about to touch everyaspect of our lives. Such a device that changes the way we work, live,
and play is a special one, indeed. A machine that has done all
this and more now exists in nearly every business in the US and one out of
every two households (Hall, 156). This incredible invention is the
computer. The electronic computer has been around for over a
half-century, but its ancestors have been around for 2000 years. However,
only in the last 40 years has it changed the American society. From the
first wooden abacus to the latest high-speed microprocessor,
the computer has changed nearly every aspect of peoples lives for the

The very earliest existence of the modern day computers ancestor
is the abacus. These date back to almost 2000 years ago. It is simply a
wooden rack holding parallel wires on which beads are
strung. When these beads are moved along the wire according to
"programming" rules that the user must memorize, all ordinary arithmetic
operations can be performed (Soma, 14). The next innovation in
computers took place in 1694 when Blaise Pascal invented the first
digital calculating machine. It could only add numbers and they had to
be entered by turning dials. It was designed to help Pascals father who
was a tax collector (Soma, 32).

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In the early 1800s, a mathematics professor named Charles Babbage
designed an automatic calculation machine. It was steam powered and could
store up to 1000 50-digit numbers. Built in to his machine were
operations that included everything a modern general-purpose computer
would need. It was programmed by--and stored data on--cards with holes
punched in them, appropriately called punchcards. His inventions were
failures for the most part because of the lack of precision machining
techniques used at the time and the lack of demand for such a device
(Soma, 46).

After Babbage, people began to lose interest in computers.

However, between 1850 and 1900 there were great advances in mathematics
and physics that began to rekindle the interest (Osborne, 45). Many of
these new advances involved complex calculations and formulas that were
very time consuming for human calculation. The first major use for a
computer in the US was during the 1890 census. Two men, Herman Hollerith
and James Powers, developed a new punched-card system that could
automatically read information on cards without human intervention
(Gulliver, 82). Since the population of the US was increasing so fast,
the computer was an essential tool in tabulating the totals.

These advantages were noted by commercial industries and soon led
to the development of improved punch-card business-machine systems by
International Business Machines (IBM), Remington-Rand, Burroughs, and
other corporations. By modern standards the punched-card machines were
slow, typically processing from 50 to 250 cards per minute, with each card
holding up to 80 digits. At the time, however, punched cards were an
enormous step forward; they provided a means of input, output, and memory
storage on a massive scale. For more than 50 years following their first
use, punched-card machines did the bulk of the world's business computing
and a good portion of the computing work in science (Chposky, 73).

By the late 1930s punched-card machine techniques had become so
well established and reliable that Howard Hathaway Aiken, in collaboration
with engineers at IBM, undertook construction of a large automatic digital
computer based on standard IBM electromechanical parts. Aiken's machine,
called the Harvard Mark I, handled 23-digit numbers and could perform all
four arithmetic operations. Also, it had special built-in programs to
handle logarithms and trigonometric functions. The Mark I was controlled
from prepunched paper tape. Output was by card punch and electric
typewriter. It was slow, requiring 3 to 5 seconds for a multiplication,
but it was fully automatic and could complete long computations without
human intervention (Chposky, 103).

The outbreak of World War II produced a desperate need for
computing capability, especially for the military. New weapons systems
were produced which needed trajectory tables and other essential data.
In 1942, John P. Eckert, John W. Mauchley, and their associates at the
University of Pennsylvania decided to build a high-speed electronic
computer to do the job. This machine became known as ENIAC, for
"Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator". It could multiply two
numbers at the rate of 300 products per second, by finding the value of
each product from a multiplication table stored in its memory. ENIAC was
thus about 1,000 times faster than the previous generation of computers
(Dolotta, 47).

ENIAC used 18,000 standard vacuum tubes, occupied 1800 square feet
of floor space, and used about 180,000 watts of electricity. It used
punched-card input and output. The ENIAC was very difficult to program
because one had to essentially re-wire it to perform whatever task he
wanted the computer to do. It was, however, efficient in handling the
particular programs for which it had been designed. ENIAC
is generally accepted as the first successful high-speed electronic
digital computer and was used in many applications from 1946 to 1955
(Dolotta, 50).

Mathematician John von Neumann was very interested in the ENIAC.

In 1945 he undertook a theoretical study of computation that demonstrated
that a computer could have a very simple and yet be able to execute any
kind of computation effectively by means of proper programmed control
without the need for any changes in hardware. Von Neumann came up with
incredible ideas for methods of building and organizing practical, fast
computers. These ideas, which came to be referred to as the
stored-program technique, became fundamental for future generations of
high-speed digital computers and were universally adopted (Hall, 73).

The first wave of modern programmed electronic computers to take
advantage of these improvements appeared in 1947. This group included
computers using random access memory (RAM), which is a memory designed to
give almost constant access to any particular piece of information
(Hall, 75). These machines had punched-card or punched-tape input and
output devices and RAMs of 1000-word capacity. Physically, they were much
more compact than ENIAC: some were about the size of a grand piano and
required 2500 small electron tubes. This was quite an improvement over
the earlier machines. The first-generation stored-program computers
required considerable maintenance, usually attained 70% to 80% reliable
operation, and were used for 8 to 12 years. Typically, they were
programmed directly in machine language, although by the mid-1950s
progress had been made in several aspects of advanced programming. This
group of machines included EDVAC and UNIVAC, the first commercially
available computers (Hazewindus, 102).

The UNIVAC was developed by John W. Mauchley and John Eckert, Jr.

in the 1950s. Together they had formed the Mauchley-Eckert Computer
Corporation, Americas first computer company in the 1940s. During the
development of the UNIVAC, they began to run short on funds and sold their
company to the larger Remington-Rand Corporation. Eventually they built a
working UNIVAC computer. It was delivered to the US Census Bureau in 1951
where it was used to help tabulate the US population (Hazewindus, 124).

Early in the 1950s two important engineering discoveries changed
the electronic computer field. The first computers were made with vacuum
tubes, but by the late 1950s computers were being made out of
transistors, which were smaller, less expensive, more reliable, and more
efficient (Shallis, 40). In 1959, Robert Noyce, a physicist at the
Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation, invented the integrated circuit, a
tiny chip of silicon that contained an entire electronic circuit. Gone
was the bulky, unreliable, but fast machine; now computers began to become
more compact, more reliable and have more capacity (Shallis, 49).

These new technical discoveries rapidly found their way into new
models of digital computers. Memory storage capacities increased 800% in
commercially available machines by the early 1960s and speeds increased by
an equally large margin. These machines were very expensive to purchase
or to rent and were especially expensive to operate because of the cost of
hiring programmers to perform the complex operations the computers ran.

Such computers were typically found in large computer centers--operated by
industry, government, and private laboratories--staffed with many
programmers and support personnel (Rogers, 77). By 1956, 76 of IBMs
large computer mainframes were in use, compared with only 46 UNIVACs
(Chposky, 125).

In the 1960s efforts to design and develop the fastest possible
computers with the greatest capacity reached a turning point with the
completion of the LARC machine for Livermore Radiation Laboratories by the
Sperry-Rand Corporation, and the Stretch computer by IBM. The LARC had a
core memory of 98,000 words and multiplied in 10 microseconds. Stretch was
provided with several ranks of memory having slower access for the ranks
of greater capacity, the fastest access time being less than 1
microseconds and the total capacity in the vicinity of 100 million words
(Chposky, 147).

During this time the major computer manufacturers began to offer a
range of computer capabilities, as well as various computer-related
equipment. These included input means such as consoles and card feeders;
output means such as page printers, cathode-ray-tube displays, and
graphing devices; and optional magnetic-tape and magnetic-disk file
storage. These found wide use in business for such applications as
accounting, payroll, inventory control, ordering supplies, and billing.

Central processing units (CPUs) for such purposes did not need to be very
fast arithmetically and were primarily used to access large amounts of
records on file. The greatest number of computer systems were delivered
for the larger applications, such as in hospitals for keeping track of
patient records, medications, and treatments given. They were also used in
automated library systems and in database systems such as the Chemical
Abstracts system, where computer records now on file cover nearly al!
l known chemical compounds (Rogers
, 98).

The trend during the 1970s was, to some extent, away from
extremely powerful, centralized computational centers and toward a broader
range of applications for less-costly computer systems. Most
continuous-process manufacturing, such as petroleum refining and
electrical-power distribution systems, began using computers of relatively
modest capability for controlling and regulating their activities. In the
1960s the programming of applications problems was an obstacle to the
self-sufficiency of moderate-sized on-site computer installations, but
great advances in applications programming languages removed these
obstacles. Applications languages became available for controlling a
great range of manufacturing processes, for computer operation of machine
tools, and for many other tasks (Osborne, 146). In 1971 Marcian E. Hoff,
Jr., an engineer at the Intel Corporation, invented the microprocessor and
another stage in the development of the computer began (Shallis, 121).

A new revolution in computer hardware was now well under way,
involving miniaturization of computer-logic circuitry and of component
manufacture by what are called large-scale integration techniques. In the
1950s it was realized that "scaling down" the size of electronic digital
computer circuits and parts would increase speed and efficiency and
improve performance. However, at that time the manufacturing methods were
not good enough to accomplish such a task. About 1960 photo printing of
conductive circuit boards to eliminate wiring became highly developed.

Then it became possible to build resistors and capacitors into the
circuitry by photographic means (Rogers, 142). In the 1970s entire
assemblies, such as adders, shifting registers, and counters, became
available on tiny chips of silicon. In the 1980s very large scale
integration (VLSI), in which hundreds of thousands of transistors are
placed on a single chip, became increasingly common. Many companies, some
new to !
the computer field, introduced in
the 1970s programmable minicomputers supplied with software packages. The
size-reduction trend continued with the introduction of personal
computers, which are programmable machines small enough and inexpensive
enough to be purchased and used by individuals (Rogers, 153).

One of the first of such machines was introduced in January 1975.

Popular Electronics magazine provided plans that would allow any
electronics wizard to build his own small, programmable computer for
about $380 (Rose, 32). The computer was called the Altair 8800. Its
programming involved pushing buttons and flipping switches on the front of
the box. It didnt include a monitor or keyboard, and its applications
were very limited (Jacobs, 53). Even though, many orders came in for it
and several famous owners of computer and software manufacturing companies
got their start in computing through the Altair.
For example, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, founders of Apple Computer,
built a much cheaper, yet more productive version of the Altair and turned
their hobby into a business (Fluegelman, 16).

After the introduction of the Altair 8800, the personal computer
industry became a fierce battleground of competition. IBM had been the
computer industry standard for well over a half-century. They held their
position as the standard when they introduced their first personal
computer, the IBM Model 60 in 1975 (Chposky, 156). However, the newly
formed Apple Computer company was releasing its own personal computer, the
Apple II (The Apple I was the first computer designed by Jobs and Wozniak
in Wozniaks garage, which was not produced on a wide scale). Software
was needed to run the computers as well. Microsoft developed a Disk
Operating System (MS-DOS) for the IBM computer while Apple developed its
own software system (Rose, 37). Because Microsoft had now set the
software standard for IBMs, every software manufacturer had to make their
software compatible with Microsofts. This would lead to huge profits for
Microsoft (Cringley, 163).
The main goal of the computer manufacturers was to make the
computer as affordable as possible while increasing speed, reliability,
and capacity. Nearly every computer manufacturer accomplished this and
computers popped up everywhere. Computers were in businesses keeping
track of inventories. Computers were in colleges aiding students in
research. Computers were in laboratories making complex calculations at
high speeds for scientists and physicists. The computer had made its mark
everywhere in society and built up a huge industry (Cringley, 174).

The future is promising for the computer industry and its technology. The
speed of processors is expected to double every year and a half in the
coming years. As manufacturing techniques are further perfected the
prices of computer systems are expected to steadily fall. However, since
the microprocessor technology will be increasing, its higher costs will
offset the drop in price of older processors. In other words, !
the price of a new computer will s
tay about the same from year to year, but technology will steadily
increase (Zachary, 42)
Since the end of World War II, the computer industry has grown
from a standing start into one of the biggest and most profitable
industries in the United States. It now comprises thousands of companies,
making everything from multi-million dollar high-speed super computers to
printout paper and floppy disks. It employs millions of people and
generates tens of billions of dollars in sales each year (Malone, 192).

Surely, the computer has impacted every aspect of peoples lives. It has
affected the way people work and play. It has made everyones life easier
by doing difficult work for people. The computer truly is one of the most
incredible inventions in history.

Works Cited
Chposky, James. Blue Magic. New York: Facts on File Publishing. 1988.

Cringley, Robert X. Accidental Empires. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley
Publishing, 1992.

Dolotta, T.A. Data Processing: 1940-1985. New York: John Wiley & Sons,

Fluegelman, Andrew. A New World, MacWorld. San Jose, Ca: MacWorld
Publishing, February, 1984 (Premire Issue).

Hall, Peter. Silicon Landscapes. Boston: Allen & Irwin, 1985
Gulliver, David. Silicon Valey and Beyond. Berkeley, Ca: Berkeley Area
Government Press, 1981.

Hazewindus, Nico. The U.S. Microelectronics Industry. New York:
Pergamon Press, 1988.

Jacobs, Christopher W. The Altair 8800, Popular Electronics. New
York: Popular Electronics Publishing, January 1975.

Malone, Michael S. The Big Scare: The U.S. Computer Industry. Garden
City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1985.

Osborne, Adam. Hypergrowth. Berkeley, Ca: Idthekkethan Publishing
Company, 1984.

Rogers, Everett M. Silicon Valey Fever. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
Publishing, 1984.

Rose, Frank. West of Eden. New York: Viking Publishing, 1989.

Shallis, Michael. The Silicon Idol. New York: Shocken Books, 1984.

Soma, John T. The History of the Computer. Toronto: Lexington Books,

Zachary, William. The Future of computing, Byte. Boston: Byte
Publishing, August 1994.