Development of Personal Computers

Topics: Computer, ENIAC, Punched card Pages: 9 (2518 words) Published: October 8, 1999
The Development of Personal Computers

The history of the computer goes back hundreds of years. From the abacus through the modern era the evolution of computers has involved many innovative individuals. It was out of this desire to innovate many fascinating tabulating machines developed. The modern computer, therefore, evolved from an amalgamation of the genius of many individuals over a long period of history. Many people shaped the world by making the efforts to develop technology.

An early counting machine (and relative of the computer) can be traced back to 3000 BC. This device is known as the abacus. Although ancient, the abacus is not archaic. It is still used in math education and in some businesses for making quick calculations (Long and Long 33C). This ancient device represents how far into history the desire of humans to use a machine for calculations goes.

Another early relative of the computer was created in the seventeenth century by Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician (Long and Long 33C). Pascal was born in Clermont-Ferrand on June 19, 1623 and his family settled at Paris in 1629 (Fowlie). In 1642 the young prodigy developed what is now known as "Pascal's Calculator" (or the "Pascaline") to speed calculations for his father, a tax collector. Numbers were dialed on metal wheels on the front of the machine and the solution appeared in windows along the top (Kindersley). The "Pascaline" used a counting-wheel design (Long and Long 33C). "Numbers for each digit were arranged on wheels so that a single revolution of one wheel would engage gears that turned the wheel one tenth of a revolution to its immediate left" (qtd. in Long and Long 33C). All mechanical calculators used this counting- wheel design until it was replaced by the electronic calculator in the mid-1960s (Long and Long 33C). Pascal's Calculator, however, was only the first step between the abacus and the computer.

The next step involves a loom. In 1801 the weaver Joseph-Marie Jaquard invented a machine that would make the jobs of over worked weavers tolerable (Long and Long 34C). His invention was known as the Jaquard loom. Jaquard's loom used holes punched in cards to direct the movement of the needle and thread (Long and Long 34C). Jaquard's use of punched cards is significant because it is considered the earliest use of binary automation, the same system of mathematics employed by computers today (Long and Long 34C).

Later in the same century Charles Babbage stepped into the scope of computer history. Babbage was born in 1792 in British Teignmouth, Devonshire. He was educated at Cambridge, was a fellow of the Royal Society, and was active in founding the analytical, Royal Astronomical, and the Statistical societies ("Charles").

In the 1820s Babbage designed the "Difference Engine", generally considered a direct forerunner of the modern computer. Although he began construction of his machine he never completed it due to lack of funding and insufficient technology ("Charles").

Nevertheless, in 1991 British scientists constructed the Difference Engine based on the designs of Babbage. It worked flawlessly, computing up to 31 digits ("Charles"). Although the "Difference Engine" had no memory a later idea, the "Analytical Engine", would have been a true programmable computer had it been possible to construct the machine ("Babbage's").

The Analytical Engine was to be computer that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide in automatic sequence at a rate of 60 additions per second (Long and Long 34C). "His 1833 design, which called for thousands of gears and drives, would cover the area of a football field and be powered by a locomotive engine" (qtd. in Long and Long 34C). A woman named Augusta Ada Byron worked along side Babbage while he was designing the Analytical Engine. It was she who suggested punched cards (like those used for Jaquard's loom) as a...

Cited: Long, Larry and Nancy Long. Computers. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey:
Prentice Hall, 1998.
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