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A Brief History of Computers. By Bernard John Poole, MSIS Associate Professor of Education and Instructional Technology University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Johnstown, PA 15904.

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a brief history of computers

A Brief History of Computers


Bernard John Poole, MSIS

Associate Professor of Education and Instructional Technology

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

Johnstown, PA 15904

Pre-Mechanical Computing:From Counting on fingersto pebblesto hash marks on wallsto hash marks on boneto hash marks in sand

Interesting thought:

Do any species, other than homo sapiens, count?

mechanical computers
Mechanical computers


The Abacus

c. 4000 BCE


Charles Babbage

and his Difference Engine (1812)

charles babbage s analytical engine 1837 1871 never completed
Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine [1837-1871—never completed]

Babbage was never able to complete construction of any of his machines due to conflicts with his chief engineer and inadequate funding.

lady augusta ada countess of lovelace 1815 1852
Lady Augusta AdaCountess of Lovelace (1815-1852]

Read Lady Augusta Ada’s translation of Menabrea’s

Sketch of the Analytical Engine

electro mechanical computers
Electro-mechanical computers


Herman Hollerith’s


Census Counting Machine


Howard Aiken

and the Harvard Mark I (1944)

the first computer bug
The first computer bug

Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper

electronic digital computers
Electronic digital computers


John Vincent Atanasoff’s


Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC)


the present day

alan turing 1912 1954
Alan Turing1912-1954

The Turing Machine


The Universal Machine


john vincent atanasoff 1903 1995
John Vincent Atanasoff (1903-1995)

Physics Prof


Iowa State


Ames, IA

clifford berry 1918 1963
Clifford Berry (1918-1963)

PhD student


Dr. Atanasoff’s

1939 the atanasoff berry computer abc
1939The Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC)

The ABC was the first electronic digital computer, invented by John Vincent Atanasoff

1946 the eniac
1946The ENIAC

John Presper Eckert



John Mauchly


of the

University of Pennsylvania Moore School of Engineering

eniac s wiring
ENIAC’s Wiring!

John Von Neumann

John Von Neumann came up with the bright idea of using part of the computer’s internal memory (called Primary Memory) to “store” the program inside the computer and have the computer go get the instructions from its own memory, just as we do with our human brain.

1951 univac

Typical 1968 prices—EX-cluding maintenance & support!


“What hath God wrought!”First telegraph message sent by Samuel Morse, 1844Electronic and computing technology quickly progressed—at an ever-accelerating pace—from vacuum tubes (Lee de Forrest, the audion, 1907)to transistors (William Shockley et al. 1947)to semiconductors (Jack Kilby& Robert Noyce, 1958)to microprocessors (M.E. “Ted” Hoff, 1971)to personal computers [Atari, Apple, IBM, et al., 1975- ]to networking and the Internet (Vinton Cerf & Robert Kahn, 1982]to the World Wide Web (Tim Berners-Lee, 1991)to mobile/cell phones, tablet PCsand beyond…Today, you’ll find computers everywhere you care to look and they are controlling an increasingly broad spectrum of the devices we use as we go about our daily lives. The phone is now (2014) a full-blown computing, communication, and entertainment device.Whatever next?…

acknowledgements continued on next slide
Acknowledgements (continued on next slide)

For one of the best written books on the history of computers, check out Engines of the Mind : The Evolution of the Computer from Mainframes to Microprocessors -- by Joel N. Shurkin (Paperback)

A movingly beautiful book on Alan Turing is Alan Turing: the Enigma, by Andrew Hodges

An excellent, readable book on Cryptography is Simon Singh’s THE CODE BOOK. The Secret History of Codes and Code-Breaking

Tutorials on the encryption software PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) can be found at http://www.pitt.edu/~poole/PGPintro.htm

All pictures and some of the information were obtained from various sites on the World Wide Web. Complete list follows:

Abacus: http://qi-journal.com/action.lasso?-Token.SearchID=Abacus&-Response=culture.asp

Napier: http://www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Napier.html


Slide Rules: http://www.hpmuseum.org/sliderul.htm

Pascal’s Pascaline: http://www.thocp.net/hardware/pascaline.htm

Leibnitz Stepped Reckoner: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stepped_Reckoner

Jacquard looms: http://history.acusd.edu/gen/recording/jacquard1.html


acknowledgements continued
Acknowledgements (continued)

Charles Babbage: http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/Babbage.html


Lady Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace: http://www.well.com/user/adatoole/bio.htm


Electricity: http://www.mediaeng.com/historyelect.html (beautifully written pocket history of

electricity & magnetism)

Herman Hollerith: http://www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Hollerith.html

Howard Aiken & The Harvard Mark I: http://www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Aiken.html

Alan Turing: http://www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Turing.html

John Vincent Atanasoff: http://www.cs.iastate.edu/jva/books/mollenhoff/overview.shtml

Biographies of Atanasoff and Clifford Berry: http://www.scl.ameslab.gov/ABC/Biographies.html

J. Presper Eckert: http://www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Eckert_John.html

John Mauchly: http://www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Mauchly.html

The patent controversy: http://www.library.upenn.edu/special/gallery/mauchly/jwm7.html

ARPANet: http://www.dei.isep.ipp.pt/docs/arpa.html

Thanks to the following EDTECH listserv colleagues and friends who have reviewed the presentation and provided amendments and additional material for inclusion on the slides and in the notes.

Nancy Head, online instructor, Michigan Virtual High School (MVHS), U.S.A., on the web at www.mivhs.org

Mandi Axmann, Instructional Designer, Open Universities Australia