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The Pre Industrial Era


During the decade of the 1930s, John V. Atanasoff, working as a professor of Physics at Iowa State College created a simple vacuum-tube device that took computer concepts well beyond the existing relay switch devices. In 1973, a U. S. patent for this was granted to the successors of John V. Atanasoff.

The first logic circuits are now build into computers.


pre history | antiquity | pre industrial era | industrial era
1886 - 1900 - 1927 - 1938 - 1940 - 1944

Videogame History

programming languages




Around the 1850s, the British mathematician George Boole invented a new form of mathematics, in which he represented logical expressions in a mathematical form now known as Boolean Algebra.

Unfortunately, with the exception of students of philosophy and symbolic logic, Boolean Algebra was destined to remain largely unknown and unused for the better part of a century.
But Claude E. Shannon (USA 1916-) a graduate student of MIT (USA) combines the binary system of Leibnitz with the Boolean algebra.
With his proposed system it will be possible to design digital computers. The proposed machine is an implementation of symbolic logic using relays. 

Are you wondering why it took more than 50 years before this happened?

As usual knowledge gets lost in dusty libraries without a proper search engine ;=)

But seriously it took Shannon to get the reference towards Leibnitz from the dusty library shelves to do it. Shannon himself was probably just looking for a subject for his thesis. But none the less he had the inspiration to combine both to come to his revolutionary thesis.

Until this time when Shannon publishes his article based on his thesis (1937) it is not recognized for its value. Later Shannon's thesis will be described as: "Possibly the most important master's thesis of the twentieth century."


In his paper, which was widely circulated, Shannon showed how Boole's concepts of TRUE and FALSE could be used to represent the functions of switches in electronic circuits. It is difficult to convey just how important this concept was; suffice it to say that Shannon had provided electronics engineers with the mathematical tool they needed to design digital electronic circuits, and these techniques remain the cornerstone of digital electronic design to this day.

Konrad Zuse (Germany 1910-1998) of Berlin, with assistance from Helmut Schreyer, completes a prototype mechanical binary programmable calculator, originally called the "V1" but retroactively renamed "Z1" after the war.

It works with floating point numbers having a 7-bit exponent, 16-bit mantissa, and a sign bit. The memory uses sliding metal parts to store 16 such numbers, and works well; but the arithmetic unit is less successful.
The program is read from punched tape -- not paper tape, from discarded 35 mm movie film. Data values can be entered from a numeric keyboard, and outputs are displayed with electric lamps.

Despite certain mechanical engineering problems it is the ancestor of all modern machines: binary, with today's standard separation of storage and control. His 1936 patent application (Z23139/GMD Nr. 005/021) suggests what is known as "von Neumann" architecture (reinvented 1945), with program and data modifiable in storage.(2)


Allan Turing publishes his influential paper "On Computable Numbers" in 'the proceedings' published by "the London Mathematical Society"

This paper solves a mathematical problem, but the solution is achieved by reasoning (as a mathematical device) about the theoretical simplified computer known today as a Turing machine.


A digital version can be found here:



One of the first computer games: "Odyssey" is written by Ralph Baer.

It takes until 1972 until an attempt is made to commercialize the game. But there is no success in selling the game, too few people had a computer where the game could run on.

Samsung is set up by Byung-Chull Lee in Taegu, Korea.

The Electronic Accumulator is invented by Joseph Desch and Robert Mumma, the Electronic Accumulator is a major leap in technology.

On the picture at left the accumulator

For the first time, with this machine, numbers are counted electronically using vacuum tubes, instead of mechanically. This seemingly simple difference greatly increased the speed and ease with which data can be manipulated.


HP's garage, now a national landmark

January 1: Hewlett Packard is founded by William Hewlett and David Packard.

The story goes that a flip of a coin decided who's name would come first.
Their first product is an audio oscillator built in a garage in Palo Alto (California USA) for Walt Disney's animation picture Fantasia(18). This is a better and cheaper product then the one of their competition. And the coming 30 years HP will be the largest firm producing test and measurement devices. Only in 1966 HP will start operating on the computer market and much later on the mini and mainframe market. With the consumers HP will be primarily known for its laser printers and inkjet printers.

model_kOn September 9  George R. Stibitz, generally known as the initiator of data communication and  computer networks, makes a call to a computer in New York a distance of some hundreds of kilometers.

He does this with a teletype console, a kind of mechanical type machine connected to a telephone line. The "Model K" at the other side rattles for some time as well. The program that ran at the other side then sends the result back. It all takes less than a minute. For comparison: a human calculator will do the same in more than 15 minutes.  
The machine is built on  a kitchen table, again. The 'model K' computer is constructed from relays (electronic switches) salvaged out of telephone exchanges. The machine can do various calculations. It produces the noise of 100 knitting ladies because of the clattering switches. The picture shows Stibitz next to his binary adder.

One of the major computational problems at Bell Telephone Laboratories was in the domain of complex numbers. Stibitz' first full-scale electromagnetic relay calculator solved this problem and was named the Complex Number Calculator (later the Bell Labs Model 1). A year later this machine was the first to be used remotely over telephone lines, setting the stage for the linking of computers and communication systems, time-sharing, and eventually networking. A teletype was installed in a hallway outside the meeting rooms for the annual American Mathematical Society conference at Dartmouth College, and connected to the Complex Calculator in New York. Among the people who took the opportunity to try out the system were Norbert Wiener and John Mauchly.

Richard Bloch (1922-2000) teaches programming to Grace Hopper, who later will co-develop COBOL.

Bloch, as chief operations officer at Harvard's Computation Laboratory, played a key role in the development of the Mark I digital computer and invented the parity check for automatic error detection.

One of the first full electronic computers is constructed at the AT&T (Bell) laboratory.

They apply for the first time binary calculus on a computer and invent with this the first digital computer. This method means a drastic change in the course of computing development.

The first electronic computer with vacuum tubes is finalized by John V Atanasoff (USA 1903 - 1995) en Clifford Berry (USA ? - 1963) from the Iowa State College (now the Iowa State University), Ames, Iowa, USA.

abc computer
ABC computer

This machine, a prototype 16-bit adder, will never reach the production stage. But the ABC contained concepts that would appear later in "modern computers" -- the ALU and rewriting memory.

In later years much controversy will arise about who invented the first digital electronic computer. At a court the judge will decide in Atanasoff's favor. He did not enjoy much of this verdict because he died soon after.

Sketch of the Atanasoff Berry Computer (ABC)

Zuse and Schreyer begin to work on the "V2" (later "Z2"), which will combine the Z1's existing mechanical memory unit to a new arithmetic unit using relay logic.

The project is interrupted for a year when Zuse is drafted.
(Zuse is a friend of Werner von Braun, who will later develop the *other* "V2", and after that, play a key role in the US space program.)

Helmut Schreyer completes a prototype 10-bit adder using vacuum tubes, and a prototype memory using neon lamps.

A team of mathematicians and scientists are assigned by British Secret Service to develop a machine to crack the German's code ENIGMA.

Colossus at Bletchley park (UK)

The result will be COLOSSUS, the first electric digital computer in 1943. (17)

 Bank automation started as early as 1939 with the invention of the ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) by Luther George Simjian (1905-1997) from Turkish origin.

Simjian came up with the idea of creating a hole-in-the-wall machine that would allow customers to make financial transactions. The idea met skepticism but he persuaded what is now Citicorp to give it a trial. After six months, the bank reported that there was little demand. "It seems the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers who didn't want to deal with tellers face to face," wrote Simjian. (7)

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