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 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).

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