If someone approached you and asked “In what year was the first computer invented?”, would you know the answer? You might say somewhere in the 1940’s or 1950’s, but it could have been much earlier than that, depending upon how you look at it. However, there may never really be a solid answer to that question, but a little research reveals that there are several good answers to the question “when was the first computer invented”.
The personal computers we use today didn’t happen overnight and perhaps they came from the laboratories and universities of the 1950’s and 1960’s. However, computers have spent a much longer time in the making. From tally sticks to the first use of vacuum tubes, here are some of the accepted answers to when the first computer was invented.
To help understand the question a little more, we should first define what is meant by “computer”. Dictionary.com defines computer in several ways. The predominant definition requires the computer be electronic in nature. However, that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.
Computers can also be a person that computes using tools to perform the computing. The tools people used can be either erroneously or correctly termed as a computer, depending upon your own point of view. This is what makes any answer to this question a little fuzzy.
To help you determine what you might call the first computer ever invented, here is a list of the first computers ever invented.
- ENIAC (Electronic Numerator Integrator Analyzer and Computer) – Built by John W. Mauchly Jr., J. Presper Eckert Jr., and J.G. Brainerd at the University of Pennsylvania, the ENIAC was built for about $400,000 and used 18,000 radio tubes. It was housed in a 30×50 foot room.Announced to the world as a ‘Giant Brain’ by the press and operational in November 1945. It held immediate importance to the world and began the spreading of computer architecture seminars and lectures.
- Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine – Many consider Englishman Charles Babbage‘s Analytical Engine back in 1837 to be the first computer. While the original device was never built by Babbage, it wasn’t until 1991 when a perfectly functioning difference engine was built using Babbage’s original plans. Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer which eventually led to the construction of more complex mechanical computers.
- Tally Sticks – The first known counting devices or tools were Tally Sticks from about 35,000 BC. The tally stick was a memory aid device that allowed the recording and documenting of numbers, quantities and even messages. The image shows the oldest known tally stick, made from Lebombo bone. While not a computer by today’s standards. Back in it’s day, it began the process of tracking and counting that would eventually lead civilizations to more complex machines. The person using the sticks could be called a computer though!
- The Abacus - The abacus was invented by the Babylonians in 2400 BC and is also called a counting frame. Used to perform addition and subtraction operations, it was unwieldy for complex calculations such as multiplication and division.The use of the abacus spread across the world and was used by many civilizations for thousands of years, making it the most used calculator in human history (aside from the human brain of course).
- Z1 Computer – A German engineer by the name of Konrad Zuse made the Z1 computer in 1936. The Z1 read its instructions from punched tape and was able to perform multiplication and division by repeated addition and subtraction operations. Konrad Zuse built the Z1 in his parents apartment.
- Colossus Mark 1 – The Colossus was the first electronic computer developed by the British to crack the LORENZ codes used by the German high command and was operational in January 1944. It was designed by engineer Tommy Flowers with the help of Allen Coombs.The Colossus Mark 2 was build just in time for the Normandy Landings on June 1st, 1944.
- UNIVAC I – The UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer I) was the first commercially available, “mass produced” electronic computer manufactured by Remington Rand in the USA and was delivered to the US Census Bureau in March 1951. It used 5,200 vacuum tubes and consumed 125 kW of power. 46 machines were sold at more than $1 million each. The fifth machine was sold to CBS for predictions on the 1952 presidential election.
As you can see, there isn’t a single year that the computer was first invented, rather, it happened over the course of several thousand years and only since the 1980’s has it become the phenomena as we know it today.
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