A Brief History of Computers

Although the microcomputer is a very recent development, computers have been around for a long time. A major step in computer technology was the development in the early 1800's of machines that could be programmed.

"Joseph Jacquard developed a loom for weaving cloth whose operation was controlled by means of cards with holes punched in them. In 1886, Herman Hollenith improved on Jacquard's punched card by developing a card that could be used with electrical rather than mechanical equipment. The Hollenith (or IBM) card is still very much in use."

In 1944 engineers from IBM and Howard Aiken of Havard University developed a machine called the Mark I. This 50 foot-long and 8-foot high machine was able to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and to data tables using punched cards.

The first all-electronic computer, based on vacuum tubes, was developed in 1946 by J. Persper Eckert and John W. Mauchly of the University of Pennsylvania. This computer could make calculations a thousand times faster than earlier devices." 2

In 1947 John von Neumann developed a method for storing programs electronically. This invention of storing programs led the way for the development of today's computers. Before Mr. von Meumann's invention, computers were wired to perform certain tasks. If you wanted to change the task, the computer had to be rewired. Today, we give microcomputers instructions by loading an appropriate software program which contains machine instructions. If we want to make the computer perform another task, we load another piece of software or depress a function key on the computer to direct the machine to perform the desired task.

Besides becoming more flexible, computers are now much faster, cheaper, and smaller. "In 1952, one of the original IBM computers could perform about 2,000 multiplications per second. By the mid 1970's operating speed had increased by more than 2,000 percent, to 43,000 multiplications per second.3

The development of technology whereby microscopic circuits could be part of thin silicon chips led the way for desktop microcomputers. Microcomputers were first introduced in the mid 1970's/ At that time, these small computers had limited memory and storage ability. Today's desktop microcomputers can have as much larger computer systems. And they are affordable for the home user, too!