In the early 1800's, a mathematics professor named Charles Babbage designed an automatic calculation machine. It was steam powered and could store up to 1,000 50-digit numbers. Built into his machine were operations that included everything a modern computer would need. It was programmed by, and stored data on, cards with holes punched in them, appropriately called "punch cards". But his inventions became failures because of the lack of precision machining techniques used at the time and the lack of demand for such a device.
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. The Mark I was controlled from pre-punched paper tape. The outbreak of World War II produced a desperate need for computing capability, especially for the military. 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... [continues]
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