10 Significant Milestones in the History of Computers
The first ever computer was created around the 1820’s by an English man named Charles Babbage. He did not technically invent the computer that we are familiar with nowadays, but he created a Victorian era machine called the Differential Engine. Two hundred years after his invention, we find ourselves with extremely capable devices that we can allocate in our pockets. Our smartphones are quite a landmark in computing technology, but there are two hundred years between the Differential Engine and Smart Phones. Below, I will discuss in chronological order ten of the most significant milestones throughout the history of computers that helped lead us to where we are today.
Charles Babbage is credited with inventing the first automatic digital computer. He was a mathematician and inventor who wanted to mechanically calculate math problems in the early 1800’s. He sought to make a small calculator that could perform calculations up to the eight decimal. In the 1820’s, Babbage received some financial assistance from the government to create a machine that became known as the Differential Engine. It operated on discrete digits from 0-9 that were allocated on a toothed wheel. When the wheel spun from 9 to 0, it made the next wheel begin it’s spinning mechanism carrying the digit. Like most modern computers, the Differential Engine had memory. It’s process ignited a necessity of mechanical engineering, in which Babbage dedicated himself to.(Britannica, 1)
The wielders of power in societies have always been interested in calculating the population of countries. We know this statistical calculation as census taking. In the 1880’s, sixty years after Babbage’s invention of the Differential Engine, a man named Herman Hollerith came into play with the computer world. He sought to find a solution to physically counting the amount of people there were in the USA. In 1890, Hollerith automated the census by inventing a machine that could read punched cards that had been numerically coded by perforation position. (Britannica, 2) In 1896, Hollerith created the Tabulating Machine Company, which led to the creation of IBM, or International Business Machines. Today, IBM provides information and technology services and is a fortune 500 company.
In 1936, Alan M. Turing created the Turing machine. The Turing Machine is significant to the history of computers because it was the first invention of a universal machine that could compute anything that was “computable”. It was the first of its kind because it offered a tape and reader, control mechanism storage, and a control mechanism.( Britannica, 3) These basic schemes became the basis for what we know today as an input and output device, memory, and a central processing unit.
ENIAC, or the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator was created in 1943. This computer has 18,000 vacuum tubes and fills a 20 foot by 40 foot room. Because it was built as an artillery range calculator, it lacked a few parts that could have made it very useful. It was the first programmable machine, although it took days to reprogram the machine. It was the most powerful calculating device of its time, executing different instructions and could even re-order some instructions. (Britannica, 4)
In 1971, the floppy disk was invented by IBM. It was a magnetic storage device that was popular from the 1970s to around the 1990s. Data could be arranged in the center of the disk on concentric circles. The floppy disk was inserted into the computer’s input device and data could be passed using a small electromagnetic head.(Britannica, 5).
Ten years later in 1981, IBM released their first personal computer. It was called the IBM 5150 Personal Computer. Although this was not the first computer of it’s kind, it set a base on what computers should be like for the upcoming generations. In the first two years, it had immediate success, selling more than 500,000 units. (Britannica, 6)
In 1984, Apple launched its most successful product yet, the Apple Macintosh. This small computer came with a built-in monitor and mouse. It was their first successful all in one mass produced computer.(Thoughtco, 7) Just 35 years later, we are consumed in a world of Apple products. Their logo is recognizable worldwide and they set the bar on what to consider a quality product.
The First version of Windows was released in 1985, just a year after Apple’s Macintosh. Windows is an operating system that was created by Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s Microsoft company. Windows is preloaded onto many computers which helped it grow to be the most popular operating system in the world. Windows makes it possible to carry out everyday tasks on your computer such as browsing the web, editing a photo, listening to music, and so much more.(gfcglobal, 8)
In 1989, the World Wide Web (WWW) was proposed by Sir Tim Berners Lee. The purpose of the WWW allowed easy access to existing information on the internet. In 1993, Cern put the WWW into a public domain. By December of 1994, there were around 10,000 web servers on the public domain. (Cern, 9)
All of the above has led to the development and release of smartphones in the 21st century. The smartphone is a compact computing device that yields an extreme amount of power. It has impacted nearly every aspect of society, from the way we get up in the morning to how we communicate with others. It has enabled immediate global human interaction through social media. Most modern smartphones come with extremely high quality cameras that can record in 4k. The amount of significance that the smartphone has on our society is unprecedented.
From Charles Babbage’s first Differencial Engine in the 1820’s to today’s modern smartphones, computers have experienced a variety of changes described in the paragraphs above. Computers have impacted society in every way and will have much to do with us for the rest of our lives.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Charles Babbage”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Dec. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Babbage. Accessed 20 September 2021.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Herman Hollerith”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Feb. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herman-Hollerith. Accessed 20 September 2021.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Turing machine”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 3 Apr. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/technology/Turing-machine. Accessed 20 September 2021.
- Freiberger, Paul A. and Swaine, Michael R.. “ENIAC”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 May. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/technology/ENIAC. Accessed 20 September 2021.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Floppy disk”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Aug. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/technology/floppy-disk. Accessed 20 September 2021.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Personal computer”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 May. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/technology/personal-computer. Accessed 20 September 2021.
- Bellis, M. (n.d.). A brief history of apple computers. ThoughtCo. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-history-of-apple-computers-1991454.
- Windows basics: All about windows. GCFGlobal.org. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://edu.gcfglobal.org/en/windowsbasics/all-about-windows/1/.
9) A short history of the web. CERN. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://home.cern/science/computing/birth-web/short-history-web#:~:text=Where%20the%20Web%20was%20born,and%20institutes%20around%20the%20world.