History Of The Computer Industry In America (2573 words) Essay

History of the Computer Industry in AmericaOnly 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). 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 people’s lives for the better.The very
earliest existence of the modern day computer’s 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 me!
morize, all ordinary arithmetic operations can be performed
(Soma, 14). The next innovation in computers took place in
1694 when Blaise Pascal invented the first “digital
calculating machine”. It could only add numbers and they had
to be entered by turning dials. It was designed to help
Pascal’s 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 “punch cards”.
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).

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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 handled 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 stored-program 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, America’s first computer company in
the 1940s. During the development of the UNIVAC, they began
to run short on funds and sold their company to the larger
Remington-Rand Corporation. 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 laboratoriesstaffed with many programmers and
support personnel (Rogers, 77). By 1956, 76 of IBM’s large
computer mainframes were in use, compared with only 46
UNIVAC’s (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, 98).

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
development 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 Altair 8800O. Its programming
involved pushing buttons and flipping switches on the front
of the box. It didn’t 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, 16).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
Wozniak’s 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 Microsoft’s. This would lead
to huge profits for Microsoft (Cringley, 163).

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, it’s
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 people’s lives. It has affected the way people
work and play. It has made everyone’s life easier by doing
difficult work for people. The computer truly is one of the
most incredible inventions in history.


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