FC: History of the Computer
1: Hewlett-Packard is Founded. David Packard and Bill Hewlett found Hewlett-Packard in a Palo Alto, California garage. Their first product was the HP 200A Audio Oscillator, which rapidly becomes a popular piece of test equipment for engineers. Walt Disney Pictures ordered eight of the 200B model to use as sound effects generators for the 1940 movie “Fantasia.” | 1939
2: The Complex Number Calculator (CNC) is completed. In 1939, Bell Telephone Laboratories completed this calculator, designed by researcher George Stibitz. In 1940, Stibitz demonstrated the CNC at an American Mathematical Society conference held at Dartmouth College. Stibitz stunned the group by performing calculations remotely on the CNC (located in New York City) using a Teletype connected via special telephone lines. This is considered to be the first demonstration of remote access computing. | 1940
3: Konrad Zuse finishes the Z3 computer. The Z3 was an early computer built by German engineer Konrad Zuse working in complete isolation from developments elsewhere. Using 2,300 relays, the Z3 used floating point binary arithmetic and had a 22-bit word length. The original Z3 was destroyed in a bombing raid of Berlin in late 1943. However, Zuse later supervised a reconstruction of the Z3 in the 1960s which is currently on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. The first Bombe is completed. Based partly on the design of the Polish “Bomba,” a mechanical means of decrypting Nazi military communications during WWII, the British Bombe design was greatly influenced by the work of computer pioneer Alan Turing and others. Many bombes were built. Together they dramatically improved the intelligence gathering and processing capabilities of Allied forces. | 1941
4: 1942 | The Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) is completed. After successfully demonstrating a proof-of-concept prototype in 1939, Atanasoff received funds to build the full-scale machine. Built at Iowa State College (now University), the ABC was designed and built by Professor John Vincent Atanasoff and graduate student Cliff Berry between 1939 and 1942. The ABC was at the center of a patent dispute relating to the invention of the computer, which was resolved in 1973 when it was shown that ENIAC co-designer John Mauchly had come to examine the ABC shortly after it became functional. The legal result was a landmark: Atanasoff was declared the originator of several basic computer ideas, but the computer as a concept was declared un-patentable and thus was freely open to all. This result has been referred to as the "dis-invention of the computer." A full-scale reconstruction of the ABC was completed in 1997 and proved that the ABC machine functioned as Atanasoff had claimed.
5: 1943 | Project Whirlwind begins. During World War II, the U.S. Navy approached the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) about building a flight simulator to train bomber crews. The team first built a large analog computer, but found it inaccurate and inflexible. After designers saw a demonstration of the ENIAC computer, they decided on building a digital computer. By the time the Whirlwind was completed in 1951, the Navy had lost interest in the project, though the U.S. Air Force would eventually support the project which would influence the design of the SAGE program.
6: 1944-The first Colossus is operational at Bletchley Park. Designed by British engineer Tommy Flowers, the Colossus was designed to break the complex Lorenz ciphers used by the Nazis during WWII. A total of ten Colossi were delivered to Bletchley, each using 1,500 vacuum tubes and a series of pulleys transported continuous rolls of punched paper tape containing possible solutions to a particular code. Colossus reduced the time to break Lorenz messages from weeks to hours. The machine’s existence was not made public until the 1970s. 1945-John von Neumann wrote "First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC" in which he outlined the architecture of a stored-program computer. Electronic storage of programming information and data eliminated the need for the more clumsy methods of programming, such as punched paper tape — a concept that has characterized mainstream computer development since 1945. Hungarian-born von Neumann demonstrated prodigious expertise in hydrodynamics, ballistics, meteorology, game theory, statistics, and the use of mechanical devices for computation. After the war, he concentrated on the development of Princetons Institute for Advanced Studies computer and its copies around the world
7: 1950s | >Standard Electronic Automatic Computer (SEAC), designed and built at NBS, begins operation; see historical paper. > Hestenes and Steiefel developed the method of conjugate gradients; see historical paper. >U. S. Bureau of Census began using the UNIVAC I, the first commercial computer. >Graphics display on vectorscope on Whirlwind computer in first public demonstration >1st image-processed photo at National Bureau of Standards >John Whitney Sr. uses analog computer to make art
8: The precursor to the minicomputer, DECs PDP-1 sold for $120,000. One of 50 built, the average PDP-1 included with a cathode ray tube graphic display, needed no air conditioning and required only one operator. Its large scope intrigued early hackers at MIT, who wrote the first computerized video game, SpaceWar!, for it. The SpaceWar! creators then used the game as a standard demonstration on all 50 computers. AT&T designed its Dataphone, the first commercial modem, specifically for converting digital computer data to analog signals for transmission across its long distance network. Outside manufacturers incorporated Bell Laboratories digital data sets into commercial products. The development of equalization techniques and bandwidth-conserving modulation systems improved transmission efficiency in national and global systems. A team drawn from several computer manufacturers and the Pentagon developed COBOL, Common Business Oriented Language. Designed for business use, early COBOL efforts aimed for easy readability of computer programs and as much machine independence as possible. Designers hoped a COBOL program would run on any computer for which a compiler existed with only minimal modifications. Howard Bromberg, an impatient member of the committee in charge of creating COBOL, had this tombstone made out of fear that the language had no future. However, COBOL has survived to this day. | 1960s
9: 1960s | LISP made its debut as the first computer language designed for writing artificial intelligence programs. Created by John McCarthy, LISP offered programmers flexibility in organization. Quicksort is developed. Working for the British computer company Elliott Brothers, C. A. R. Hoare developed Quicksort, an algorithm that would go on to become the most used sorting method in the world. Quicksort used a series of elements called “pivots” that allowed for fast sorting. C.A.R. Hoare was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000.
10: Xerox opens Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). In 1970, Xerox Corporation hired Dr. George Pake to lead a new research center in Palo Alto, California. PARC attracted some of the United States’ top computer scientists, and produced many groundbreaking inventions that transformed computing—most notably the personal computer graphical user interface, Ethernet, the laser printer, and object-oriented programming. Xerox was unable to market the inventions from PARC but others did, including Steve Jobs (Apple), Bob Metcalfe (3Com), as well as Charles Geschke and John Warnock (Adobe) Computer-to-computer communication expanded when the Department of Defense established four nodes on the ARPANET: the University of California Santa Barbara and UCLA, SRI International, and the University of Utah. Viewed as a comprehensive resource-sharing network, ARPANETs designers set out with several goals: direct use of distributed hardware services; direct retrieval from remote, one-of-a-kind databases; and the sharing of software subroutines and packages not available on the users primary computer due to incompatibility of hardware or languages. | 1970s
11: 1970s | SRI Internationals Shakey became the first mobile robot controlled by artificial intelligence. Equipped with sensing devices and driven by a problem-solving program called STRIPS, the robot found its way around the halls of SRI by applying information about its environment to a route. Shakey used a TV camera, laser range finder, and bump sensors to collect data, which it then transmitted to a DEC PDP-10 and PDP-15. The computer radioed back commands to Shakey — who then moved at a speed of 2 meters per hour. Hewlett-Packard announced the HP-35 as "a fast, extremely accurate electronic slide rule" with a solid-state memory similar to that of a computer. The HP-35 distinguished itself from its competitors by its ability to perform a broad variety of logarithmic and trigonometric functions, to store more intermediate solutions for later use, and to accept and display entries in a form similar to standard scientific notation
12: Broderbund is founded. In 1980, brothers Doug and Gary Carlston formed a company to market the games Doug had created. Their first games were Galactic Empire, Galactic Trader and Galactic Revolution. They continued to have success with popular games such as Myst (1993) and Riven (1997) and a wide range of home products such as Print Shop, language tutors, etc. In 1998, Broderbund was acquired by The Learning Company which, a year later, was itself acquired by Mattel, Inc. | 1980s
13: 1980s | Seagate Technology created the first hard disk drive for microcomputers, the ST506. The disk held 5 megabytes of data, five times as much as a standard floppy disk, and fit in the space of a floppy disk drive. The hard disk drive itself is a rigid metallic platter coated on both sides with a thin layer of magnetic material that stores digital data. Seagate Technology grew out of a 1979 conversation between Alan Shugart and Finis Conner, who had worked together at Memorex. The two men decided to found the company after developing the idea of scaling down a hard disk drive to the same size as the then-standard 5 1/4-inch floppies. Upon releasing its first product, Seagate quickly drew such big-name customers as Apple Computer and IBM. Within a few years, it had sold 4 million units. Hard disks are an essential part of the computer revolution, allowing fast, random access to large amounts of data. IBM announced its most successful mainframe hard disk (what IBM called a “Direct Access Storage Device (DASD)” in June of 1980, actually shipping units the following year. The 3380 came in six models initially (later growing to many more) and price at time of introduction ranged from $81,000 to $142,200. The base model stored 2.5 GB of data, later models extended this to 20GB. IBM sold over 100,000 3380s, generating tens of billions of dollars in revenue making the 3380 one of IBM’s most successful products of all time.
14: 1990s | Video Toaster is introduced by NewTek. The Video Toaster was a video editing and production system for the Amiga line of computers and included custom hardware and special software. Much more affordable than any other computer-based video editing system, the Video Toaster was not only for home use. It was popular with public access stations and was even good enough to be used for broadcast television shows like Home Improvement. The World Wide Web was born when Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN, the high-energy physics laboratory in Geneva, developed HyperText Markup Language. HTML, as it is commonly known, allowed the Internet to expand into the World Wide Web, using specifications he developed such as URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). A browser, such as Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer, follows links and sends a query to a server, allowing a user to view a site. Berners-Lee based the World Wide Web on Enquire, a hypertext system he had developed for himself, with the aim of allowing people to work together by combining their knowledge in a global web of hypertext documents. With this idea in mind, Berners-Lee designed the first World Wide Web server and browser — available to the general public in 1991. Berners-Lee founded the W3 Consortium, which coordinates World Wide Web development.
15: Microsoft shipped Windows 3.0 on May 22. Compatible with DOS programs, the first successful version of Windows finally offered good enough performance to satisfy PC users. For the new version, Microsoft revamped the interface and created a design that allowed PCs to support large graphical applications for the first time. It also allowed multiple programs to run simultaneously on its Intel 80386 microprocessor. Microsoft released Windows amid a $10 million publicity blitz. In addition to making sure consumers knew about the product, Microsoft lined up a number of other applications ahead of time that ran under Windows 3.0, including versions of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. As a result, PCs moved toward the user-friendly concepts of the Macintosh, making IBM and IBM-compatible computers more popular. | 1990s