electronic computer has evolved far past any expectations that could have
been imagined during the first part of the 20th century. During the 1940s,
the first electronic computers were being designed and built. Some of
these early computers were pressed into immediate service for important
tasks including code breaking and trajectory prediction. These early
computer prototypes helped in the development of many of the digital
technologies with which we are familiar today, such as binary data
representation, programming, and hardware components. Now these giants
from the past can be found in both private, and museum collections.
Resources Although mechanical computers and other calculating devices
have been in existence for a long time, modern digital computers are a new
technology. From counting on one’s fingers, to modern supercomputers,
all computing tools perform the same basic tasks--collecting,
manipulating, storing, and outputting data. What machines were the
ancestors of the electronic computer prototypes in the mid-twentieth
century? Visit the History
of Computing Hardware Web page to read about the abacus, the slide
rule, the punched card, and tape technologies. Charles Babbage’s
Analytical Engine is also covered here. Further information about Charles
Babbage and his designs can be found at www.cbi.umn.edu/tc.html.
For an overview of the history and development of computers, visit the
Jones Telecommunications & Multimedia Encyclopedia’s Web page Computers:
History and Development. The Web page www.elsop.com/wrc/h_comput.htm
is another source of information about the development of the computer
industry with articles about many of the early computer prototypes.
ABC The Atanasoff-Berry
Computer (ABC), designed and built by John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford
Berry, is widely regarded as the first electronic computer. The ABC used
vacuum tubes, binary numbers, and a rotating drum for memory. It was
desk-sized and could perform one operation every 15 seconds--incredibly
slow, even compared to today’s calculators. Read more about the ABC at
the University of Iowa’s (the birthplace of the ABC) Web page: www.cs.iastate.edu/jva/jva-archive.shtml.
Inventors Web page has detailed information about the ABC’s
inventors Atanasoff and Berry.
COLOSSUS was an early computer prototype developed during World War II to
break encoded German messages. COLOSSUS was built out of standard post
office equipment parts. The computer itself remained a national secret
until 1970. The algorithms it used for decryption tasks remain a secret
even now. Visit any of the following Web pages to learn more about this
remarkable computer prototype.
Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was an early computer
prototype that was originally designed to calculate complex trajectory
calculations for the U.S. military after World War II. Read all
about it on the following Web pages.
Images Are you looking for pictures of the early computer prototypes
to gain a perspective of the size of these machines? If so, visit either www.crowl.org/Lawrence/history/
to browse through a wide selection of photographs and illustrations.