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History of the Computer Industry in America

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Only once in a lifetime will a new invention come about to touchevery aspect of our lives. Such a device that changes the way we work,live, and play is a special one, indeed. A machine that has done allthis and more now exists in nearly every business in the U.S. and oneout of every two households (Hall, 156). This incredible invention isthe computer. The electronic computer has been around for over ahalf-century, but its ancestors have been around for 2000 years.

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However, only in the last 40 years has it changed the American society.

>From the first wooden abacus to the latest high-speed microprocessor,the computer has changed nearly every aspect of peopleOs lives for thebetter.

The very earliest existence of the modern day computerOsancestor is the abacus. These date back to almost 2000 years ago. Itis simply a wooden rack holding parallel wires on which beads arestrung. When these beads are moved along the wire according to“programming” rules that the user must memorize, all ordinary arithmeticoperations can be performed (Soma, 14).

The next innovation incomputers took place in 1694 when Blaise Pascal invented the firstOdigital calculating machineO. It could only add numbers and they hadto be entered by turning dials. It was designed to help PascalOs fatherwho was a tax collector (Soma, 32).

In the early 1800Os, a mathematics professor named CharlesBabbage designed an automatic calculation machine. It was steam poweredand could store up to 1000 50-digit numbers. Built in to his machinewere operations that included everything a modern general-purposecomputer would need. It was programmed by–and stored data on–cardswith holes punched in them, appropriately called OpunchcardsO. Hisinventions were failures for the most part because of the lack ofprecision machining techniques used at the time and the lack of demandfor such a device (Soma, 46).

After Babbage, people began to lose interest in computers.

However, between 1850 and 1900 there were great advances in mathematicsand physics that began to rekindle the interest (Osborne, 45). Many ofthese new advances involved complex calculations and formulas that werevery time consuming for human calculation. The first major use for acomputer in the U.S. was during the 1890 census. Two men, HermanHollerith and James Powers, developed a new punched-card system thatcould automatically read information on cards without human intervention(Gulliver, 82). Since the population of the U.S. was increasing sofast, the computer was an essential tool in tabulating the totals.

These advantages were noted by commercial industries and soonled to the development of improved punch-card business-machine systemsby International Business Machines (IBM), Remington-Rand, Burroughs, andother corporations. By modern standards the punched-card machines wereslow, typically processing from 50 to 250 cards per minute, with eachcard holding up to 80 digits. At the time, however, punched cards werean enormous step forward; they provided a means of input, output, andmemory storage on a massive scale. For more than 50 years followingtheir first use, punched-card machines did the bulk of the world’sbusiness computing and a good portion of the computing work in science(Chposky, 73).

By the late 1930s punched-card machine techniques had become sowell established and reliable that Howard Hathaway Aiken, incollaboration with engineers at IBM, undertook construction of a largeautomatic digital computer based on standard IBM electromechanicalparts. Aiken’s machine, called the Harvard Mark I, handled 23-digitnumbers and could perform all four arithmetic operations. Also, it hadspecial built-in programs to handle logarithms and trigonometricfunctions. The Mark I was controlled from prepunched paper tape.

Output was by card punch and electric typewriter. It was slow,requiring 3 to 5 seconds for a multiplication, but it was fullyautomatic and could complete long computations without humanintervention (Chposky, 103).

The outbreak of World War II produced a desperate need forcomputing capability, especially for the military. New weapons systemswere produced which needed trajectory tables and other essential data.

In 1942, John P. Eckert, John W. Mauchley, and their associates at theUniversity of Pennsylvania decided to build a high-speed electroniccomputer to do the job. This machine became known as ENIAC, for“Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator”. It could multiply twonumbers at the rate of 300 products per second, by finding the value ofeach product from a multiplication table stored in its memory. ENIAC wasthus about 1,000 times faster than the previous generation of computers(Dolotta, 47).

ENIAC used 18,000 standard vacuum tubes, occupied 1800 squarefeet of floor space, and used about 180,000 watts of electricity. Itused punched-card input and output. The ENIAC was very difficult toprogram because one had to essentially re-wire it to perform whatevertask he wanted the computer to do. It was, however, efficient inhandling the particular programs for which it had been designed. ENIACis generally accepted as the first successful high-speed electronicdigital computer and was used in many applications from 1946 to 1955(Dolotta, 50).

Mathematician John von Neumann was very interested in the ENIAC.

In 1945 he undertook a theoretical study of computation thatdemonstrated that a computer could have a very simple and yet be able toexecute any kind of computation effectively by means of properprogrammed control without the need for any changes in hardware. VonNeumann came up with incredible ideas for methods of building andorganizing practical, fast computers. These ideas, which came to bereferred to as the stored-program technique, became fundamental forfuture generations of high-speed digital computers and were universallyadopted (Hall, 73).

The first wave of modern programmed electronic computers to takeadvantage of these improvements appeared in 1947. This group includedcomputers using random access memory (RAM), which is a memory designedto give almost constant access to any particular piece of information(Hall, 75). These machines had punched-card or punched-tape input andoutput devices and RAMs of 1000-word capacity. Physically, they weremuch more compact than ENIAC: some were about the size of a grand pianoand required 2500 small electron tubes. This was quite an improvementover the earlier machines. The first-generation stored-programcomputers required considerable maintenance, usually attained 70% to 80%reliable operation, and were used for 8 to 12 years. Typically, theywere programmed directly in machine language, although by the mid-1950sprogress had been made in several aspects of advanced programming. Thisgroup of machines included EDVAC and UNIVAC, the first commerciallyavailable computers (Hazewindus, 102).

The UNIVAC was developed by John W. Mauchley and John Eckert,Jr. in the 1950Os. Together they had formed the Mauchley-EckertComputer Corporation, AmericaOs first computer company in the 1940Os.

During the development of the UNIVAC, they began to run short on fundsand sold their company to the larger Remington-Rand Corporation.

Eventually they built a working UNIVAC computer. It was delivered tothe U.S. Census Bureau in 1951 where it was used to help tabulate theU.S. population (Hazewindus, 124).

Early in the 1950s two important engineering discoveries changedthe electronic computer field. The first computers were made withvacuum tubes, but by the late 1950Os computers were being made out oftransistors, which were smaller, less expensive, more reliable, and moreefficient (Shallis, 40). In 1959, Robert Noyce, a physicist at theFairchild Semiconductor Corporation, invented the integrated circuit, atiny chip of silicon that contained an entire electronic circuit. Gonewas the bulky, unreliable, but fast machine; now computers began tobecome more compact, more reliable and have more capacity (Shallis, 49).

These new technical discoveries rapidly found their way into newmodels of digital computers. Memory storage capacities increased 800%in commercially available machines by the early 1960s and speedsincreased by an equally large margin. These machines were veryexpensive to purchase or to rent and were especially expensive tooperate because of the cost of hiring programmers to perform the complexoperations the computers ran. Such computers were typically found inlarge computer centers–operated by industry, government, and privatelaboratories–staffed with many programmers and support personnel(Rogers, 77). By 1956, 76 of IBMOs large computer mainframes were inuse, compared with only 46 UNIVACOs (Chposky, 125).

In the 1960s efforts to design and develop the fastest possiblecomputers with the greatest capacity reached a turning point with thecompletion of the LARC machine for Livermore Radiation Laboratories bythe Sperry-Rand Corporation, and the Stretch computer by IBM. The LARChad a core memory of 98,000 words and multiplied in 10 microseconds.

Stretch was provided with several ranks of memory having slower accessfor the ranks of greater capacity, the fastest access time being lessthan 1 microseconds and the total capacity in the vicinity of 100million words (Chposky, 147).

During this time the major computer manufacturers began to offera range of computer capabilities, as well as various computer-relatedequipment. These included input means such as consoles and cardfeeders; output means such as page printers, cathode-ray-tube displays,and graphing devices; and optional magnetic-tape and magnetic-disk filestorage. These found wide use in business for such applications asaccounting, payroll, inventory control, ordering supplies, and billing.

Central processing units (CPUs) for such purposes did not need to bevery fast arithmetically and were primarily used to access large amountsof records on file. The greatest number of computer systems weredelivered for the larger applications, such as in hospitals for keepingtrack of patient records, medications, and treatments given. They werealso used in automated library systems and in database systems such asthe Chemical Abstracts system, where computer records now on file covernearly all known chemical compounds (Rogers, 98).

The trend during the 1970s was, to some extent, away fromextremely powerful, centralized computational centers and toward abroader range of applications for less-costly computer systems. Mostcontinuous-process manufacturing, such as petroleum refining andelectrical-power distribution systems, began using computers ofrelatively modest capability for controlling and regulating theiractivities. In the 1960s the programming of applications problems wasan obstacle to the self-sufficiency of moderate-sized on-site computerinstallations, but great advances in applications programming languagesremoved these obstacles. Applications languages became available forcontrolling a great range of manufacturing processes, for computeroperation of machine tools, and for many other tasks (Osborne, 146). In1971 Marcian E. Hoff, Jr., an engineer at the Intel Corporation,invented the microprocessor and another stage in the deveopment of thecomputer began (Shallis, 121).

A new revolution in computer hardware was now well under way,involving miniaturization of computer-logic circuitry and of componentmanufacture by what are called large-scale integration techniques. Inthe 1950s it was realized that “scaling down” the size of electronicdigital computer circuits and parts would increase speed and efficiencyand improve performance. However, at that time the manufacturingmethods were not good enough to accomplish such a task. About 1960photoprinting of conductive circuit boards to eliminate wiring becamehighly developed. Then it became possible to build resistors andcapacitors into the circuitry by photographic means (Rogers, 142). Inthe 1970s entire assemblies, such as adders, shifting registers, andcounters, became available on tiny chips of silicon. In the 1980s verylarge scale integration (VLSI), in which hundreds of thousands oftransistors are placed on a single chip, became increasingly common.

Many companies, some new to the computer field, introduced in the 1970sprogrammable minicomputers supplied with software packages. Thesize-reduction trend continued with the introduction of personalcomputers, which are programmable machines small enough and inexpensiveenough to be purchased and used by individuals (Rogers, 153).

One of the first of such machines was introduced in January1975. Popular Electronics magazine provided plans that would allow anyelectronics wizard to build his own small, programmable computer forabout $380 (Rose, 32). The computer was called the OAltair 8800O. Itsprogramming involved pushing buttons and flipping switches on the frontof the box. It didnOt include a monitor or keyboard, and itsapplications were very limited (Jacobs, 53). Even though, many orderscame in for it and several famous owners of computer and softwaremanufacturing companies got their start in computing through the Altair.

For example, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, founders of Apple Computer,built a much cheaper, yet more productive version of the Altair andturned their hobby into a business (Fluegelman, 16).

After the introduction of the Altair 8800, the personal computerindustry became a fierce battleground of competition. IBM had been thecomputer industry standard for well over a half-century. They heldtheir position as the standard when they introduced their first personalcomputer, the IBM Model 60 in 1975 (Chposky, 156). However, the newlyformed Apple Computer company was releasing its own personal computer,the Apple II (The Apple I was the first computer designed by Jobs andWozniak in WozniakOs garage, which was not produced on a wide scale).

Software was needed to run the computers as well. Microsoft developed aDisk Operating System (MS-DOS) for the IBM computer while Appledeveloped its own software system (Rose, 37). Because Microsoft had nowset the software standard for IBMs, every software manufacturer had tomake their software compatible with MicrosoftOs. This would lead tohuge profits for Microsoft (Cringley, 163).

The main goal of the computer manufacturers was to make thecomputer as affordable as possible while increasing speed, reliability,and capacity. Nearly every computer manufacturer accomplished this andcomputers popped up everywhere. Computers were in businesses keepingtrack of inventories. Computers were in colleges aiding students inresearch. Computers were in laboratories making complex calculations athigh speeds for scientists and physicists. The computer had made itsmark everywhere in society and built up a huge industry (Cringley, 174).

The future is promising for the computer industry and itstechnology. The speed of processors is expected to double every yearand a half in the coming years. As manufacturing techniques are furtherperfected the prices of computer systems are expected to steadily fall.

However, since the microprocessor technology will be increasing, itOshigher costs will offset the drop in price of older processors. In otherwords, the price of a new computer will stay about the same from year toyear, but technology will steadily increase (Zachary, 42) Since the end of World War II, the computer industry has grownfrom a standing start into one of the biggest and most profitableindustries in the United States. It now comprises thousands ofcompanies, making everything from multi-million dollar high-speedsupercomputers to printout paper and floppy disks. It employs millionsof people and generates tens of billions of dollars in sales each year(Malone, 192). Surely, the computer has impacted every aspect ofpeopleOs lives. It has affected the way people work and play. It hasmade everyoneOs life easier by doing difficult work for people. Thecomputer truly is one of the most incredible inventions in history.

Works CitedChposky, James. Blue Magic. New York: Facts on File Publishing. 1988.

Cringley, Robert X. Accidental Empires. Reading, MA: Addison WesleyPublishing, 1992.

Dolotta, T.A. Data Processing: 1940-1985. New York: John Wiley & Sons,1985.

Fluegelman, Andrew. OA New WorldO, MacWorld. San Jose, Ca: MacWorldPublishing, February, 1984 (Premire Issue).

Hall, Peter. Silicon Landscapes. Boston: Allen & Irwin, 1985Gulliver, David. Silicon Valey and Beyond. Berkeley, Ca: Berkeley AreaGovernment Press, 1981.

Hazewindus, Nico. The U.S. Microelectronics Industry. New York:Pergamon Press, 1988.

Jacobs, Christopher W. OThe Altair 8800O, Popular Electronics. NewYork: Popular Electronics Publishing, January 1975.

Malone, Michael S. The Big Scare: The U.S. Coputer Industry. GardenCity, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1985.

Osborne, Adam. Hypergrowth. Berkeley, Ca: Idthekkethan PublishingCompany, 1984.

Rogers, Everett M. Silicon Valey Fever. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Publishing, 1984.

Rose, Frank. West of Eden. New York: Viking Publishing, 1989.

Shallis, Michael. The Silicon Idol. New York: Shocken Books, 1984.

Soma, John T. The History of the Computer. Toronto: Lexington Books,1976.

Zachary, William. OThe Future of ComputingO, Byte. Boston: BytePublishing, August 1994.

Cite this History of the Computer Industry in America

History of the Computer Industry in America. (2018, Dec 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/history-of-the-computer-industry-in-america/

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