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The Evolution of Computers Prior to the 1950's

By: plapman, 7:31 PM GMT on August 10, 2012

The earliest known mechanical method of using a machine to do mathematics was the abacus. It replaced the use of fingers and toes which had a limited range.
The earliest written mention of the Abacus was in 2nd century BC in China.

Photo courtesy of Computer history.org
I'd sure get mixed up moving those sliding pieces of hardwood around.
As strange as it seems the Abacus can still be purchased today.
The next big step in computing came in the 1600's when John Napier discovered logarithms and John Bissaker created the slide rule which it could multiply and divide and remained in use until the 1970's.Gosh I still have one of those.strong>My SlideRule

The first really mechanical calculator was invented in 1642 by Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, uasing gears. This machine was could perform addition, subtraction, multiply and divide. It life was short lived due to the fact that it could only be rmbers as well it as it could only be repaired by the inventor and was expensive. These drawbacks gave it a very short lifetime. The Pascaline was so short lived that I can't even find a picture of it on the web.
Things slid along smoothly until 1812 when Charles p. Babbage , the father of computers, while doing long tedious calculations realized that many times the same calculations were repeated over and over again like a machine.
Using this discovery he built a steam powered difference engine which was steam powered. Can you imagine a steam powered machine sitting on your desktop. The YouTube video below explains how it worked and shows it in action.

In the 1840's Augusta Ada, the first programmer suggested that a binary system be used to do calculations instead of the decimal system.
In the 1850's using Ada's binary system invented Boolean logic which meant that something was either true or false. This system is still in used in modern computers.
in 1890, Herman Hollerith, the founder of IBM, used a punch card system where there was either a hole or not to compile the 1890 census results. I remember using a punch car system to calculate survey results we did in the 1970's on Lake Winnipeg erosion. Were we ever behind the times.
With the invention of the vacuum tube by in 1906 by Lee De Forrest the computer evolution went from mechanical to electronic and things really started to speed up.
In 1939 John V. Atanasoff working with Clifford Berry built the first electronic digital computer called the ABC after the inventors.
The ABC Computer from Computer History.org


In 1941 Konrad Zuse of Germany built the first programmable computer using the binary system as suggested by Augusta Ada in the 1840's.
The original Z3 computer was destroyed by Allied bombing during the second world war but a replica is on display at Deutsches a museum in Berlin.
The Z3 replica from the museum.

I'll continue this later and try to bring it up to date.

Updated: 11:21 AM GMT on September 04, 2012

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About plapman

Retired and loving it. If I'd have known about retirement befor I started my 40 year career with the government of Manitoba I'd have retired first. :)

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