The origin of computing is found far back in human history - the
first time man responded to the need for a system of counting.
Even before the existence of formal symbols, objects such as stones
or sticks were used to establish crude counting methods.
Stones and pebbles were placed on boards and used to represent
amounts of money during bartering sessions. In fact, the word
"calculate" derives from the Greek word kalyx - which means "pebble"
or "small stone".
Some noteworthy developments in computing
devices throughout history include:
An "abacus" is
a generic term which refers to a counting device using columns
of beads. Early versions of the abacus used organized
groupings of pebbles and stones, and have been attributed to
civilizations from ancient Sumeria, Babylon, Egypt, and Greece.
By the first century A.D., the Romans had created a portable
device based on the number 5, which would correspond to the
Roman Numeral system (also based on the number 5). Later
versions would appear in other cultures, probably due to trade
relationships with the Roman Empire. The most recognizable
version is the Chinese "suanpan" (right).
Suanpan showing 203,746
mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal built the first
mechanical calculating machine, called Pascal's Wheel, which was
capable of adding and subtracting numbers. The machine
used a series of dials attached to geared wheels, which turned
one revolution for each value of 10. (This principle is
still in use today - odometers in cars use Pascal's wheel
principle to keep track of the number of kilometers traveled).
|Programmable Weaving Looms
French weaver Basile Bouchon constructed a weaving loom that
could be controlled by holes in a roll of paper. The holes
allowed some needles in the loom to be engaged, while others
were held back. The loom was therefore "programmed" by the
placement of the holes in the roll of paper to produce a
particular pattern! (Up until this time, someone had to be
employed to control the needles and decide which would be used
for each line of weave in the fabric). By 1800, French
inventor Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) had improved upon
Bouchon's design by developing a loom which used a punched
card to control each line of the weave. Over 1000 needles
could be controlled at one time, and very intricate designs were
Napolean inspecting Jacquard's Loom
|The Analytical Engine
Charles Babbage was a mathematics professor at Trinity College
in Cambridge, England. After several unsuccessful attempts
at building a mechanical calculating machine, Babbage developed
the analytical engine. Babbages' designs were amazingly
similar to the general design of modern-day computers, including
a central arithmetic unit for calculating (called a mill), an
area for retaining numbers (called a store), and sophisticated
methods for input and output.
While working on his analytical engine, Babbage began a lengthy
correspondence with poet Lord Byron's daughtor, Ada Augusta,
Countess of Lovelace. Lady Lovelace became fascinated with
Babbages ideas, and in her analysis of his analytical engine,
she developed the essential ideas of programming, such as
"branching" to perform decisions and repetitions. Because
of her work in this area, she is considered to be the first
computer programmer! (The programming language "Ada" is
named after her).
Babbage's Analytical Engine
|The Hollerith Machine
Herman Hollerith was a statistician and inventor who was hired
by the U.S. Census Bureau to create a machine that could
tabulate the 1890 census.
Hollerith used Jacquard's punched-card idea to feed personal
statistics into his machine. Holes in the punched cards
stood for a person's age, sex, state, and other similar
information. There was one card for each person. As
each card was fed into the machine, a set of metal pins were
brought down on the card. The pins passed through any
holes punched in the card, which completed an electrical circuit
which turned a counter dial. Using Hollerith's machine,
the 1890 census was tabulated in just two years (the 1880 census
had taken eight years to tabulate!), which saved the U.S. Census
Bureau millions of dollars.
Hollerith eventually formed his own company In 1896, then
later merged with several other companies to form the Computing
Tabulating Recording company (CTR) in 1911, one of the first
conglomerates in the USA.
The Hollerith Machine
|The Birth of IBM
Herman Hollerith may have been a brilliant inventor, he was not
a very good businessman. He knew very little about
marketing and sales, and refused to listen to ideas on how to
improve the design of his machines. Other companies were
soon selling tabulating machines that performed better and cost
less than CTRs.
In 1914, a young salesman named Thomas J. Watson Sr. joined
CTR, which now had 1300 employees. Watson began a running
battle with Hollerith over the direction of the company.
When Hollerith retired in 1921, Watson assumed full control of
CTR, and in 1924, was named president. Shortly thereafter,
Watson changed the name of the company to International Business
Machines, or IBM.
Thomas J. Watson Sr.