History Of The Computer Industry In America

2637 words - 11 pages

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). 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 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 '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 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 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...

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