Attempting to decipher the history of a computer can be a very daunting task. There are as many opinions as to what a computer is. This complicates the question of when the first computer was invented. There are an infinite number of definitions on what a computer truly is. Our textbook defines a computer as ?a multipurpose device that accepts input, processes data, stores data, and produces output, all according to a series of stored instructions?. 1Wikipedia defines a computer simply as ?a programmable machine designed to sequentially and automatically carry out a sequence of arithmetic or logical operation?. 2These definitions vary in as many ways as the first computers do to the modern day processing unit.Some say that the abacus was the first computer. But if you are going to call that a computer, you must take into consideration that the first known counting devices, called Tally Sticks, were said to have been used around 35,000 BC.3The Babylonians did not create the first abacus till around 2,400 BC. 3However, that is ancient history. Now, let?s fast forward about four thousand years. Leonardo Di Vinci is known mostly for his artistic ability however, he was also an inventor. It is a little known fact that he designed one of the first mechanical calculators. His plans consisted of thirteen wheels and the ability to shift numbers between columns. It was the expansion of this plan that led to the invention of logarithms by John Napier. In 1614, he created ?Napier’s Bones?. This was the apparatus that led to the invention of the slide rule. The slide rule was a hand held device with sliding numbered scales that would actually be used up until the 1970?s. 4Oughtred built the first slide rule in 1632. These are considered to be the first analog calculators. The invention of the first digital calculators were happening around the same time.
The first digital calculator, some say, was called the ?Arithmetic Machine?. This was built by Blaise Pascal between 1642-1644.5It could only do addition and subtraction. He built it for his father who was a tax collector. In 1671, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz designed a machine that could also do multiplication it was named the Step Reckoner, built in 1673 expanded on Pascals ideas. It was not until 1820 that Charles Xavier de Colmar of France mass produced the first mechanical calculator. It seems that many of the developments of this time period were built on the ideas of other mens work. One reason for this could be that few of these men dedicated their lives to the pursuit of such knowledge and discovery. For example, Pascal was Da Vinci was an artist, Napier was a magician, and Pascal was a philosopher. However, without the culmination of all their designs and work the computers might never have come to be.
The first known ideas for a computer began with Charles Babbage. He designed a programmable mechanical computer. He called it ?the Analytical engine?. The original design called for it to be powered by a steam engine and used punch cards. It was to be a ?general purpose, fully program-controlled, automatic mechanical digital computer?, able to be able to perform any and all calculations. By some definitions The Analytical Engine would have been the first real computer had it ever been built. Due to the lack of the current technology and the lack of funding it was never more than a design. There were a number of devices that took Babbage’s design and created different types of programmable calculators during the following decades. However, the next significant step towards our modern day computer was not to come until the early 1900?s.
In 1930 Vannevar Bush of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, developed the first modern analog computer. It was called ?The Differential Analyzer?. Its purpose was to solve differential equations, as used in physics and engineering. It worked well as was used by several different universities. However, as is the case for all analog devices, it could only be used to solve this one type of problem. At this same time a Harvard professor was working in the design for a digital device. Howard Aiken would used the design of The Analytical Engine to create four calculating machines, the Mark I, II, III, and IV. The first was a mechanical device and through further expansion and technology wound up with the very sophisticated and electronic Mark IV.From 1939-1944, working with IBM, Howard Aiken developed the first fully functional, mostly mechanical, computer.It was fifty feet long, weighed over five tons, and had more than seven hundred and fifty thousand separate parts. It was called the Harvard Mark I.
The first digital electronic computers are widely considered to be the Colossus, built in England for the purpose of code-breaking, and the ENIAC, built in the United States around 1945.In Germany, around the same time, Konrad Zuse, developed the Z4. Although he worked in isolation without the knowledge of the developments going on in other places around the world The Z4 was very similiar to the Colossus and the ENIAC computers. After World War II ended the technological advances in the computer industry took off.
In 1947 the first transistor was invented. The first stored program electronic computer, the EDSAC, was a British invention in 1949. This led to the development of the first computer with ?magnetic core RAM and real-time graphics?. It was called the the Whirlwind machine and introduced by MIT in 1955. They then introduced the TX-O in 1956. It was the first transistorized computer.The first personal computer was Ed Roberts Altair 8800 in 1975. In that same year IBM introduced the IBM 5100, the first portable computer. I could go on listing new developments but to what end.
As we all now the debate about the facts that I have presented in this paper have been ongoing for centuries. I am sure that the debate will continue for many more. I have attempted to present some of the lesser known points while attempting not to leave out the well known facts. The one thing that I have learned while researching this paper is that the the invention of the computer, or even the idea of it, cannot be narrowed down. We can not narrow it down to one person or even to a particular time period in history. The one thing that I am sure of is that without the hard and innovative work of all of these men the computer would not be. So we should thank them, or maybe curse them.