History of the Computer Industry in America

Topics: Computer, Personal computer, Computing Pages: 7 (2530 words) Published: February 3, 2014


“The Computer”
It’s History and Spot in American Society

“The Computer”
It’s History and Spot in American Society

It is not very often that a new invention comes about and touches 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 in one out of every two households. 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, which dates back to almost 2000 years ago. It is simply a wooden rack holding parallel wires on which beads are strung (Williams). When these beads are moved along the wire according to programming rules that the user must memorize, all ordinary arithmetic operations can be performed (Hitmill). The next innovation in computers took place in 1694 when Blaise Pascal invented the first digital calculating machine. It could only add numbers, which had to be entered by turning dials. It was designed to help Pascal's father who was a tax collector. 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 1000 50-digit numbers. Built in to the machine were operations that included everything a modern general-purpose computer would need (Williams). The machine was programed by the operator it would than store the data on cards with holes punched in them, appropriately called punch cards. For the most part, his inventions were failures because of the lack of precision in machining techniques used at the time and the lack of demand for such a device. After Babbage, people began to lose interest in computers. However, between 1850 and 1900 there were great advances in mathematics and physics which began to rekindle the interest (Hitmill). 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 punch card system that could automatically read information on cards without human intervention. Since the population of the U.S. was increasing very rapidly, 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 punch 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, punch 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, punch card machines did the bulk of the world's business computing and a good portion of the computing work in science (Williams). 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 by pre-punched paper tape, and its output was...
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