History of computer

The history of computers dates back to ancient times when people used simple tools like the abacus to perform basic calculations. However, the modern concept of the computer began to take shape in the 19th and 20th centuries with the development of mechanical and electronic devices.

One of the first mechanical computers was the Analytical Engine, designed by Charles Babbage in the 1820s and 1830s. This machine was intended to perform mathematical calculations, but it was never built due to a lack of funding.

In the late 19th century, Herman Hollerith developed a machine that used punch cards to process data for the US Census. This machine is considered one of the earliest examples of a computer, as it had the ability to store and process data.

During the first half of the 20th century, various electronic computers were developed, such as the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), and the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC). These computers were large, expensive, and used primarily for scientific and military purposes.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the first personal computers (PCs) were introduced. The Altair 8800 and the Apple I are considered the first personal computers. These early computers were relatively simple and expensive, but they paved the way for the development of more advanced and affordable computers.

Since then, computers have evolved rapidly and have become a fundamental part of our daily lives. They have gotten smaller, faster, more powerful, and more affordable. Today, we have computers in various forms such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc., and they are used in practically every field of human activity.


Chinese abacus
Chinese abacus

An abacus is an ancient counting tool that was used for simple arithmetic calculations. It usually consists of a frame with rods or wires on which beads are strung. Beads are used to represent numbers and can be manipulated by the user to perform calculations.

The origin of the abacus is uncertain, but it is believed to have been used for the first time in ancient Sumer, around 2300 BC. From there it spread to ancient Egypt, Greece, and China. The ancient Chinese abacus was called a “suanpan” and is still used in some parts of the world, particularly in East Asia.

The abacus was an important tool for arithmetic and was particularly useful for complex calculations that were difficult to do mentally. It was used for a wide range of purposes, from simple arithmetic to more advanced calculations like algebra and geometry.

The abacus is still used today in some parts of the world, particularly in East Asia, as a tool to teach children basic math concepts and to perform mental calculations.

In modern times, the abacus is used less frequently as a tool for arithmetic and has been largely superseded by electronic calculators and computers. However, it remains an important historical artifact and a symbol of the ingenuity and inventiveness of our ancestors.

Napier’s Bones

Napier’s Bones, also known as Napier’s Rods, is a hand-calculating tool invented by John Napier in the late 16th century.

The device consists of a set of rods, each with a series of digits etched into them, which can be used to perform multiplication and division.

The user lines up the rods to match the numbers being multiplied or divided and then performs the calculation by adding or subtracting the digits on the rods.

Napier’s Bones is considered an early example of a mechanical calculator, and it greatly helped to simplify arithmetic calculations by reducing the time and effort required to perform them.

Pascaline (Pascaline)

A Pascaline signed by Pascal in 1652
A Pascaline signed by Pascal in 1652

The pascaline, also known as an arithmometer, was one of the first mechanical calculators invented by the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal in the mid-17th century.

It was one of the first mechanical calculators to be produced in any quantity and was capable of addition and subtraction using a set of toothed wheels.

The Pascaline was a significant improvement over earlier calculating devices such as Napier’s abacus or bones, as it could perform calculations much faster and more accurately.

However, it was still a relatively expensive and complex device used mainly by tradesmen and other professionals who frequently needed to perform calculations.

Stepped Reckoner

Stepped Reckoner
Stepped Reckoner

The Stepped Reckoner (German: “Schrittzähler”) was a mechanical calculator invented by the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in the late 17th century.

It was an advanced calculator that could perform not only addition and subtraction but also multiplication and division using a series of toothed wheels, similar to the Pascalina.

The device was capable of very complex calculations with high precision, however, it was also quite large and difficult to operate. The Stepped Reckoner was never put into production, only a prototype was built, and it had some design issues that made it difficult to use.

Leibniz’s design was not a success in its day but is considered an important step in the development of mechanical calculators, it anticipated many of the features that would be incorporated into later machines.

Difference Engine

The London Science Museum's difference engine, the first one actually built from Babbage's design.
The London Science Museum’s difference engine, the first one actually built from Babbage’s design.

The Difference Engine is a mechanical calculator designed to perform mathematical calculations, specifically polynomial functions, using the method of finite differences. It was designed and partly built by Charles Babbage during the 19th century.

The engine was intended to be a general-purpose device that could be used to produce tables, such as logarithmic tables, which were widely used in navigation and scientific calculations at the time. Babbage’s design was never completed during his lifetime, but the concept was later used to build several successful mechanical calculators.

The concept of the differential motor is considered an important step in the development of the computer, as it introduced the idea of ​​using mechanical means to perform complex calculations automatically.

Analytical Engine

A portion of the calculating machine with a printing mechanism of the Analytical Engine, built by Charles Babbage, was displayed at the Science Museum (London).
A portion of the calculating machine with a printing mechanism of the Analytical Engine, built by Charles Babbage, was displayed at the Science Museum (London).

The Analytical Engine (Analytical Engine) is a general-purpose mechanical computer designed by Charles Babbage in the mid-19th century. It was intended to be a more advanced version of his earlier design, the Difference Engine, which was designed to compute polynomial functions.

The Analytical Engine was intended to be a general-purpose device that could perform any mathematical calculation, rather than being limited to calculating polynomials.

The Analytical Engine was a sophisticated machine that used a set of punch cards to control its operations, much like a modern computer uses software programs.

It had a central processing unit, a memory system, and input and output devices, which made it the first prototype of a computer, it was also the first machine to be called a computer.

The machine was never completed during Babbage’s lifetime, but the plans and concepts he developed are considered an important step in the history of computing.

Tabulating Machine

Hollerith 1890 tabulating machine with sorting box.
Hollerith 1890 tabulating machine with sorting box.

The Tabulating Machine, also known as the Hollerith Machine, was an electromechanical device designed by Herman Hollerith in the late 19th century. It was used to process and analyze large amounts of data, such as the 1890 United States Census data. The machine used punch cards to enter data and mechanical counters to process and store the information.

The tabulating machine was a significant improvement over previous data processing methods, which were largely manual and time-consuming. It could process data much faster and more accurately, making it a valuable tool for businesses, government agencies, and other organizations that need to analyze large amounts of data.

Hollerith’s tabulating machine was the first step in the development of modern computers, was the first machine to process large amounts of data, and helped speed up data collection for the census and other large-scale surveys. The company Hollerith founded to make the machines eventually became IBM.

Differential Analyzer

Differential Analyzer
Differential Analyzer

The Differential Analyzer, also known as the Meccano Differential Analyzer, was a mechanical analog computer designed to solve differential equations by integration using a series of interconnected gears, wheels, and shafts.

It was developed in the early 20th century by Vannevar Bush at MIT. The first machine was built in 1931 and was considered one of the most advanced mechanical calculators of its day. He was able to solve a wide range of mathematical problems, including those related to the fields of electrical engineering and physics.

The differential analyzer was a large and complex machine that required a dedicated operator to set up and run the calculations. It was widely used in research and development and played an important role in the development of many new technologies, including radar, control systems, and the atomic bomb.

The Differential Analyzer was a significant step in the development of electronic computers, as it showed the potential of using mechanical devices to perform complex mathematical calculations. It was widely used until the late 1950s and early 1960s when it was superseded by electronic computers that were faster, more versatile, and more reliable.

Harvard Mark I

Harvard-IBM Mark I
Harvard-IBM Mark I

The Harvard Mark I, also known as the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), was an electromechanical computer that was developed and built during World War II at Harvard University, under the direction of Howard Aiken. The machine was completed in 1944 and was one of the first full-scale computers ever built. It was an electromechanical computer, which means that it used a combination of electrical and mechanical components to perform calculations.

The Harvard Mark I was a large machine, over 51 feet long and 8 feet high, it used over 750,000 components, including relays, switches, and gears. He was able to perform calculations at the rate of 3 additions or subtractions per second. The machine was used primarily for scientific and engineering calculations, including calculating ballistic tables for the US Navy.

Harvard Mark, I was an important step in the development of modern computers. It was one of the first computers to use electromechanical components and was one of the first to use binary digits (bits) as the basic unit of data. He was also one of the first to use punched paper tape as an input method, which was a key feature of early computers.

Generations of Computers

There are several ways to categorize generations of computers, but one common way is to divide them based on the technology used to build them. According to this method, there have been five generations of computers:

First Generation (1940-1956)

These were the first electronic computers, which used vacuum tubes as the main electronic component. They were big, bulky, and generated a lot of heat. Examples include UNIVAC, IBM 701, and Harvard Mark I.

  • ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer)
  • EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer)
  • UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer)
  • IBM-701
  • IBM-650

Second Generation (1956-1963)

These computers used transistors instead of vacuum tubes, making them smaller, faster, and more reliable. They also used magnetic core memory, which was faster and more reliable than early electrostatic storage tubes. Examples include IBM 7094, UNIVAC 1108.

  • IBM 1620
  • IBM 7094
  • CDC 1604
  • CDC 3600
  • UNIVAC 1108

Third Generation (1964-1971)

These computers used integrated circuits (ICs) to further miniaturize electronic components. They had greater storage capacity and operating systems became more sophisticated. Examples include the IBM System/360, CDC 6600, and DEC PDP-8.

  • IBM-360 series
  • Honeywell-6000 series
  • PDP(Personal Data Processor)
  • IBM-370/168
  • TDC-316

Fourth Generation (1971-1980)

These computers used microprocessors, which are integrated circuits that contain all the components of a central processing unit (CPU) on a single chip. They were also known as “personal computers” as they became smaller and more affordable for personal use. Examples include the IBM PC, Apple II, and Commodore 64.

  • DEC 10
  • STARS 1000
  • PDP 11
  • CRAY-1(Super Computer)
  • CRAY-X-MP(Super Computer)

Fifth Generation (1981–present)

These computers use artificial intelligence, parallel processing, and superconductors. They can process massive amounts of data, can connect to other computers, and can understand natural language. They are also known as cognitive computers. Examples include IBM’s Watson, Google’s tensor processing units, and quantum computers.

  • Desktop
  • laptop
  • macBook
  • UltraBook
  • Chromebook
  • Mobile

It is worth noting that this categorization is not fixed and it is possible to find different categorization methods and different examples of computers by generation.

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