoTrac. 1 Nov. 2002.
Photo Credits
(fairly in order)

Computers: A short history