The history of the computer begins back in 3000 BC. It was at this time that the abacus was invented. The abacus is a simple counting aid that was used to help people to perform mathematical computations. The abacus is believed to have originated in Asia Minor-more specifically in Babylonia (which is now present-day Iraq), but the form of the abacus that we are most commonly associated with today has its origins in ancient China. However, the abacus is not a true calculator, as we think of them in modern times. In fact, the person operating it must do the calculations in their heads. The abacus is merely used for counting and for keeping track of the sums, differences, products, or quotients.
An abacus is composed of a rectangular frame that is divided horizontally into two decks: the upper deck and the lower deck. A beam separates the two decks, and each deck has parallel rods running up and down through it. Strung on these rods are beads, which are used to perform the basic mathematical operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. There are 2 beads on the rods of the upper deck, each of which stands for five units. On the lower deck there are 2 beads, each of which stands for 1 unit. As the beads are counted, they are moved towards the dividing beam. In other words, the beads on the upper deck are slid downwards while the beads on the lower deck slide upwards.
Wilhelm Schickard invents the first mechanical calculator in 1623. Schickard's calculator can work with 6 digits, but unfortunately it never goes beyond the prototype stage and was never produced.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a French mathematician and philosopher builds the Pascaline, also known as the Arithmetic Machine. This mechanical calculator was built to help Pascal's father with his work collecting taxes. It had the capability to do addition and subtraction with up to eight digits, and ran on a series of gears. There were two types of gears: one-tooth gears and ten-teeth gears. Every time the one-tooth gears made ten revolutions, the ten-teeth gears would make one revolution. In this way, the wheels would turn and the numbers that were entered could be added or subtracted. The Pascaline was the first mechanical calculator to be actually produced and distributed. Manufacturing and selling of this machine began in 1652 and ended the same year. Very few of the machines were sold. This is most likely because the calculator actually cost more than the people whose work it replaced, and additionally, its gears tended to jam frequently.
Joseph-Marie Jacquard builds the Jacquard Loom. This automatic loom made use of punch cards, which controlled the machine and made the machine programmable. In other words, the instructions of the machine could be changed. By inserting different punch cards into the loom, different patterns could be woven.
The Arithrometer, built by Charles Zavier and Thomas de Colmar, makes its debut in 1820. The Arithrometer, able to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, was the first commercially produced calculator. Despite this fact, it was never produced at very large quantities. The downside of this calculator was its slowness, which is due to the fact that it was run on wheels. The operator would have to enter the number, and then crank the wheels by hand. Later, in the 1880s, the Arithrometer was remodeled and made sturdier and more reliable. It was particularly useful to engineers and to insurance companies and was widely used until World War I.
Charles Babbage (1791-1871), an English mathematics professor, comes up with the ideaof the Difference Engine, a mechanical calculator powered by steam. This machine was automatic and was also commanded by a fixed instruction program. Additionally, it used decimal digits (the numbers 0 through 9). These digits were represented by certain positions on wheels. As the wheels rotate, the numbers would advance. Furthermore, the Difference Engine had an area for the temporary storage of data, and it also was able to print the results of its operations. In 1822, Babbage had asked the British government for financial support for his new idea, and he had worked on this calculator for more than a decade, before finishing up with a prototype in 1833. Unfortunately, the government in 1942, and without financial support canceled Babbage's project, Babbage was unable to finish producing the Difference Engine.
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Abandoning his idea of the Difference Engine, Charles Babbage comes up with the idea of an Analytical Engine. Like his Difference Engine, Babbage was never able to complete this machine. The Analytical Engine was to be a general-purpose mechanical computer that would be able to solve ANY mathematical problem. Using punch cards, the Analytical Engine could be programmed to perform many different operations. By changing the information on the punch cards, the operations could then be changed. An important aspect of this machine was that it was designed to contain four of the essential components of a computer today: the mill, store, reader, and printer. The mill is used for calculating while the store held the data before it was to be processed. The reader and the printer were the input and output devices of the machine. An input device is something used to enter information into a compute. For example, modern-day input devices include the keyboard, mouse, scanner, or modem. On the other hand, an output device is something used so that the computer can share its calculations and results with the user (i.e. a printer or a monitor). The Analytical Engine also exhibited conditional control. This is when the instructions did not necessarily have to be executed in numerical order, but could actually be executed in a specific order determined by the user. Unfortunately, Babbage was only able to construct a portion of this machine and was never successful in turning his wonderful idea into reality.
Augusta Ada Byron, the daughter of poet Lord Byron, was born in 1815 and died in 1852. This countess of Lovelace had taught herself geometry and had also studied other aspects of mathematics. She first met Charles Babbage in 1833, and she later helped him to develop the Analytical Engine. She helped to provide financial support for Babbage by convincing the British government to lend him money. A decade later, in 1843, Lady Lovelace published an analysis of the Analytical Engine, in which she not only described the machine and its functions, but in which she also formulated an outline for the basis of computer programming. Because of her expertise in creating the sequence of instructions for the punch cards that were to be used by the Analytical Engine, Lady Lovelace is considered the world's first computer programmer.
Christopher Latham Sholes invented a new typewriter in 1874 that was both fast and commercially successful. Sholes' typewriter had the QWERTYUIOP keyboard that is found on all modern computers today. Although this arrangement of letters on the keyboard is quite inconvenient, it would be even more inconvenient to change this order of letters.
Before typewriters were invented, clerks were forced to decipher handwritten documents. With the invention of typewriters, easy-to-read documents were developed. Sholes' typewriter was much faster than the previous ones, and because of this speed, the typewriter became widely used. Before long, thousands of typewriters were produced every year by dozens of different companies.
Herman Hollerith (1859-1929) developed an efficient way to conduct the information gathering and collecting of the United States census. Before, clerks had to travel from city to city-gathering information for the census. They had huge charts in which they would check off the appropriate boxes for the age, sex, ethnicity, etc. After completing their data gathering, the clerks would then have to count and add up all of the check marks. This was extremely tedious work and it took hours, if not days to complete. The 1880 census took seven years to finish and was 21,000 pages long!
Courtesy of the Computer Museum of America
In 1896, Hollerith established the Tabulating
Machine Company to market his invention. Years later, in 1911, this company
merged with the Computing Scale Company (which manufactured scales for shopkeepers)
and with the International Time Recording Company (which produced automatic
recording equipment that would calculate the times employees entered and left
a workplace). The merge of these three companies created C-T-R, or the Computing-Tabulating-Recording
Company. 13 years later, C-T-R changed its name to IBM. IBM, International
Business Machines, is a currently a major giant in the computer industry,
supplying all sorts of products and systems, including computers, workstations,