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History of the Computer Industry in America

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History 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). 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
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 ?punchcards?. 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 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 1950's. Together they had formed the Mauchley-Eckert
Computer Corporation, America's first computer company in the 1940's.
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 1950's 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 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 ...

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Keywords: computer history, report about history of computer, history of a computer in short, history of computer from 2000 to 2021

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