Early Computers (1930 – Present): The Real history behind the Evolution of Computers

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Over 79.2 Million laptops and PC were bought in the last quarter. This is the record high that has ever been recorded in years. The pandemic forced everyone from students to non-students to work from home, hence the increase in orders for laptops and related gadgets. But have you ever wondered where it all started? Let’s take a walk back in time and look at the real story behind the evolution of computers and computing technology.

Let’s dig in...

Have you ever stopped and think how the first computer looked like? Or maybe the first phone? What about the first hard disk or memory stick? What about the first keyboard?

I bet you haven’t, and if you have, you only did it once, when your computer stopped working. We usually take for granted the power of the gadgets we have now that we forget how far back the technology dates. Your laptop, PC, tablet, or phone had come a long way.

Computers date back to the 1930s, yes, way back to the 30s, when one computer would fill an entire room and would perform not even a millionth of the tasks that your phone can handle in one second. Technology is one of the few sectors in the world that have evolved rapidly. So rapid that we sometimes take it for granted.

Your ability to talk to someone remotely or engage in a skype, zoom, or online live video chat has taken hundreds of years to perfect. You may not notice how intense and sophisticated the piece of technology you have is unless you take your time and look at the timeline of computers and how they have changed over time.

A brief history of the Computers: Where it all started.
The computer as we know it today was not invented for email, social media, or gaming, but it was designed to solve several problems at the time that human beings could not achieve by himself. For example, by the 1880s, the population of America had grown so much that it would take over 6 years to tabulate the census manually. In order to carry out the census quickly and effectively, there was need to develop a device that would help. This led to the development of computers based on punch-cards. These computers were so massive that they would occupy an entire room and yet they could only achieve one task. But during that time, it was a huge breakthrough for the US.

Today, our smartphones have more processing power and performs more functions than a computer of those days that occupied an entire room.

Timeline showing the evolution of computers

Below is a timeline history of the computers and how the developed from their first crude version that occupied an entire room, to the tiny devices that we use to browse the internet today, play video games, stream movies and music and crunching huge numbers:

1801 – It all started way back in the early 1800s, when Joseph Marie Jacquard invented a loom which uses stunning wooden maps to weave fabric designs automatically. The early computers borrowed the concept by use of punch cards.

1822 – Around this year, Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, developed a computing machine powered by a steam engine. It was used for computing number tables. The government funded project turned out to be a disappointment. However, the first computer in the world was designed a century later based on some of Charles Babbage’s concepts.

1890 – Later on, Herman Hollerith is remembered for developing the punch card method of calculating the census back in the 1800s. He started a corporation at the time which would eventually become IBM.

1936 - Alan Turing proposed the concept of a universal machine, later named Truing, which could compute anything. His theory underpinned the core principle of the modern machine.

1937 – Atanasoff J.V who was a professor of physics and maths at Iowa State University, seeks to create the first machine without using gears, belts, shafts or cams.

1939 – Hewlett-Packard (HP) was founded on this year by David Packard and Bill Hewlett.

1941 – Atanasoff and his student called Clifford Berry developed a computer which could solve over 29 equations simultaneously. This was the first time the computer was able to save information in memory.

1943/4 – John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert who were at the time professors at the University of Pennsylvania created the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC). It occupied a 20 x 40-toof space and utilized 18,000 vacuum tubes, this is considered the ancestor of the computers as we know them today.

1946 – The duo John Mauchly and J. Presper left U.O.P, got funding form the US census bureau to build the UNIVAC, which commercial machine for business and computing government applications.

1947 – Bell laboratories developed the transistor. William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain were the brains behind it. They found how to use soldi materials to create an electric switch and thus no vacuum was required.

1953 – Grace Hopper creates the first programming language that is essentially called COBOL. The IBM 701 EDPM was developed by Thomas Johnson Watson to keep track on Korea during the war at the time.

1954 – Formula TRAN (FORTRAN) was created by programmers at IBM under the leadership of John Backus.

1958 – The integrated circuit called the computer chip was unveiled by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce. Kilby was honored in 2000 for his work with the Nobel Price in Physics.

1964 – Douglas Engelbart displays a prototype of an advanced computer that uses a mouse and a fancy graphic user interface (GUI). This marks the development of a device that is more available to the general public. It could easily be used as a home computer as opposed to the complicated user interface that was only dedicated to the scientists and mathematicians.

1969 – Later on a number of developers in Bells Labs developed the UNIX system. This was the operating system that was designed to address the compatibility issues. It was written in the C programming language. UNIX became the mainframes in major corporations and government bodies because it was compatible with many platforms. Since the device was sluggish, it never gained momentum amongst the home PC users.

1970 – Intel’s newly developed Dynamic Access Memory (DRAM) called Intel 1103.

1971 - Major progress was made in computer memory by developing the floppy disk (Diskette). This allowed data to be saved and shared amongst computers.

1973 – Robert Metcalfe created Ethernet that could connect several computers and other hardware. Robert was an employee at Xerox at the time.

1974/7 – Many personal computers were released to the market during this period. These included Scelbi & Mark-8 Altair, IBM 5100, radio Shack’s TRS-80 which was colloquially referred to as Trash 80 and the Commodore PET.

1975 – Altair 8080 was featured in a leading electronic magazine in 1975. It was the greatest competitor to those developing computers for business. Paul Allen and Bill Gates offered to develop an operating system for Altair using the BASIC programming language. It is during this time that Paul and Bill established Microsoft.

1976 – Apple 1 was unveiled on April fool’s day by Steve Wozniak. The duo developed the first computer that had a single-circuit board.

1977 – Apple II was unveiled at the first Computer Faire in West Coast. Apple II had graphics and audio drive for storage.

1978 – VisiCalc was introduced specifically to handle accounting by using spreadsheets.

1979 – WordStar, a word processor was developed by MicroPro Int’l.

1981 – Acorn, which was the first PC developed by IBM was introduced. It ran on Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system and used an intel chip. The system had twin floppy disk drives and an optional color monitor. It is around this time that the word PC gained momentum in the computing world.

1983 – Lisa, Apple’s first PC with a graphic user interface (GUI) was developed. It featured menu and icons. It was later developed and renamed Macintosh. The Gavilan SC was the first handheld device to be sold as a laptop with form factor that could flip.

1985 – Microsoft introduced Windows. This was in response to the user interface by Apple. At the same time, the Amiga 1000 was launched by Commodore, with advanced capabilities for audio and video. Also, around this time, the first dot-com domain was registered way be fore the World Wide Web. This marked the beginning of the Internet. Symbolics.com is the first and oldest domain name to be registered. It was registered on March of 1985 just when the world was allowed to register.

1986 – Deskpro 286 was introduced by Compaq. It was a 32-bit architecture and was faster than its predecessor.

1990 – Tim Berners-Lee creates the worlds largest network, Hyper Text Markup language (HTML). He ws a researcher at CERN during this time.

1993 – During this period, intel intensified research on the Pentium microprocessor to enable the computers to run graphics and music.

1994 – People started using PCs for gaming. Around this time, games like Command & Conquer, Alone in the Dark 2, Theme Park, Magic Carpet, Decent, and Little Big Adventure were developed and released to the home PCs.

1996 – Google was developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin as search engine at Stanford University.

1997 – Microsoft bailed Apple out to a tune of $150 Million in shares despite the ongoing court case on the copying the GUI.

1999 – Wi -Fi was integrated in home PC and other computer gadgets as users begun connecting to the internet wirelessly.

2001 – Apple launches the Mac OS X operating system, that featured a unique protected memory architecture and pre-emptive multi-tasking abilities. Around the same time, in the spirit of competition, Microsoft unveiled Windows XP, which had an improved GUI.

2003 – in came the 64-bit processor, and the Athlon 64 from AMD was made available to personal home computers.

2004 – The browser war started with Mozilla outdoing Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and became the most dominant browser at the time. Around the same time Facebook was developed and released to the world by Mark Zuckerberg.

2005 – YouTube was launched and in the same year, Google acquired Android, which was a Linux based mobile phone OS.

2006 – The MacBook Pro was first introduced by Apple. This was the first PC from Apple that was running on Intel. In the same year, Nintendo Will game was released to the market.

2007 – The iPhone was upgraded to carry out many functions that were believed to only be carried out by computers. This made iPhone to be the leading phone manufacture in the world.

2009 – Windows 7 was born, it offered myriad capabilities like pinning apps to the taskbar and advanced touch and handwriting recognition.

2010 – iPad was unveiled, introducing the world to an new media experience and the idea of tablets started spreading at the time.

2011 – The Chromebook was developed by Google. This was basically a laptop that runs on Google’s chrome Operating System.

2012 – Facebook, a social media network hit over 1 billion users worldwide.

2015 – Apple unveils the Apple Watch while Windows 10 was released to the market.

2016 – A programmable quantum computer was developed, there was no quantum-computing platform at the time with the ability to program new algorithms.

Final Thoughts

From the history above, you may think that computers are just a new thing that started a few years back. But no. Design and development of computers date bac to the 1800s. There was not a sole inventor or a single first computer in the entire history of computers. Dozens of scientists and inventors mentioned above contributed to the development of the computers as we know them today.

Thin format touch sensitive tablets, that have no keyboard or mouse, are common today. Although they are slowly being faced out by improved smartphones. Computers today have become even smaller and yet the host a ton of features that were unheard of in the past.

Did you get a chance to use the early computers in the 80s, 90s and the early 2000s? What was your experience?

Any nostalgic memories or the early computers? Tell us in the comment section below.
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Omega Geeze
Jul 13, 2019
God damn... I had an IBM computer as a kid. It ran prehistoric Windows... god how times changed..