The History Of Computers In America Essay

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The History Of Computers In America Essay, Research Paper The History of Computers in America One of the most popular and rapidly advancing inventions of the 20th century is the computer. Computers are being integrated into every aspect of life from business to science to entertainment. From the abacus to Charles Babbage?s Difference Engine to today?s super-fast microprocessors, the computer has been the single most important tool in the ?Information Age? and has made life?s tasks easier. The earliest ancestor of the computer was the abacus, a calculator used by the Chinese as early as 500 BC. It consists of a frame and eight columns of beads. The beads are shifted up or down to do addition or subtraction. The abacus is still used today in China and Japan (History of Abacus).

The basic principles of the modern computer were developed by the English mathematician Charles Babbage (1792-1871). Babbage has been named ?the father of modern computing? for his ideas on adding machines (Stine, 21). Babbage?s plan, which he called an ?analytical engine,? would be capable of doing any mathematical operation. It could add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers of up to 50 digits (most modern calculators can only compute 8 digit numbers) and could store up to 1000 of these numbers on cards with small holes in them, called punch cards. Babbage?s idea also had a ?store? to save variables and a ?mill? in which the operations were done. The modern day equivalent of the store is memory and that of the mill is the processor (Stine, 26). Perhaps the most incredible

part of Babbage?s plan was that it was completely mechanical and ran on steam power. ?But in 1833, Babbage didn?t have electronics. He didn?t even have electricity. Nobody did. Electricity was fifty years in the future, and electronics a century away. So, like all engineers, technologists, and inventors, Babbage was constrained by the technology of the time: he had steam power, mechanical actions, levers, gears, cams, and other mechanical motions. Thus, the speed of his analytical engine was excruciatingly slow by today?s standards, although it had the capacity to do much more.? (Stine, 23) For nearly 50 years after Babbage?s idea, computing machines were almost completely forgotten about. The technology of the time just was not good enough and there were not enough general

applications that they could be used for other than solving equations. But in 1890, a reason for building a working adding machine came in the form of the 1890 United States census. The U.S. Government had to find an efficient way to categorize the nearly 60 million people living in America by sex, birthplace, occupation, and other many other attributes. After holding a competition for a solution, they decided on a young mining engineer named Herman Hollerith (Stine, 40). He combined punched cards with devices that could read the cards electronically. Hollerith?s ?tabulator? did the job 3 to 4 times faster than the government estimated their team of 100 clerks could have done by hand (Snyder, ?Computer?). The machine punched holes into cards that had 192 different spaces. The

information for each person was punched into the card, and each space on the card represented an answer to a certain question based on whether there was a hole or not. Not only did it do the job, it was the first data-processing machine to use electricity. ?This was the start of the computer revolution. Even in 1890, it was revolutionary.? Hollerith went on to form the Election Tabulating Company and sold his invention to governments as far away as Russia (Stine, 42). Hollerith?s tabulator started a boom in business machines. The government agencies were not the only ones that needed to add huge lists of numbers. Banks, insurance agencies, and other big corporations had collections of books filled with their numbers that needed to be added. Several different companies began