History Of The Computer Industry In America (2416 words) Essay

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Of The Computer Industry In America
Only once in a lifetime will a new invention
come about to touch
every aspect 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 U.S. and one
out of every two households (Hall, 156).

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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 peopleOs lives for the

The very earliest existence of the modern day computerOs
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
Odigital calculating machineO.

It could only add numbers and they had
to be entered by turning dials.

It was designed to help PascalOs father
who was a tax collector (Soma, 32).

In the early 1800Os, 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 OpunchcardsO. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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
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 1950Os. Together
they had formed the Mauchley-Eckert
Computer Corporation, AmericaOs
first computer company in the 1940Os.

During the development of the UNIVAC,
they began to run short on funds
and sold their company to the larger Remington-Rand

Eventually they built a working UNIVAC
computer. It was delivered to
the U.S. Census Bureau in 1951 where it
was used to help tabulate the
U.S. 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 1950Os
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 IBMOs
large computer mainframes were in
use, compared with only 46 UNIVACOs
(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 all known chemical compounds (Rogers,

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 deveopment 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
photoprinting 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 OAltair 8800O. Its
programming involved pushing buttons and
flipping switches on the front
of the box. It didnOt 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,

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 WozniakOs 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 MicrosoftOs.

This would lead to
huge profits for Microsoft (Cringley,

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, itOs
higher costs will offset the drop in price
of older processors. In other
words, the price of a new computer will
stay 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
supercomputers 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
peopleOs lives. It has affected
the way people work and play. It has
made everyoneOs 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. OA New
WorldO, 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. OThe Altair
8800O, Popular Electronics. New
York: Popular Electronics Publishing,
January 1975.

Malone, Michael S. The Big Scare:
The U.S. Coputer 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. OThe Future
of ComputingO, Byte. Boston: Byte
Publishing, August 1994.


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