4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Data Processing / Computing Timeline


8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

The First Securely Datable Mathematical Table in World History Circa 2,600 BCE

The world’s oldest datable mathematical table, from Shuruppag, c. 2600 BCE.  The first two columns contain identical lengths in descending order from 600 to 60 rods (c. 3600–360 m) and the final column contains the square area of their product.

The sequence continues on the reverse, and probably finished at 1 rod (6m).

Tablet from Shuruppag, now in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin.

"The first securely datable mathematical table in world history comes from the Sumerian city of Shuruppag, c. 2600 BCE. The table is ruled into three columns on each side with ten rows on the front or obverse side. The first columns of the obverse list length measures from c. 3.6km to 360 m in descending units of 360 m, followed by the Sumerian word sa ('equal' and/ or 'opposite') while the final column gives their products in area measure. Only six rows are extant or partially preserved on the reverse. They continue the table in smaller units, from 300 to 60 m in 60 m steps, and then perhaps (in the damaged and missing lower half) from 56 to 6 m in 6 m steps. While the table is organized along two axes, there is just one axis of calculation, namely, the horizontal multiplications. Around a thousand tablets were excavated from Shuruppaq, almost all of them from houses and buildings which burned down in a city-wide fire in about 2600 BCE, but sadly we have no detailed context for this table because its excavation number was lost or never recorded." (Eleanor Robson, "Tables and tabular formatting in Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria, 2500 BCE-50," Campbell-Kelly et al [eds]. The History of Mathematical Tables from Sumer to Spreadsheets [2003] 27-29).

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1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

The Egyptians Reckon with Pebbles and Probably Use the Sandboard Abacus Circa 440 BCE

Herodotus of Halicarnassus. (View Larger)

Because the numbering systems of the Mesopotamians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were not convenient for extensive calculation, it is believed that they used some sort of mechanical calculating device. The simplest form of calculating device was a kind of table or tablet on which calculation couls be written in sand or dust, and then easily erased. This is the "sandboard abacus". One derivation of the Latin word abacus comes from the Greek abakos from the Hebrew word abaq, meaning dust.

In his Histories Herodotus of Halicarnassus, written about 440 BCE stated that the Egyptians "write their characters and reckon with pebbles, bringing their hand from right to left, while the Greeks go from left to right." D.E. Smith, in his History of Mathematics II, p. 160 quotes this statement by Herodotus and writes, "Right to left order was that of the hieratic script and there is probably some relation between this script and the abacus. No wall pictures thus far discovered give any evidence of the use of the abacus, but in any collection of Egyptian antiquities there may be found disks of various sizes which may have been used as counters."

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300 BCE – 30 CE

The Earliest Surviving Counting Board Circa 300 BCE

The Salamis Tablet. (View Larger)

Excluding counting on the fingers, counting boards are the earliest known counting device, and a precursor of the abacus. They were made from stone or wood and the counting was done on the board with beads or pebbles or or sand or dust.  These devices have also been called the "sandboard abacus." The earliest surviving example of a counting board or a gaming board may be a tablet found about 1850 CE on the Greek island of Salamis which dates back to about 300 BCE. It is preserved in the National Archaelogical Museum, Athens. 

"It is a slab of white marble 149 cm long, 75 cm wide, and 4.5 cm thick, on which are 5 groups of markings. In the center of the tablet is a set of 5 parallel lines equally divided by a vertical line, capped with a semi-circle at the intersection of the bottom-most horizontal line and the single vertical line. Below these lines is a wide space with a horizontal crack dividing it. Below this crack is another group of eleven parallel lines, again divided into two sections by a line perpendicular to them, but with the semi-circle at the top of the intersection; the third, sixth and ninth of these lines are marked with a cross where they intersect with the vertical line."  Three sets of Greek symbols (numbers from the acrophonic system) are arranged along the left, right and bottom edges of the tablet.

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The Earliest Surviving Analog Computer: the Antikythera Mechanism Circa 150 BCE – 100 BCE

The Antikythera Mechanism discovered off the island of Antikythera, Greece in 1900 or 1901, includes the only specimen preserved from antiquity of a scientifically graduated instrument. It may also be considered the earliest extant mechanical calculator. The device is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, accompanied by a reconstruction made and donated to the museum by physicist and historian of science Derek de Solla Price.

"The Antikythera mechanism must therefore be an arithmetical counterpart of the much more familiar geometrical models of the solar system which were known to Plato and Archimedes and evolved into the orrery and the planetarium. The mechanism is like a great astronomical clock without an escapement, or like a modern analogue computer which uses mechanical parts to save tedious calculation . . . . It is certainly very similar to the great astronomical cathedral clocks that were built. . . ." in Europe beginning in the fourteenth century.

Applying high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography, in 2008 experts deciphered inscriptions and reconstructed functions of the bronze gears on the mechanism. The results of this research, revealed details of dials on the instrument’s back side, including the names of all 12 months of an ancient calendar. Scientists found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

The new findings also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, in Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died in 212 BCE. It is known that Archimedes invented a planetarium which calculated motions of the moon and the known planets. It is also believed that Archimedes wrote a manuscript, which did not survive, on astronomical mechanisms. Some evidence had previously linked the complex device of gears and dials to the island of Rhodes and the astronomer Hipparchos, who had made a study of irregularities in the Moon’s orbital course.

In June 2106 an international team of archaeologists, astronomers and historians published the results of 10 years of researches on the mechanism in the first 2016 issue of the journal Almagest. Most significantly they were able to read texts preserved in the remains of the mechanisms by innovative imaging techniques.

"This special edition of the Almagest journal investigates the surviving text inscriptions on the Antikythera Mechanism. The structure of the mechanism and the history of the reading of the inscriptions are briefly reviewed. The methods used by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project to image the inscriptions - computed tomography and polynomial textual mapping - are outlined. The layout of the inscriptions is described, and the dimensions of the mechanism deduced to allow the space available for inscriptions to be estimated. General conventions and notations are provided for the presentation of the inscriptions.

" Table of Contents

The Inscriptions of the Antikythera Mechanism

 1. General Preface to the Publication of the InscriptionsAuthors: : M. Allen , W. Ambrisco , M. Anastasiouc, D. Bate , Y. Bitsakis, A. Crawleyf, M.G.Edmunds, , D. Gelb, R. Hadland, , P. Hockley, A. Jones, T. Malzbender, X. Moussas, A. Ramsey, J.H. Seiradakis, J. M. Steele, A.Tselikas, and M. Zafeiropoulou.

 2. Historical Background and General Observations

Author: A. Jones

 3. The Front Dial and Parapegma Inscriptions

Authors: Y. Bitsakis and A. Jones

 4. The Back Dial and Back Plate Inscriptions

Authors: M. Anastasiou, Y. Bitsakis, A. Jones, J. M. Steele, and M. Zafeiropoulou

 5. The Back Cover Inscription

Authors: Y. Bitsakis and A. Jones

6. The Front Cover Inscription

Authors: M. Anastasiou, Y. Bitsakis, A. Jones, X. Moussas, A.Tselikas, and M. Zafeiropoulou."



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Probably the First Trigonometric Table Circa 150 BCE


Abut 150 BCE Hellenistic astronomer, geographer, and mathematician, Hipparchos of Rhodes, produced a table of chords— an early example of a trigonometric table. 

". . . some historians go so far as to say that trigonometry was invented by him. The purpose of this table of chords was to give a method for solving triangles which avoided solving each triangle from first principles. He also introduced the division of a circle into 360 degrees into Greece" (Mactutor biography of Hipparchus, accessed 11-27-2008).

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Invention of the Astrolabe Circa 150 BCE – 100 BCE

A portrait of Hipparchus from the title page of William Cunningham's Cosmographicall Glasse (1559). (View Larger)

The rudimentary astrolabe was invented in the Hellenistic world, and is often attributed to Hipparchus, who was probably born in Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey) and probably died on the island of Rhodes. A combination of the planisphere and dioptra, the astrolabe was effectively an analog calculator capable of working out several different kinds of problems in spherical astronomy.

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30 CE – 500 CE

At Alexandria Ptolemy Writes the Almagest, the Cosmographia, and the Tetrabiblos Circa 100 CE – 178 CE


In the second century CE, probably at the Library of Alexandria, mathematician, astronomer, geographer, and astrologer Claudius Ptolemaeus (Greek: Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαίος , Klaúdios Ptolemaîos) wrote the Almagest, the Cosmographia, and the Tetrabiblos. In the Almgagest (in Greek, Η Μεγάλη Σύνταξις, "The Great Treatise", originally Μαθηματική Σύνταξις, "Mathematical Treatise") Ptolemy compiled the astronomical knowledge of the ancient Greek and Babylonian world, relying mainly on the work of Hipparchus, which had been written three centuries earlier.

Ptolemy's Almagest is the only surviving comprehensive treatise on astronomy from antiquity. It was preserved, like most of classical Greek science, in Arabic manuscripts, hence its familiar Arabic name. The work was first translated into Latin from Arabic texts found in Toledo, in Al-Andalus, or Moorish Iberia, by Gerard of Cremona, in the 12th century, and it is from Gerard's version that the work became known to European scientists in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

"Ptolemy formulated a geocentric model of the solar system which remained the generally accepted model in the Western and Arab worlds until it was superseded by the heliocentric solar system of Copernicus. Likewise his computational methods (supplemented in the 12th century with the Arabic computational Tables of Toledo), were of sufficient accuracy to satisfy the needs of astronomers, astrologers, and navigators, until the time of the great explorations. They were also adopted in the Arab world and in India. The Almagest also contains a star catalogue, which is probably an updated version of a catalogue created by Hipparchus. Its list of forty-eight constellations is ancestral to the modern system of constellations, but unlike the modern system they did not cover the whole sky (only the sky Ptolemy could see).”

Even though Ptolemy's Almagest remained the dominant textbook of theoretical astronomy from the second through the sixteenth centuries, only an epitome or digest appeared in print during the fifteenth century. This was the Epytoma in Almagestum Ptolemai published by the German mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, translator, instrument maker and Catholic bishop Johannes Müller von Königsberg, who is best known by the Latin version of his name, Regiomontanus.  The Epytoma, printed in Venice by Johannes Hamman for Kaspar Grossch and Stephan Roemer, and issued on August 31, 1496, must have been printed in an unusually large edition as it remains one of the most common of all books printed in the fifteenth century, with more than 100 copies recorded in institutional libraries worldwide by the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC No. ir00111000.) The first edition of Gerard of Cremona's translation of Ptolemy's complete text was published in Venice by Peter Liechtenstein on January 10, 1515. When I wrote this note only two American libraries had recorded their ownership of this edition in OCLC (Yale and the University of Michigan), and nine copies were cited in European libraries by the Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue. Why so few copies of this edition were recorded remained unclear, but the most likely explanation was that the original printing was small.  Gerard's text was reprinted many times.

Stillwell, The Awakening Interest in Science During the First Century of Printing 1450-1550, No. 97.

Ptolemy’s Cosmographia “is a compilation of what was known about the world’s geography in the Roman Empire during his time. He relied mainly on the work of an earlier geographer, Marinos of Tyre, and on gazetteers of the Roman and ancient Persian empire, but most of his sources beyond the perimeter of the Empire were unreliable.

“Ptolemy also devised and provided instructions on how to create maps both of the whole inhabited world (oikoumenè) and of the Roman provinces. . . . Ptolemy was well aware that he knew about only a quarter of the globe.”

The world-map from the 1482 Ulm edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia.

The maps in surviving manuscripts of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia date only from about 1300, after the text was rediscovered by Maximus Planudes, a Byzantine scholar working in Constantinople. In 1475, when the text first appeared in print, it was published without maps. Two years later the first edition with maps was published in Bologna. The famous world map illustrated here was included in the edition published in Ulm, Germany by Lienhart Holle on July 16, 1482. (ISTC No. ip01084000).


"Ptolemy's treatise on astrology, known in Greek as the Apotelesmatika ("Astrological Outcomes" or "Effects") and in Latin as the Tetrabiblos ("Four books"), was the most popular astrological work of antiquity and also had great influence in the Islamic world and the medieval Latin West. The Tetrabiblos is an extensive and continually reprinted treatise on the ancient principles of horoscopic astrology in four books (Greek tetra means "four", biblos is "book"). That it did not quite attain the unrivaled status of the Almagest was perhaps because it did not cover some popular areas of the subject, particularly electional astrology (interpreting astrological charts for a particular moment to determine the outcome of a course of action to be initiated at that time), and medical astrology" (Wikipedia article on Ptolemy, accessed 07-16-2009).

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500 CE – 600

Computus, Root of the Modern Word "Computer" 525

In 525 the Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus, a computist, used a true zero in tables alongside Roman numerals, but he used the zero as a word, nulla (Latin) meaning nothing, not as a symbol. When division produced zero as a remainder, nihil (Latin) also meaning nothing, was used. These medieval zeros were used by all future computists (calculators of Easter). 

"Computus (Latin for computation) is the calculation of the date of Easter in the Christian calendar. The name has been used for this procedure since the early Middle Ages, as it was one of the most important computations of the age."

♦ This is the root of the modern word "computer."

Dionysius was born in Scythia Minor (modern Dobruja shared by Romania and Bulgaria). He was a member of the Scythian monks community concentrated in Tomis, the major city of Scythia Minor. He is best known as the "inventor" of the Anno Domini (AD) era, which is used by certain people to number the years of both the Gregorian calendar and the (Christianized) Julian calendar.

From about 500 Dionysius lived in Rome, where, as a learned member of the Roman Curia, he translated from Greek into Latin 401 ecclesiastical canons, including the apostolical canons and the decrees of the councils of Nicaea, Constantinople,Chalcedon and Sardis, and also a collection of the decretals of the popes from Siricius to Anastasius II. These collections had great authority in the West. He also wrote a treatise on elementary mathematics.

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600 – 700

Perhaps the Earliest Extant Treatise on Finger Reckoning 688

A chart of the positions used in finger notation. (View Larger)

A manuscript entitled Romana computatio, dated 688, appears to be the earliest extant document on ancient Roman techniques of finger reckoning. It was probably used as a source by the Venerable Bede for his De tempore ratione liber (725).

Sherman, Writing on Hands. Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe (2000) 28.

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700 – 800

Finger Reckoning and Computus in the Eighth Century 725

A portrait of the Venerable Bede, by John Doyle Penrose, c. 1902.

In De temporum ratione liber (On the Reckoning of Time), written in 725, the Venerable Bede, a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, England, explained the method of finger reckoning which had evolved since the ancient world. It was, he wrote, a reliable method, especially when a writing surface or writing implements were not available. Bede's discussion of finger reckoning appeared in the first chapter of De temporum ratione entitled "De computo et loquela digitorum" (On Computing and Speaking with the Fingers).

Though finger reckoning was mentioned by classical authors such as Herodotus, no ancient treatises on the subject survived, and it is thought that the technique was passed down mainly through oral tradition. Bede described "upwards of fifty finger symbols, the numbers extending through one million" (Smith, History of Mathematics [1925] II, 200).  Undoubtedly Bede's text, of which numerous medieval manuscripts survived, was influential on conveying the method during the Middle Ages.

Bede's De computo, vel loquela per gestum digitorum appears to have made its first appearance in print in In Hoc in volumine haec continentur M. Val. Probus de notis Roma. ex codice manuscript castigatior . . . , ed. Giovanni Tacuino published in Venice by the editor, Tacuino, who was also a printer, in 1525. Tacuino published Bede's text after the text of the Roman grammarian Marcus Valerius Probus's De notis, a list of legal and administrative abbreviations and formulae used in stone inscriptions that had been discovered in 1417 by humanist Poggio Bracciolini. This was an essential guide to understanding ancient Latin epigraphy. In keeping with that theme the title page of Tacuino's volume was designed to resemble a stone inscription.

The editio princeps of De temporum ratione was published by Sichardus in 1529, four years after Tacuino issued his edition. Portions of De temporum ratione appeared in print as early as 1505, but these do not appear to have included the section on finger-reckoning. Smith, in his Rara arithmetica, stated that the 1522 edition of Johannes Aventinus’s Abacus atque vetustissima, veterum latinorum per digitos manusque numerandi contains a description of Bede’s finger-reckoning; however, this may be an error, since there was no record of this edition in OCLC or the Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue when we searched the database in March 2013. Smith himself described only the 1532 edition of Aventinus’s work (see Rara arithmetica, pp. 136-138). 

In De computo . . . Bede listed finger and hand symbols for the  numerals 1 through 9999; these roughly work like a placement system. The middle, ring, and little fingers of the left hand denote the  digits; the thumb and index fingers on the left hand express the tens; the thumb and index finger on the right hand the hundreds; and the  middle, ring and little fingers the thousands . . . The informal manner in which Bede explained how to flex the fingers and form gestures seems to retain traces of oral instruction.

Prior to Europe’s adoption of Arabic numerals, finger-reckoning provided a rudimentary method of place-value calculation. “Neither Bede nor any of his contemporaries in Western Europe knew about place value or zero, but finger reckoning enabled them to proceed as if they did. Finger joints supplied place value—one joint 10s, another 100s and so on—and zero was indicated by the normal relaxed position of the fingers—by nothing, so to speak. ” (Crosby, The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600, p. 4.)

"The noted historian of science, George Sarton, called the eighth century 'The Age of Bede'. Bede wrote several major scientific works: a treatise On the Nature of Things, modeled in part after the work of the same title by Isidore of Seville; a work On Time, providing an introduction to the principles of Easter computus; and a longer work on the same subject; On the Reckoning of Time, which became the cornerstone of clerical scientific education during the so-called Carolingian renaissance of the ninth century. He also wrote several shorter letters and essays discussing specific aspects of computus and a treatise on grammar and on figures of speech for his pupils.

"On the Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione) included an introduction to the traditional ancient and medieval view of the cosmos, including an explanation of how the spherical earth influenced the changing length of daylight, of how the seasonal motion of the Sun and Moon influenced the changing appearance of the New Moon at evening twilight, and a quantitative relation between the changes of the Tides at a given place and the daily motion of the moon. Since the focus of his book was calculation, Bede gave instructions for computing the date of Easter and the related time of the Easter Full Moon, for calculating the motion of the Sun and Moon through the zodiac, and for many other calculations related to the calendar. He gives some information about the months of the Anglo-Saxon calendar in chapter XV. Any codex of Bede's Easter cycle is normally found together with a codex of his 'De Temporum Ratione' " (Wikipedia article on Bede, accessed on 11-22-2008).

For a discussion of the manual calculating methods described by Bede see Sherman, Writing on Hands. Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe (2000) 28-30.

(This entry was last revised on 10-02-2014.)

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800 – 900

Algorithm Invented; Introduction of the Decimal Positional Number System to the West Circa 825

A portrait of al-Khwarizmi on a postage stamp from the former USSR. (View Larger)

About 825 Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer at the House of Wisdom (Arabic: بيت الحكمة‎; Bait al-Hikma) in Baghdad, developed the concept of a written process to be followed to achieve some goal. Al-Khwarizmi wrote a book on Hindu-Arabic numerals, giving the name algorithm to this process through the Latinization of his last name:

"The Arabic text is lost but a Latin translation, Algoritmi de numero Indorum (in English Al-Khwarizmi on the Hindu Art of Reckoning) gave rise to the word algorithm deriving from his name in the title. Unfortunately the Latin translation . . . .  is known to be much changed from al-Khwarizmi's original text (of which even the title is unknown). The work describes the Hindu place-value system of numerals based on 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. The first use of zero as a place holder in positional base notation was probably due to al-Khwarizmi in this work. Methods for arithmetical calculation are given, and a method to find square roots is known to have been in the Arabic original although it is missing from the Latin version" (http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Biographies/Al-Khwarizmi.html, accessed 01-23-2010).

Information in Al-Khwarizmi's work eventually reached Europe in books on Algorithmus by other authors that were distributed by manuscript copying, and eventually by print . . . .  Allard, "La diffusion en occident des premières oeuvres latines issues de l'arithmétique perdue d'al-Khwarizmi," J. Hist. Arabic Sci. 9 (1-2) (1991), 101-105, discusses seven twelfth century Latin treatises based on this lost Arabic treatise by al-Khwarizmi on arithmetic.

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1000 – 1100

The Mathematician Pope Reintroduces the Abacus and Armillary Sphere Circa 1000

Gerbert d'Aurillac, scholar, teacher, tutor, and counsellor to Otto II and Pope Sylvester II. (View Larger)

Gerbert d'Aurillac was a scholar, teacher, tutor and counsellor to Otto III before being elevated to the papacy as Sylvester II (or Silvester II) from 999 till his death in 1002. He was influential in introducing Arabic knowledge of arithmetic, mathematics, and astronomy to Europe, reintroducing the abacus and armillary sphere which had been lost to Europe since the end of the Greco-Roman era.

"According to William of Malmesbury (c.1080 – c.1143), Gerbert stole the idea of the computing device of the abacus from a Spanish Arab. The abacus that Gerbert reintroduced into Europe had its length divided into 27 parts with 9 number symbols (this would exclude zero, which was represented by an empty column) and 1,000 characters in all, crafted out of animal horn by a shieldmaker of Rheims. According to his pupil Richer, Gerbert could perform speedy calculations with his abacus that were extremely difficult for people in his day to think through in using only Roman numerals. Due to Gerbert's reintroduction, the abacus became widely used in Europe once again during the 11th century" (Wikipedia article on Pope Sylvester II, accessed 11-24-2008).

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1200 – 1300

The Suanpan Circa 1200

A scence from the long scroll 'Along the River During Qing Ming Festival,' in which a fifteen column saunpan is visible next to the account book and doctor's prescriptions. (View Larger)

A version of the abacus appeared in China, called suanpan in Chinese. On each rod this abacus had 2 beads on the upper deck and 5 on the lower deck.

The suanpan style of abacus is also referred to as a 2/5 abacus. The 2/5 style survived unchanged until about 1850, at which time the 1/5 (one bead on the top deck and five beads on the bottom deck) abacus appeared.

♦ "In the famous long scroll Along the River During Qing Ming Festival painted by Zhang Zeduan (1085-1145) [a native of Dongwu (present Zhucheng, Shandong)] during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a 15 column suanpan is clearly seen lying beside an account book and doctor's prescriptions on the counter of an apothecary.

"The similarity of the Roman abacus to the Chinese one suggests that one could have inspired the other, as there is some evidence of a trade relationship between the Roman Empire and China. However, no direct connection can be demonstrated, and the similarity of the abaci may be coincidental, both ultimately arising from counting with five fingers per hand. Where the Roman model and Chinese model (like most modern Japanese) has 4 plus 1 bead per decimal place, the old version of the Chinese suanpan has 5 plus 2, allowing less challenging arithmetic algorithms, and also allowing use with a hexadecimal numeral system. Instead of running on wires as in the Chinese and Japanese models, the beads of Roman model run in grooves, presumably making arithmetic calculations much slower.

"Another possible source of the suanpan is Chinese counting rods, which operated with a decimal system but lacked the concept of a zero as a place holder. The zero was probably introduced to the Chinese in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when travel in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East would have provided direct contact with India and Islam allowing them to acquire the concept of zero and the decimal point from Indian and Islamic merchants and mathematicians."

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The First Recorded Designs of a Programmable Automaton 1206

In his al-Jāmiʿ bain al-ʿilm wa al-ʿamal al-nāfiʿ fī ṣināʿat al-ḥiyal (The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) written in 1206, the year of his death, Muslim polymath, inventor, mechanical engineer, craftsman, artist, mathematician and astronomer Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-'Izz ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī ( بديع الزمان أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري‎, Turkish: Ebû’l İz İbni İsmail İbni Rezzaz El Cezerî) from Jazirat ibn Umar (current Cizre,Turkey) described and illustrated the first recorded designs of a programmable automaton and a set of humanoid automata.

"al-Jazari created a musical automaton, which was a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. Professor Noel Sharkey has argued that it is quite likely that it was an early programmable automata and has produced a possible reconstruction of the mechanism; it has a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bump into little levers that operated the percussion. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns if the pegs were moved around. According to Charles B. Fowler, the automata were a 'robot band' which performed "more than fifty facial and body actions during each musical selection" (Wikipedia article on al-Jazari, accessed 12-19-2011).

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al-Jazari's Clocks: Perhaps the Earliest Programmable Analog Computer 1206

A depiction of the Castle Water Clock from al-Jazari's 'Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices.' This manuscript is preserved at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. (View Larger)

In the al-Jāmiʿ bain al-ʿilm wa al-ʿamal al-nāfiʿ fī ṣināʿat al-ḥiyal (The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) written in 1206, the year of his death, Muslim polymath, engineer and inventor Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-'Izz ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī (بديع الزمان أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري‎, Turkish: Ebû’l İz İbni İsmail İbni Rezzaz El Cezerî) from Jazirat ibn Umar (current Cizre,Turkey), described 100 mechanical devices, about 80 of which were trick vessels of various kinds, along with instructions on how to construct them. These included his elephant clock, scribe clock, and castle clock. The castle clock, a most sophisticated water-powered astronomical clock, has been called the earliest programmable analog computer. 

"It was a complex device that was about 11 feet high, and had multiple functions alongside timekeeping. It included a display of the zodiac and the solar and lunar orbits, and a pointer in the shape of the crescent moon which travelled across the top of a gateway, moved by a hidden cart and causing automatic doors to open, each revealing a mannequin, every hour. It was possible to re-program the length of day and night everyday in order to account for the changing lengths of day and night throughout the year, and it also featured five robotic musicians who automatically play[ed] music when moved by levers operated by a hidden camshaft attached to a water wheel. Other components of the castle clock included a main reservoir with a float, a float chamber and flow regulator, plate and valve trough, two pulleys, crescent disc displaying the zodiac, and two falcon automata dropping balls into vases" (Wikipedia article on Al-Jazari, accessed 04-02-2009).

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The European Table Abacus Circa 1299

A woodblock from Gregor Reisch's Margarita Philosophoca, 1508, depicting a table abacus. (View Larger)

The European table abacus or reckoning table became standardized to some extent by the end of the 13th century. The pebbles previously used as counters were replaced by specially minted coin-like objects that were cast, thrown, or pushed on the abacus table. They were called jetons from jeter (to throw) in France, and werpgeld for “thrown money” in Holland.

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1450 – 1500

"Arte dell’Abbaco", the First Dated Printed Book on Arithmetic and the Operation of the Abacus December 10, 1478

Page from Arte dell'Abbaco. 

This unpretentious little book could almost be taken as a symbol of the third component in the collection of George A. Plimpton: "reading, writing and ‘rithmetic." It intends to teach commercial arithmetic, starting from the most elementary level to explain numbers and their positions as designators of units, tens, hundreds, and so forth. On the page shown, a reader has noted the method for calculating differences in income for those who invest varying amounts of money at different times. Graphically clear are the various earnings of Piero, Polo and Zuanne. Their names, and indeed the entire text, are in the local vernacular: Venetian dialect, not Italian. Abbacus, or commercial arithmetic, was solidly vernacular, Latin being reserved for the abstract studies of the universities.

Bequest of George Arthur Plimpton, 1936 to Columbia University.

One of a large number of diagrams illustrating how to use an abbacus from a copy of Treviso's Arte dell' abbaco bequeathed to the Cambridge University Library by J.W.L. Glaisher in 1928.

The first dated book on arithmetic is the anonymous Arte dell’Abbaco ..., printed in Treviso, Italy, probably by Gerardus de Lisa, de Flandria on December 10, 1478. It is possible that some undated pamphlets on Algorithmus may predate this work.

"Frank J. Swetz translated the complete work using Smith's notes in 1987 in his Capitalism & Arithmetic: The New Math of the 15th Century. Swetz used a copy of the Treviso housed in the Manuscript Library at Columbia University. The volume found its way to this collection via a curious route. Maffeo Pinelli (1785), an Italian bibliophile, is the first known owner. After his death his library was purchased by a London book dealer and sold at auction on February 6, 1790. The book was obtained for three shillings by Mr. [Michael] Wodhull. About 100 years later the Arithmetic appeared in the library of Brayton Ives, a New York lawyer. When Ives sold the collection of books at auction, George [Arthur] Plimpton, a New York publisher, acquired the Treviso and made it an acquisition to his extensive collection of early scientific [i.e. mathematics] texts. Plimpton donated his library to Columbia University in 1936. Original copies of the Treviso Arithmetic are extremely rare" (Wikipedia article Treviso Arithmetic, accessed 01-10-2009).

ISTC No. ia01141000.

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"Tabulae Alphonsinae", Among the Earliest Printed Mathematical Tables July 4, 1483

On July 4, 1483 German printer Erhard Ratdolt, working in Venice, published Tabulae Alphonsinae or the Alphonsine Tables, a compilation of astronomical data tabulating the positions and movements of the planets.

The Alphonsine Tables were among the first mathematical tables printed. The tables were computed at Toledo, Spain, from 1262 to 1272 by about 50 astronomers (human computers) assembled for the purpose by King Alfonso X of Castile and León, known as el Sabio, "the learned."  They were a revision and improvement of the Tables of the Cordoban mathematician/astronomer Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī, retaining the Ptolemaic system for explaining celestial motion. The original Spanish version was lost, and the tables became known through Latin translation.

ISTC no. ia00534000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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1550 – 1600

Galileo Produces his "Compasso" & The First "Computer Manual" 1597 – 1606

Beginning in 1597 Galileo Galilei developed his geometric and military compass into a general-purpose mechanical analog calculator, later known in English as the sector. Galileo produced several examples of his compasso. Images of an example that Galileo may have presented to Cosimo II are available from the Virtual Museum of the Museo Galileo at this link. During the seventeenth century the sector became one of the most widely used mechanical calculators for scientific purposes.

"The Galilean compass—not to be confused with drawing compasses—is a sophisticated and versatile calculating instrument for performing a wide variety of geometrical and arithmetical operations, making use of the proportionality between the corresponding sides of two similar triangles. It comprises three parts:

- the two legs, held together by a round disk (pivot), whose faces (front and back) are engraved with numerous scales;

- the quadrant, graduated with various scales, which is fixed by means of wing nuts to the holes in the compass legs;

- the clamp, a cursor inserted into one of the compass legs; keeps the instrument vertical and can serve as an extension for the leg holding it" (http://catalogue.museogalileo.it/object/GeometricMilitaryCompass_n01.html, accessed 01-23-2014).

As an instruction manual for purchasers of the compass, and to establish his priority for the invention, in 1606 Galileo published from his own house in Padua, printed by Peitro Marinelli, Le Operazioni del Compasso Geometrico et Militare in an edition of only sixty copies. To avoid having the compass pirated, Galileo had no illustrations of the device included in the pamphlet, which may be considered the first "computer manual."

In January 2014 a digital facsimile of the 1606 edition was available from the digital library of the Museo Galileo at this link.  A video describing Galileo's compasso and its functions narrated in English could be downloaded from the same website as a .zip file at this link.

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1600 – 1650

The Japanese Adopt the Abacus, Calling it the Soroban Circa 1600

Japanese soroban abacus 1x5 from Meiji period (1868-1912).

Diagram of Soroban.

About the year 1600 the Japanese adopted the Chinese 1/5 abacus via Korea. In Japanese the abacus is called soroban.

The 1/4 abacus appeared in Japan about 1630.

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Galileo Presents One of the First Records of Litigation over an Invention 1607

In 1607 Galileo Galilei issued from Venice at the press of Tomaso Baglioni Difesa di Galileo Galilei ... contro alle calumnie & imposture di Baldessar Capra. This booklet published the transcript of the trial resulting from the lawsuit that Galileo successfully brought against Baldessar Capra for copying the proportional and military compass that Galileo had invented. It was among the first, if not the very first, record of litigation over an invention, and most certainly the first litigation in the history of computing.

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John Napier Invents Logarithms, Napier's Bones & the Lightning Calculating Device 1614 – 1617

Preface page from Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio, by John Napier, describing the (then) new mathematical device known as logarithms.



In 1614 Scottish mathematician, physicist, astronomer & astrologer, and also the 8th Laird of Merchistoun John Napier published from Edinburgh his Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio (The Description of the Wonderful Canon of Logarithms), announcing his invention of logarithms,with the goal of increasing calculating speed and reducing drudgery.

Three years later, in 1617, Napier published Rabdologiae, describing two calculating devices: “Napier’s bones,” and the Multiplicationis promptuarium, or the lightning calculator.

"He [Napier] wrote that the multiplication and division of great numbers is troublesome, involving tedious expenditure of time, and subject to "slippery errors." His tables reduced these difficulties to simple addition and subtraction, and won immediate recognition. A set of Napier’s bones are usually made of boxwood or ivory and often contained in a box or case that would fit in a pocket. A set usually contains 10 rods, plus extras representing squares and cubes.  

"Use. Addition is accomplished by reading the appropriate bones along the diagonal. To obtain a product of 224 x 44, the rods 2, 2, and 4 are put alongside each other, and the result is read off by combining the numbers in the fourth row -- 0/8, 0/8, 1/6 -- for the correct answer 896. This is repeated and the two products added together to give 9856. The bones are sometimes associated with an abacus to provide a store in the multiplication process" (Gordon Bell's website, accessed 10-12-2011).

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Johannes Kepler Creates Logarithms by a New Procedure 1624 – 1625

Astronomer Johannes Kepler published Chilias Logarithmorum (1624) from Marburg and Supplementum (1625), creating his logarithmic tables by a new geometrical procedure, the form thus differing from the logarithms of both Napier and Briggs.

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Adriaan Vlacq Issues the First Complete Set of Modern Logarithms 1628

In 1628 Adriaan Vlacq, a bookseller, publisher, and human computer, computed and issued the first complete set of modern logarithms in Gouda through Petrus Rammaseyn printers. Four years earlier, in 1624, English mathematician Henry Briggs had published Arithmetica logarithma sive logarithmorum chiliades triginta, pro numeris naturali serie crescentibus ab unitate 20,000 et a 90,000 ad 100,000 changing the original logarithms invented by John Napier into common (base 10) logarithms. In 1626 Dutch surveyer and teacher of mathematics Ezechiel de Decker contracted with Vlacq for the publication of several translations of books by John Napier, Edmund Gunter and Henry Briggs. A first book was published in 1626, with several translations done by Vlacq. A second book was made of the logarithms of the first 10000 numbers from Briggs' Arithmetica logarithmica published in 1624. The logarithms were shortened to 10 places. In 1627, De Decker's Het Tweede deel van de Nieuwe telkonst  was published, containing the logarithms of all numbers from 1 to 100000, to 10 places, much of which had been computed by Vlacq. Only very few copies of this book are known and its publication was apparently stopped or delayed.This Tweede deel of 1627 was the first complete table of decimal logarithms. 

In 1628 Vlacq republished the 10 decimal place logarithm tables as Arithmetica logarithma sive logarithmorum chiliades tentum, pro numeris naturali serie crescentibus ab unitate ad 100000. He appears to have had a connection with the Gouda firm of Petrus Rammaseyn and it is this firm that published the work, this time under Vlacq's name. A French translation, Arithmetique logarithmetique, ou, La construction et usage d'une table contenant les logarithms de tous les nombres depuis l'unité jusque 100000 by Vlacq was also published by Petrus Rammaseyn at almost the same time.

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William Oughtred Invents the Circular Form of Slide Rule 1632

English priest and mathematician William Oughtred invented the circular form of slide rule. He published Circles of Proportion and the Horizontal Instrument in London in 1632 describing slide rules and sundials.

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Blaise Pascal Invents a Calculator: The Pascaline 1642

Mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal invented an adding machine, the Pascaline.

"Use. The dials show the French monetary unit, the livre, which was divided into 12 deniers, each subdivided into 20 sols. The essential part of the machine was its decimal carry; each toothed wheel moved forward one unit (one-tenth of a revolution on each wheel except those of deniers and sols) when the previous wheel had completed one revolution. Subtraction was based on complementary numbers that could be revealed by moving the strip at the top of the calculator" (Gordon Bell's website, accessed 10-12-2011).

In 1645 Pascal published an eighteen-page pamphlet describing his calculating machine. It was called Lettre dédicatoire à Monseigneur le Chancelier sur le sujet de la machine nouvellement inventée par le Sieur B. P. pour faire toutes sortes d’opérations d’arithmétique, par un mouvement reglé, sans plume ny jettons avec un advis necessaire à ceux qui auront curiosité de voir ladite machine. . . . The pamphlet does not identify a place of printing or a printer’s name, so we may assume that Pascal paid for its printing. When we published Origins of Cyberspace OCLC cited only two copies of this pamphlet in one French library and no copies in North America.

Pascal's pamphlet was reprinted along with additional material related to the Pascaline in his Oeuvres (1779), vol. 4, 7-30. The additional material consisted of Pascal's 1650 letter describing the machine that he presented to Queen Christina of Sweden; the privilege for its construction and sale issued in 1649, and Denis Diderot's description of the machine published in the Encyclopédie.

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) no. 13.

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1650 – 1700

The Sliding Stick Form of Slide Rule Circa 1650

A modern photograph of a vintage sliding stick side rule.

The sliding-stick form of the slide rule was developed about the year 1650.

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Description of the "Mathematical Organ" 1668

In 1668 Organum Mathematicum  by the German Jesuit scientist Gaspard Schott was posthumously published in Nuremberg. In this book Schott described his “mathematical organ,” and his calculating machine based on Napier’s rods.

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More Affordable and Easier to Use than the Pascaline 1671

Pierre Petit's Arithmetic Cylinder.

Pascal's Pascaline calculator.

In Dissertations academiques. . . avec un discours sur. . . un cylindre arithmetique published in Paris in 1671, Pierre Petit described an arithmetic cylinder, which he said was more affordable and easier to use than Pascal’s Pascaline.

John Napier (1550-1617) invented several mechanical methods to simplify and speed up the arithmetic calculations, especially multiplication.  His most famous invention was his Napier Rods, later known as Napier’s Bones.  Pierre Petit improved on Napier’s Bones by devising an arithmetic cylinder using long bands of paper strips with all of the multiples of John Napier’s rabdology.  The long bands were then attached end to end and mounted on a wooden cylinder the size of a child's drum or a hat. The reckoning principles were identical to Napier's bones.

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The First Book on a Calculating Machine Published in English 1673

Title page of Samuel Morland's The Discription and Use of Two Arithmetick Instruments.

Samuel Morland.

The adding device of Samuel Moreland, made by Humphry Adamson.

Morland's multiplication machine, based on the principle of Napier's bones.

In 1673 English diplomat, mathematician and inventor Samuel Morland published in London The Description and Use of Two Arithmetic Instruments. This was the first monograph on a calculating machine published in English, and after Galileo's Compasso, and Napier's Rabdologiae, the first book a calculator in any language, apart from Pascal's 18-page pamphlet on the Pascaline.

After entering government service in 1653 Morland was chosen to accompany a British diplomatic mission to the court of Sweden's Queen Christina. The Swedish Queen was a noted patron of the sciences, and Blaise Pascal had presented her with one of his Pascaline calculators in 1652. It is likely that Morland had the opportunity to familiarize himself with the Pascaline while in Sweden.  

During the 1660s Morland devised  three calculating machines—one for trigonometry (1663), one for addition and subtraction (1666) and one for multiplication and division (1662). In his book Morland described two calculating devices, which worked "without charging the memory, disturbing the mind, or exposing the operations to any uncertainty." Morland's device is regarded by some as the first multiplying calculator.

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Leibniz Invents the Stepped Drum Gear Calculator 1673 – 1710

In 1673 German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz made a drawing of his calculating machine mechanism. Using a stepped drum, the Leibniz Stepped Reckoner, mechanized multiplication as well as addition by performing repetitive additions. The stepped-drum gear, or Leibniz wheel, was the only workable solution to certain calculating machine problems until about 1875. The technology remained in use through the early 1970s in the Curta hand-held calculator.

Leibniz first published a brief illustrated description of his machine in "Brevis descriptio machinae arithmeticae, cum figura. . . ," Miscellanea Berolensia ad incrementum scientiarum (1710) 317-19, figure 73. The lower portion of the frontispiece of the journal volume also shows a a tiny model of Leibniz's calculator. Because Leibniz had only a wooden model and two working metal examples of the machine made, one of which was lost, his invention of the stepped reckoner was primarily known through the 1710 paper and other publications. Nevertheless, the machine became well-enough known to have great influence. 

Leibniz conceived the idea of a calculating machine in the early 1670s with the aim of improving upon Blaise Pascal's calculator, the Pascaline. He concentrated on expanding Pascal's mechanism so it could multiply and divide. The first recorded indirect reference is in a letter from the French mathematician Pierre de Carcavi (Carcavy) dated June 20, 1671 in which Pascal's machine is referred to as "la machine du temps passé." Leibniz demonstrated a wooden model of his calculator at the Royal Society of London on February 1, 1673, though the machine could not yet perform multiplication and division automatically. In a letter of March 26, 1673 to Johann Friedrich, where he mentioned the presentation in London, Leibniz described the purpose of the "arithmetic machine" as making calculations "leicht, geschwind, gewiß" [sic], i.e. easy, fast, and reliable. Leibniz also added that theoretically the numbers calculated might be as large as desired, if the size of the machine was adjusted; quote: "eine zahl von einer ganzen Reihe Ziphern, sie sey so lang sie wolle (nach proportion der größe der Maschine)" ("a number consisting of a series of figures, as long as it may be in proportion to the size of the machine").

On July 14, 1674, Leibniz informed Heinrich (Henry) Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society, that a new model had "at last been successfully completed" and was able to "produce a multiplication by making a few turns of a particular wheel, without any effort." The letter also refers to his good fortune in being able to entrust the work to the Parisian craftsman and clockmaker Olivier (or Ollivier: his first name does not seem to be known), ‘a man who preferred fame to fortune’ (quoted in M.R. Antognazzi. Leibniz: an intellectual biography [2009]). Leibniz showed off an improved version of the calculating machine at the Académie royale des sciences in Paris on January 9, 1675, and on his final departure from Paris on October 4, 1676 took a further improved model to show Oldenburg in London.

After Leibniz’s departure, work on the calculating machine continued under the supervision of his Danish friend Friedrich Adolf Hansen (1652-1711), and Leibniz continued to correspond with Olivier. The Leibniz archive includes three letters from Olivier, dated March 24 and July 29, 1677 and  November 15, 1678; indeed Leibniz seems to have had some effort made to have Olivier called to Hanover to continue his work. After about 1678 work on the machine seems to have lapsed until Leibniz began to develop a new prototype in the early 1690s. At some point Leibniz's wooden model and his first metal machine were lost. The second machine, which was built from 1690 to 1720, is preserved in the Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek, Hanover. 

On May 21, 2014 Christie's in London auctioned Leibniz's autograph draft contract between Leibniz's friend Adolf Hansen, acting on Leibniz's behalf and the clockmaker Olivier in Paris, for the construction of Leibniz's calculating machine. The 3.5 page contract written by Leibniz in French consisted of 20 numbered articles with some details of payments left blank. The contract was undated but Christie's assigned to it the date of circa 1677. The manuscript came "from the collection of the French Leibniz scholar Lous-Alexandre Foucher de Careil (1826-1891) -- by descent – private collection."

From Christie's catalogue description I quote:

"‘Le dit sieur Leibniz m’ayant informé partie par écrit, et partie de vive voix et par quelques modelles, d’une machine Arithmetique de son invention; en sorte que je n’y ay trouvé aucune difficulté, je me suis engagé à l’executer de la manière suivante …’

"The contract comprises 20 meticulously detailed clauses, describing in detail the machine and the financial and practical arrangements for its construction: it is to produce numbers up to three figures; it is to be capable of multiplication and division, as well as addition and subtraction, with the mechanism (consisting of a system of fixed and mobile pieces, and equal and unequal cogs) described in detail, first for multiplication and division, then for addition and subtraction, noting that the operations should be effected immediately ‘et non pas comme dans la machine du temps passé après un delay ou intervalle’; the machine is to be perfectly finished, made of iron or steel, and enclosed in ‘une petite boëtte propre, à fin qu’il ne paroisse que ce qu’il faut pour l’opération’; the operation of the machine is then specified. The contract goes on to note that Olivier had previously agreed to construct such a machine in one or two months for a payment of ‘cent écus blancs ou trois cens francs’, part of which has been advanced, but that he had failed (in part because of illness) to give satisfaction; he now engages to complete the work in three months, with his goods as surety; and he is to show the progress of his work to Hansen, and inform Leibniz by letter, each week. 

"‘La machine doit avoir deux pieces aussi longues qu’elle, dont l’une est immobile et sert de base à tout, l’autre est mobile, et glisse dans la première, à fin d’aller de chiffre en chiffre lors qu’on change les multiplicateurs ou les quotiens de la division …

"La piece mobile porterà ce qui sert pour le nombre qui doit estre multiplié et pour le nombre qui doit estre divisé: au lieu que la precedente servoit pour le produit, pour le multipliant, et pour le quotient cellecy portera donc les roues à dens inégales, et ce qui sert à les ajuster, et à les mettre sur un nombre donné, afin que tantost 9, tantost 8, tantost 7 dens inegales rencontrent la roue de la partie immobile qui y repond …’ "

Christie's estimated the contract at £200,000-£300,000; however, the manuscript did not sell in the auction.

(This entry was last revised on 07-26-2014.)

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Leibniz on Binary Arithmetic March 15, 1679 – 1705

A manuscript dated March 15, 1679 by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, preserved in the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Bibliothek Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek, Hannover, “includes a brief discussion of the possibility of designing a mechanical binary calculator which would use moving balls to represent binary digits.”

Though Leibniz thought of the application of binary arithmetic to computing in 1679, the machine he outlined was never built, and he published nothing on the subject until his Explication de l'arithmétique binaire, qui se sert des seuls caracteres 0 & 1; avec des remarques sur son utilité, & sur ce qu'elle donne le sens des anciens figues Chinoises de Fohy' published in Histoire de l'Académie Royale des Sciences année MDCCIII. Avec les mémoires de mathématiques, which appeared in print in 1705.

"The publication of the Explication was prompted by Leibniz's correspondence with Joachim Bouvet, a member of the Jesuit Mission in China. Leibniz had developed an interest in China, and in April 1697 he edited a collection of letters and essays by members of the Mission, entitled Novissima Sinica. A copy of this came into the hands of Bouvet, who wrote to Leibniz on 18 October 1697 expressing his commendation of the work. Thus began an extended correspondence between the two men which proved to be very important for the dissemination of Leibniz's ideas about binary arithmetic. The crucial exchange began on 15 February 1701, when Leibniz wrote to Bouvet describing for his correspondent the principles of his binary arithmetic, including the analogy of the formation of all the numbers from 0 and 1 with the creation of the world by God out of nothing. Bouvet immediately recognised the relationship between the hexagrams of the I ching and the binary numbers and he communicated his discovery in a letter written in Peking on 4 November 1701. This reached Leibniz, after a detour through England, on 1 April 1703. With this letter, Bouvet enclosed a woodcut of the arrangement of the hexagrams attributed to Fu-Hsi, the mythical founder of Chinese culture, which holds the key to the identification. Within a week of receiving Bouvet's letter, Leibniz had sent to Abbé Bignon for publication in the Mémoires of the Paris Academy his Explication de l'Arithmétique binaire,... & sue ce qu'elle donne le sens des anciens figures Chinoises de Fohy. Ten days later he sent a brief account to Hans Sloane, the Secretary of the Royal Society. Leibniz viewed binary arithmetic less as a computational tool than as a means of discovering mathematical, philosophical and even theological truths. He remarked to Tschirnhaus in 1682 that he anticipated from the use of binary numbers discoveries in number theory that other progressions could not reveal. It was at the same time a candidate for the characteristica generalis, his long sought-for alphabet of human thought. With base 2 numeration Leibniz witnessed a confluence of several intellectual strands in his world view, including theological and mystical ideas of order, harmony and creation. Fontanelle, secretary of the Paris Academy, wrote the unsigned review of Liebniz's paper for the Mémoires section of the volume. He noted that arithmetic could have different bases besides ten; bases such as 12, and two as in the case of Leibniz's binary system. He also noted that although the binary system was not practical for common use Leibniz thought that it would be of advantage in advanced mathematics" (W.P. Watson, antiquarian book description, accessed from ilabdatabase.com on 01-21-2010). 

This manuscript was first published in 1966 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Leibniz's death as Herrn von Leibniz' Rechnung mit Null und Eins. That book included facsimiles of Leibniz's "Explication de l'arithmétique binaire" (1705), his two letters to Johann Christian Schulenberg on binary arithmetic (March 29 and May 17, 1698), published in the Opera Omnia of 1768, and historical articles and German translations.

(This entry was last revised on 07-26-2014.)

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1750 – 1800

Thomas Simpson Publishes the Earliest Formal Treatment of "Data-Processing" 1755

In 1755 English mathematician Thomas Simpson published "On the Advantage of Taking the Mean of a Number of Observations, in Practical Astronomy" in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 49, part 1, 82-93.  Simpson's paper was "a milestone in statistical inference, as well as the earliest formal treatment of any data-processing practice" (Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace [2002] No. 16).

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Bayes's Theorem for Calculating Inverse Probabilities 1763

On April 7, 1761 Thomas Bayes, an English clergyman and mathematician, died at the age of 59. Two years after his death, his paper, entitled "An Essay Towards Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of ChancesThomas Bayes was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 53 (1763) 370-418. Bayes's paper enunciated Bayes's Theorem for calculating "inverse probabilities”—the basis for methods of extracting patterns from data in decision analysisdata mining, statistical learning machinesBayesian networksBayesian inference.

"Whereas the ordinary rules of probability address such problems as 'what is the probability of drawing a yellow marble, if you draw three marbles from a sack containing 10 yellow marbles and 90 white marbles,' a Bayesian might ask the question, 'if I draw five marbles from a sack, and one is yellow and four are white, what is the probable distribution of the marbles in the sack?'  The advantage of inverse probability is that predictions can be continually refined as experience accumulates, so that if you draw five more marbles, and they are all white, that will change the probability prediction (and drawing a blue marble would drastically alter the situation), but Bayes’ theorem can easily accommodate any and all new information.  Bayes wrote his classic paper, 'An Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances,' sometime in the late 1740s, but he never published it, for reasons unknown. After his death, his friend Richard Price found the paper among Bayes’ effects, and Price sent it for publication to John Canton of the Royal Society of London (apparently modifying the original paper considerably), and it appeared in the Philosophical Transactions in 1763. No one paid it the slightest attention. Ten years later, the Frenchman Pierre Simon Laplace independently discovered the rules of inverse probability, and although he later learned about Bayes’ paper and gave him priority, for the next century and a half Laplace got most of the credit (when credit was given at all--most statisticians did not consider Bayesian methods to be reputable, since they often involved making hunches and using gut feelings).  It wasn't until 1950 that the famous geneticist and mathematician R.A. Fisher first applied Bayes’ name to the methods of inverse probability, and since then, Bayes’ reputation has been gradually restored" (William B. Ashworth, Jr., email received on April 7, 2014.)

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) no. 1.

(This entry was last revised on April 7, 2014.)

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Computing the Nautical Almanac, Called the "Seaman's Bible" 1766

In 1766 the British Government sanctioned Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal, to produce each year a set of navigational tables, to be called the Nautical Almanac. This was the first permanent mathematical table-making project in the world.

Known as the "Seaman's Bible," the Nautical Almanacs, first published in 1767, greatly improved the accuracy of navigation. However, the accuracy of the tables in the Nautical Almanacs was dependent upon the accuracy of the human computers who produced them, working by hand and separated geographically in an early example of organized but distant collaboration.

By the early nineteenth century, the time of Charles Babbage, these tables became notorious for their errors, providing Babbage the incentive to develop mechanical systems, which he called calculating engines, to improve their accuracy.

(This entry was last revised on 05-02-2016.)

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Von Kempelen "Invents" the Chess-Playing Turk & Edgar Allan Poe Compares it to Babbage's Difference Engine No. 1 1769 – 1836

In 1769 Hungarian author and inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen (Johann Wolfgang Ritter von Kempelen de Pázmánd; Hungarian: Kempelen Farkas) built his chess-playing Turk, an automaton that purported to play chess. Although the machine displayed an elaborate gear mechanism, its cabinet actually concealed a man controlling the moves of the machine.

Von Kempelen's Turk became a commercial sensation, deceiving a very large number of people. It became the most famous, or the most notorious, automaton in history. It also must have been kind of an open secret within the professional chess community because over the years numerous chess masters were hired so that The Turk could challenge all comers with its chess skills. With a skilled concealed operator the Turk won most of the games played during its demonstrations around Europe and the Americas for nearly 84 years, playing and defeating many challengers including Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. Although many had suspected the hidden human operator, the hoax was first revealed by the English engineer Robert Willis in his illustrated pamphlet, An Attempt to Analyse the Automaton Chess Player of Mr. de Kempelen. With an Easy Method of Imitating the Movements of the Celebrated Figure. . .  (London, 1821). The operator or operators working within the mechanism during Kempelen's original tour remain a mystery; however after the engineer Johann Nepomuk Mälzel purchased the device in 1804, and exhibited it first in Europe and in 1826 in America, the chess masters who secretly operated it included Johann Allgaier, Hyacinthe Henri Boncourt, Aaron Alexandre, William Lewis, Jacques Mouret, and William Schlumberger. In 1818, for a short time while Boncourt was the operator of the Turk, he caught the flu and his chess performance was rather poor, and he could not control his coughing which could be heard by spectators, creating a certain embarrassment to Mälzel who owned the machine. For this reason Mälzel added some noisy gears to the Turk, which had no other purpose than to cover any noise that might come from the operator.

One of the most insightful commentators on The Turk was the American writer, poet, editor, literary critic, and magazinist Edgar Allan Poe. who in April 1836 published in the Southern Literary Messenger issued from Richmond, Virginia "Maelzel's Chess Player." In this article on automata Poe provided a very closely reasoned explanation of the concealed human operation of von Kempelen's Turk, which Poe had seen exhibited in Richmond by Maelzel a few weeks earlier. 

Poe also briefly compared von Kempelen's Turk to Babbage's Difference Engine No. 1, which was limited to the computation of short mathematical tables, suggesting essentially that if the Turk was fully automated and had the ability to use the results of one logical operation to make a decision about the next one—what was later called "conditional branching" —it would be far superior to Babbage's machine. This feature Babbage later designed into his Analytical Engine

Here is Poe's comparison of the two machines:

"But if these machines were ingenious, what shall we think of the calculating machine of Mr. Babbage? What shall we think of an engine of wood and metal which can not only compute astronomical and navigation tables to any given extent, but render the exactitude of its operations mathematically certain through its power of correcting its possible errors? What shall we think of a machine which can not only accomplish all this, but actually print off its elaborate results, when obtained, without the slightest intervention of the intellect of man? It will, perhaps, be said, in reply, that a machine such as we have described is altogether above comparison with the Chess-Player of Maelzel. By no means — it is altogether beneath it — that is to say provided we assume (what should never for a moment be assumed) that the Chess-Player is a pure machine, and performs its operations without any immediate human agency. Arithmetical or algebraical calculations are, from their very nature, fixed and determinate. Certain data being given, certain results necessarily and inevitably follow. These results have dependence upon nothing, and are influenced by nothing but the data originally given. And the question to be solved proceeds, or should proceed, to its final determination, by a succession of unerring steps liable to no change, and subject to no modification. This being the case, we can without difficulty conceive the possibility of so arranging a piece of mechanism, that upon starting it in accordance with the data of the question to be solved, it should continue its movements regularly, progressively, and undeviatingly towards the required solution, since these movements, however complex, are never imagined to be otherwise than finite and determinate. But the case is widely different with the Chess-Player. With him there is no determinate progression. No one move in chess necessarily follows upon any one other. From no particular disposition of the men at one period of a game can we predicate their disposition at a different period. Let us place the first move in a game of chess, in juxta-position with the data of an algebraical question, and their great difference will be immediately perceived. From the latter — from the data — the second step of the question, dependent thereupon, inevitably follows. It is modelled by the data. It must be thus and not otherwise. But from the first move in the game of chess no especial second move follows of necessity. In the algebraical question, as it proceeds towards solution, the certainty of its operations remains altogether unimpaired. The second step having been a consequence of the data, the [column 2:] third step is equally a consequence of the second, the fourth of the third, the fifth of the fourth, and so on, and not possibly otherwise, to the end. But in proportion to the progress made in a game of chess, is the uncertainty of each ensuing move. A few moves having been made, no step is certain. Different spectators of the game would advise different moves. All is then dependent upon the variable judgment of the players. Now even granting (what should not be granted) that the movements of the Automaton Chess-Player were in themselves determinate, they would be necessarily interrupted and disarranged by the indeterminate will of his antagonist. There is then no analogy whatever between the operations of the Chess-Player, and those of the calculating machine of Mr. Babbage, and if we choose to call the former a pure machine we must be prepared to admit that it is, beyond all comparison, the most wonderful of the inventions of mankind. Its original projector, however, Baron Kempelen, had no scruple in declaring it to be a "very ordinary piece of mechanism — a bagatelle whose effects appeared so marvellous only from the boldness of the conception, and the fortunate choice of the methods adopted for promoting the illusion." But it is needless to dwell upon this point. It is quite certain that the operations of the Automaton are regulated by mind, and by nothing else. Indeed this matter is susceptible of a mathematical demonstration, a priori. The only question then is of the manner in which human agency is brought to bear. Before entering upon this subject it would be as well to give a brief history and description of the Chess-Player for the benefit of such of our readers as may never have had an opportunity of witnessing Mr. Maelzel's exhibition."

Even though the machine intelligence exhibited by the Turk was an illusion, von Kempelen's automaton was much later viewed as an analog to efforts in computer chess and artificial intelligence.

(This entry was last revised on 12-27-2014.)

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The Earliest Large-Scale Data-Processing Organization 1770

In 1770 the first banker’s clearing house, the earliest large-scale data-processing organization, was founded in London.

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de Prony Produces Mathematical Tables Calculated by Hairdressers Unemployed after the French Revolution 1793 – 1801

French mathematician and engineer Gaspard Clair François Marie Riche de Prony, Engineer-in-Chief of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, undertook, beginning in 1793, the production of logarithmic and trigonometric tables for the French Cadastre. He was asked to produce the tables by the French National Assembly, which, after the French Revolution, wanted to bring uniformity to the multiple measurements and standards used throughout the nation. The tables and their production were vast, with values calculated to between fourteen and twenty-nine decimal places.

Inspired by Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, de Prony produced the tables through the systematic division of labor, bragging that he could manufacture logarithms as easily as one could manufacture pins. At the top of the organizational hierarchy were scientists and mathematicians who devised the formulas. Next were workers who created the instructions for doing the calculations. At the bottom were about ninety human computers who were not trained in mathematics, but who followed instructions very carefully. De Prony found that hairdressers unemployed after the French Revolution, who were meticulous by nature, made excellent human computers. In spite of the division of labor it took eight years for the tables to be completed, and because of the inflation during the French Revolution the tables were never published in full. Portions were published for the first time in 1891.    

Though the tables remained unpublished the manuscripts could be examined and consulted. De Prony's method of production of the tables inspired Charles Babbage in the design of his Difference Engine No. 1 in 1822.

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1800 – 1850

Joseph-Marie Jacquard's Loom Uses Punched Cards to Store Patterns 1801 – 1821

Few details are known for sure about the early career of Joseph-Marie Jacquard of Lyon. He was born into a family of weavers, and some say that he was originally apprenticed as a bookbinder; others say that he was originally a manufactuer of straw hats. In 1801 he received a patent for the automatic loom which he exhibited at the industrial exhibition in Paris in the same year. Jacquard's first patent, No. 245 in the French system of brevets, dated 23 December 1801, was entitlted Brevet d'invention de dix ans, Pour une machine destinée à suppléer le tireur de lacs, dans la fabrication des étoffes brochées et façonnées. This patent was first published in print on pp. 62-72 of  Description des machines et procédés spécifiés dans les brevets d'invention de prefectionnement et d'importation, Dont la durée est expirée; Publiée d'après les ordres de Son Excellence le Ministre de l'Intérieur, Par M. Christian, Directeur du Conservatoire royal des Arts et Métiers, Tome Quatrième (1820). It was accompanied by 2 folding plates. Accounts state that before patenting the loom Jacquard was summoned to Paris and attached to the Conservatoire nationale des arts et métiers. There he saw a loom by Jacques Vaucanson which suggested various improvements to his own, enabling Jacquard to perfect his invention before patenting it. None of the accounts I have read as of May 2016 appear to have actually read Jacquard's patent, making me wonder how accurate this account may be.

Jacquard's loom used series of punched cards to store patterns, reducing strenuous manual labor, and enabling repetitve production of complex designs. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles, edited by David Jenkins I (2003) p. 793 indicates that Jacquard did not finish his loom until 1805, and it was "only operational after 1810 in France." This would correspond to Jacquard's second patent, No. 658, granted on December 13, 1805 entitled "Brevet d'Invention de quinze ans, Pour un metier à faire du filet." This patent was first published in print on pp. 238-243 of Description des machines et procédés dans les brevets d'invention, de prefectionnement et dimportation dont la durée est expirée Tome VIII (1824). It was accompanied by 1 folding plate. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles also states that after 1810 the loom required further modification and improvements "so that by 1818 there was a device incorporated in the loom to control individual warp yarns which allowed intricately woven patterns to be woven automatically and accurately." This might correspond to the patent No. 640 granted to M. Breton, mécanicien à Lyon, granted on February 28, 1815 entitled "Brevet de perfectionnement de cinq ans, Pour un perfectionnement fait au mécanisme dit à la Jacquard, destiné à remplacer le tireur de lacs, dans la fabrication des étoffes façonnes." Breton's patent was first published in print on pp. 134-39 of Tome VIII of the same volume in which Jacquard's second patent (1805) appeared.

Nevertheless other accounts that I read state that in 1806 Jacquard's loom was declared public property, and Jacquard received a pension for his invention as compensation instead of royalties on his patent. Accounts also state that Jacquard was forced to flee from Lyon because of the anger of the weavers, who feared they would lose their jobs to the new technology. Jacquard persevered, and some unverified and probably exaggerated accounts say that by the time of his death in 1834 there were as many thirty thousand Jacquard looms installed in Lyon alone. Whatever the actual number, it is likely that the expanded new technology eventually employed more people than had been previously employed by the old technology.

Finding the specific references to Jacquard's original patents eluded me for several years. The first place where I ever found them specified was in D. de Prat's Traité de tissage au Jacquard (1921) 383. This valuable technical work, "Précédé d'une Notice historique sur l'Invention du Jacquard," seems to be common in trade, as it was easy to acquire a copy In May 2016. At that time I was unable to find a digital version on the web.

In 2016 I also acquired a copy of the English patent on the Jacquard loom granted in 1821 to Stephen Wilson, a silk merchant from Hoxton in Middlesex, England. The specification No. 4543 was granted for "Certain Improvements in Machinery for Weaving Figured Goods." As one might expect, nowhere in the patent is any mention of Jacquard. The 1821 patent describes the loom and its operation in considerable detail, and the large folding chart in the patent, which contains 16 detailed images, coincided remarkably with the 1820 publication in print of Jacquard's original patent. Like other British patents, this one was first printed in 1857.

Wilson had seen an example of the loom while a prisoner of war in France from 1803-1807. He gained his freedom after his wife Sarah petitioned Napoleon for his release. After returning to England, from 1810 to 1820 Wilson seems to have been engaged in finding a Jacquard loom that could be shipped back to England. This would have been difficult as few of the looms were being built in this early period and all would have been regarded as very valuable strategic business property.

"Stephen's attempts to introduce the Jacquard loom into his company are seen in a letter sent to him, in August 1820, from Paris, by a Thomas Smith. The letter has all the appearance of being from an industrial spy. Smith described his visit to one of the largest manufactories in the environs of Paris and his examination of 'the machine'. He described the technology of 'the machine' and concluded by saying, 'I have also obtained a Hook as you desired - and also a small bit of the Paste-board [composition of the cards] to show its texture' " (http://www.heartstreatham.co.uk/streathams-french-connection-at-the-streatham-silk-mill, accessed 02-28-2016).

Wilson built a large silk mill opposite his house in Streatham for production of silk woven by Jacquard looms. He also smuggled a French weaver into England to teach his employees how to use the looms. According to The Cambridge History of Western Textiles (p. 793) the earliest surviving Jacquard-woven patterns in England date from 1825, though there is a design for a handkerchief of 1823, "but the collapse of the silk industry in 1826 made the introduction abortive."

The Jacquard loom did no computation, and for that reason it was not a digital device in the way we think of digital today. However the method by which Jacquard stored information in punched cards by either punching a hole in one of the more than 1000 standardized spaces in a card, or not punching a hole in that space, is analogous to a zero or one or an on-and-off switch. It was also an important conceptual step in the history of computing because the Jacquard method of storing information in punched cards was used by Charles Babbage in his plans for data and program input, and data output and storage in his general purpose programmable computer, the Analytical Engine. Trains of Jacquard cards, on which elaborate weaving patterns were stored, were programs in the modern sense of computer programs, though the word "program" did not have that meaning until after the development of electronic computers after World War II.

Precursors of Jacquard

In 1725 Basile Bouchon of Lyon, the son of an organ maker, adapted the concept of musical automata controlled by pegged cylinders to the repetitive task of weaving. He invented a loom that was controlled by perforated paper tape.

In order to make the input of instructions to the loom more flexible in 1728 Jean-Baptiste Falcon substituted a chain of punched paper cards for the perforated paper tape employed by his colleague Basile Bouchon. Other inventors also contributed to the automation of weaving: Regnier and Vaucanson; however, none of the attempts before Jacquard were totally successful.

(This entry was last updated on 05-12-2016.)

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The Thomas Arithmometer, the First Commercially Produced Mechanical Calculator 1820

Charles Xavier Thomas' Arithometer.

Charles Xavier Thomas

In 1820 Charles Xavier Thomas of Alsace, an entrepreneur in the insurance industry, invented the arithmometer, the first commercially produced adding machine, presumably to speed up and make more accurate, the enormous amount of daily computation insurance companies required. Remarkably, according to the Wikipedia, Thomas received almost immediate acknowledgement for this invention, as he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor only one year later, in 1821.  At this time he changed his name to Charles Xavier Thomas, de Colmar, later abbreviated to Thomas de Colmar.

"Initially Thomas spent all of his time and energy on his insurance business, therefore there is a hiatus of more than thirty years in between the first model of the Arithmometer introduced in 1820 and its true commercialization in 1852. By the time of his death in 1870, his manufacturing facility had built around 1,000 Arithmometers, making it the first mass produced mechanical calculator in the world, and at the time, the only mechanical calculator reliable and dependable enough to be used in places like government agencies, banks, insurance companies and observatories just to name a few. The manufacturing of the Arithmometer went on for another 40 years until around 1914" (Wikipedia article on Charles Xavier Thomas, accessed 10-10-2011).

The success of the Arithmometer, which to a certain extent paralleled Thomas's success in the insurance industry, was, of course, in complete contrast to the problems that Charles Babbage faced with producing and gaining any acceptance for his vastly more sophisticated, complex, ambitious and expensive calculating engines during roughly the same time frame. Thomas, of course, produced an affordable product that succeeded in speeding up basic arithmetical operations essential to the insurance industry while Babbage's scientific and engineering goals initially of making mathematical tables more accurate, and later, of automating mathematical operations in general, did not attempt to meet a recognized industrial demand. 

"The [Arithmometer] mechanism has three parts, concerned with setting, counting, and recording respectively. Any number up to 999,999 may be set by moving the pointers to the numbers 0 to 9 engraved next to the six slots on the fixed cover plate. The movement of any of these pointers slides a small pinion with ten teeth along a square axle, underneath and to the left of which is a Leibniz stepped wheel.  

"The Leibniz wheel, a cylinder having nine teeth of increasing length, is driven from the main shaft by means of a bevel wheel, and the small pinion is thus rotated by as many teeth as the cylinder bears in the plane corresponding to the digit set. This amount of rotation is transferred through one of a pair of bevel wheels, carried on a sleeve on the same axis, to the ‘results’ figure wheel on the back row on the hinged plate. This plate also carried the figure wheel recording the number of turns of the driving crank for each position of the hinged plate. The pair of bevel wheels is placed in proper gear by setting a lever at the top left-hand cover to either "Addition and Multiplication" or "Subtraction and Division." The ‘results’ figure wheel is thereby rotated anti-clockwise or clockwise respectively.  

"Use. Multiplying 2432 by 598 may be performed as follows: Lift the hinged plate, turn and release the two milled knobs to bring all the figure wheels to show zero; lower the hinged plate in its position to the extreme left; set the number 2432 on the four slots on the fixed plate; set the lever on the left to "multiplication" and turn the handle eight times; lift the hinged plate, slide it one step to the right, and lower it into position; turn the handle nine times; step the plate one point to the right again and the turn the handle five times. The product 1,454,336 will then appear on the top row, and the multiplier 598 on the next row of figures" (From Gordon Bell's website, accessed 10-12-2011).

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Babbage Begins Construction of his Difference Engine No. 1 1822

About 1820 mathematician Charles Babbage started building a model of his first Difference Engine, a special-purpose machine that linked adding and subtracting mechanisms to one another to calculate the values of more complex mathematical functions. Frustrated by “the intolerable labour and fatiguing monotony of a continued repetition of similar arithmetical calculations”, came up with the plan of designing a machine capable of performing various mathematical functions. The immediate purpose of the machine was to improve the accuracy of printed mathematical tables—especially the Nautical Almanac— which were the most widely used calculating devices of the time.

By 1822 Babbage had constructed a model of his Difference Engine No. 1, a special-purpose calculating machine far more complex than any that had previously been conceived, designed to compute mathematical tables by the method of finite differences and to print the results. In the design of his machine Babbage was influenced by the division of labor employed in the celebrated manuscript tables of de Prony, which Babbage had seen in 1819. The division of labor, both physical and mental, became central themes of Babbage’s economic thought later developed in his Economy of Machinery and Manufactures.

Babbage was convinced of the “great utility” of his machine, but knew that constructing a larger version would entail “very considerable expense,” and would also leave him no time to pursue his studies in pure mathematics. On July 3, 1822, as a means of testing the waters, Babbage wrote an open letter to Sir Humphry Davy, president of the Royal Society, in which he presented a detailed description of his Difference Engine. He had his letter published as a pamphlet, and sent it to people he deemed influential:

A Letter to Sir Humphry Davy, Bart. . . . on the Application of Machinery to the Purpose of Calculating and Printing Mathematical Tables (London, 1822).

This was Babbage's first public statement of his plans for his calculating engine, and his first publication on his project for developing calculating engines, on which he would devote most of his creative energy for the remainder of his life. A copy of the pamphlet reached the Lords of the Treasury, who referred it back to the Royal Society on April 1, 1823, with a letter requesting the Society’s opinion of Babbage’s machine. One month later, on May 1, the Royal Society responded to the Treasury as follows:

"That it appears to the Committee, that Mr. Babbage has displayed great talents and ingenuity in the construction of his machine for computation, which the Committee think fully adequate to the attainment of the objects proposed by the Inventor, and that they consider Mr. Babbage as highly deserving of public encouragement in the prosecution of his arduous undertaking" (Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Sessional Papers [1823], p. 6).

This favorable report gained Babbage his first national funding of £1000 toward his construction of the Difference Engine. The project tested the limits of precision obtainable by machine tool makers at the time; it also ended up being far more costly than expected, claiming £17,000 of the government’s money over the next decade before foundering in 1833, largely due to contractual disputes between Babbage and Joseph Clement, the engineer hired to construct Babbage’s machine. By this time Babbage had begun to turn his attention to the Analytical Engine, a far more complex and powerful calculating machine whose design would occupy Babbage for most of the rest of his scientific career.

Remarkably the printing feature of Babbage's Difference Engine No. 1 became known to printers through Thomas Hansard's Typographia, an Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing (1825). In January 2015 when I was reading what Hansard had to say about the highly advanced inventions typesetting and printing inventions of William Church, about which Hansard was incredulous, I came across these remarks of Hansard on p. 689-90:

"But surely this [Church's inventions], wonderful as it may seem, is far exceeded by the proposed application of machinery to the work of the head as well as of the hands?—See what follows!


"Charles Babbage, Esq. F.R.S., London and Edinburgh &c. in a letter addressed to sir Humphry Davy, president of the Royal Society of London, has announced to the world, that he has invented various machines, by which some of the most complicated processes of arithmetical calculation may be performed with certainty and dipatch; and in order to avoid the errors which might be produced in copying and printing the numbers in the common way, the ingenious inventor states, that he has contrived means by which the machines shall take, from several boxes containing type, the numbers which they calculate, and place them side by side; thus becoming at once a substitute for the computer [i.e. a human computer] and the compositor.

 "The scheme of Mr. Babbage is, however, much more within the scope of probability than that of Dr. Church. He does not go to the casting-type process— his authorship and composing go no further than the ten figures— and his object is, to effect accuracy where it is of great consequence, so that i may, perhaps be of general benefit."

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) No. 29. 

(This entry was last revised on 01-20-2015.)

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Babbage's "On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures" Begins Operations Research 1832 – 1835

In 1832 Charles Babbage published On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, the first work on operations research, partially based on data he had accumulated during the previous ten years in order to build his Difference Engine No. 1. Primary themes of the book were the division of labor and the division of mental labor, to which Babbage devoted chapters 19 and 20. The first part of his chapter on the division of mental labor was an analysis of the methods used by de Prony in the production of his celebrated mathematical tables, and the third and fourth editions included in section 249 a small table calculated by the completed portion of the Difference Engine No. 1.  

Babbage had seen de Prony’s manuscript tables in 1819, and around 1820 began planning the Difference Engine No. 1 based on the principles of the division of labor. With this goal, Babbage visited factories throughout England, inspecting every machine and every industrial process. Rather than a study limited to engineering and manufacturing techniques, his book turned out to be an analysis of manufacturing processes within their economic context. Written when manufacturing was undergoing rapid development and radical change, the book represents an original contribution to British economics.

"Adam Smith had never really abandoned the belief, reasonable enough in his day, that agriculture was the principal source of Britain’s wealth; Ricardo’s ideas were focused on corn; Babbage for the first time authoritatively placed the factory in the centre of the stage. The book is at once a hymn to the machine, and analysis of the development of machine-based production in the factory, and a discussion of social relations in industry. . . .

"The Economy of Manufactures established Babbage’s position as a political economist and its influence is well attested, particularly on John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx. Babbage’s pioneering discussion of the effect of technical development on the size of industrial organizations was followed by Mill and the prediction of the continuing increase in the size of factories, often cited as one of Marx’s successful economic predictions, in fact derives from Babbage’s analysis. . . . Babbage wrote with many talents: a natural philosopher and mechanical engineer, his knowledge of factory and workshop practice was encyclopaedic; he was well-versed in relevant business practice; and he was without rival as a mathematician among contemporary British political economists" (Hyman, Charles Babbage, Pioneer of the Computer (1982) 103–4).

On the Economy of Machines and Manufactures was also the first book on operations research, discussing topics like the regulation of power, control of raw materials, division of labor, time studies, the advantage of size in manufacturing, inventory control, and duration and replacement of machinery. Besides regular pagination and chapters Babbage divided his book into numbered sections, which reached No. 467 by the third and fourth edition (1835), though the Table of Contents extended only to section No. 463. The book was indexed to the section numbers rather than to pages. 

In Chapter XI, "Of Copying", Babbage analyzed a surprisingly wide range of methods of duplication, including many different kinds of printing of different products, only a few categories of which were printing on paper. In section 159 he broke down the process of preparing the stereotype plates on which his book was printed into six different stages, and in Chapter XXI, "On the Cost of Each Separate Process in a Manufacture", section 256 he presented an exceptionally detailed accounting of all the costs in the production of the 3000 copies of the first edition of his book, which presumably he paid, followed by analyses of these costs in sections 257-262, the costs not including the extra charges for the small number of large paper copies (222 x 142mm) which Babbage ordered for presentation to his friends. Among the details mentioned in section 256 was that the book was printed on large sheets with 16 pages up, resulting in gatherings of 32 pages. As the book was printed from stereotype plates we may thus assume that the book was also printed by machine rather than by handpress, especially as its publisher Charles Knight was an early exponent of machine printing and its cost efficiencies. Though Babbage does not discuss the gold-stamped cloth bindings in which most of edition appeared, these were very early gold-stamped cloth edition bindings.

The work was Babbage’s most complete and professional piece of writing, and the only one of his books that went through four editions during his lifetime. The work was  translated into French and German, and appeared in an American edition also in 1832. Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) No. 42.

(This entry was last revised on 03-01-2015.)

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Coriolis Solves Differential Equations Using a Mechanical Device 1836

In Note sur un moyen de tracer des courbes données par des équations différentielles published in 1836 French mathematician, mechanical engineer and scientist Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis described a mechanical device to integrate differential equations of the first order. This was the beginning of researches on solution of differential equations using mechanical devices.

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Luigi Menabrea Publishes the First Computer Programs, Designed for Babbage's Analytical Engine. Ada Lovelace Translates them Into English 1840 – 1843

In 1842 Italian mathematician and politician Luigi Federico Menabrea published "Notions sur la machine analytique de M. Charles Babbage" in Bibliothèque universelle de Genève, nouvelle série 41 (1842) 352–76. This was the first published account of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine and the first account of its logical design, including the first examples of computer programs ever published. As is well known, Babbage’s conception and design of his Analytical Engine—the first general purpose programmable digital computer—were so far ahead of the imagination of his mathematical and scientific colleagues that few expressed much curiosity regarding it. Babbage first conceived the Analytical Engine in 1834. This general-purpose mechanical machine— never completely constructed—embodied in its design most of the features of the general-purpose programmable digital computer. In its conception and design Babbage incorporated ideas and names from the textile industry, including data and program input, output, and storage on punched cards similar to those used in Jacquard looms, a central processing unit called the "mill," and memory called the "store."The only presentation that Babbage made concerning the design and operation of the Analytical Engine was to a group of Italian scientists.

In 1840 Babbage traveled to Torino (Turin) Italy to make a presentation on the Analytical Engine. Babbage’s talk, complete with charts, drawings, models, and mechanical notations, emphasized the Engine’s signal feature: its ability to guide its own operations—what we call conditional branching. In attendance at Babbage’s lecture was the young Italian mathematician Luigi Federico Menabrea (later prime minister of Italy), who prepared from his notes an account of the principles of the Analytical Engine. Reflecting a lack of urgency regarding radical innovation unimaginable to us today, Menabrea did not get around to publishing his paper until two years after Babbage made his presentation, and when he did so he published it in French in a Swiss journal. Shortly after Menabrea’s paper appeared Babbage was refused government funding for construction of the machine.

"In keeping with the more general nature and immaterial status of the Analytical Engine, Menabrea’s account dealt little with mechanical details. Instead he described the functional organization and mathematical operation of this more flexible and powerful invention. To illustrate its capabilities, he presented several charts or tables of the steps through which the machine would be directed to go in performing calculations and finding numerical solutions to algebraic equations. These steps were the instructions the engine’s operator would punch in coded form on cards to be fed into the machine; hence, the charts constituted the first computer programs [emphasis ours]. Menabrea’s charts were taken from those Babbage brought to Torino to illustrate his talks there"(Stein, Ada: A Life and Legacy, 92).

Menabrea’s 23-page paper was translated into English the following year by Lord Byron’s daughter, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, who, in collaboration with Babbage, added a series of lengthy notes enlarging on the intended design and operation of Babbage’s machine. Menabrea’s paper and Ada Lovelace’s translation represent the only detailed publications on the Analytical Engine before Babbage’s account in his autobiography (1864). Menabrea himself wrote only two other very brief articles about the Analytical Engine in 1855, primarily concerning his gratification that Countess Lovelace had translated his paper.

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) No. 60.

"Without being Worked out by Human Head & Hands. . . ."

While she was working on her translation, on July 10, 1843 Ada Lovelace composed a letter to Babbage concerning her notes to Menabrea's paper on programming Babbage's Analytical Engine. This autograph letter, preserved in the British Library (Add. MS 37192 folios 362v-363), includes the following text:

"I want to put in something about Bernouilli's Numbers, in one of my Notes, as an example of how an implicit function may be worked out by the engine, without  having been worked out by human head & hands first. Give me the necessary data and formulae."

The letter is notable for suggesting that Ada's knowledge of mathematics was limited, and that she may have mainly contributed poetic language to her annotations of the English translation of Menabrea's key paper, while incorporating mathematical examples written by Babbage. Because of Ada's fame as Byron's daughter, and her social position as the Countess of Lovelace, Babbage hoped that Ada's translation and annotation of Menabrea's paper would help promote building the Analytical Engine.

In October 1843, Ada Lovelace's "Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage . . . with Notes by the Translator" was published in Scientific Memoirs, Selected from the Transactions of Foreign Academies of Science and Learned Societies 3 (1843): 666-731 plus 1 folding chart. At Babbage’s suggestion, Lady Lovelace added seven explanatory notes to her translation, which run about three times the length of the original. Her annotated translation has been called “” (Bromley, “Introduction” in Babbage, Henry Prevost, , xv). As Babbage never published a detailed description of the Analytical Engine, Ada’s translation of Menabrea’s paper, with its lengthy explanatory notes, represents the most complete contemporary account in English of this much-misunderstood machine.

At Babbage’s suggestion, Lady Lovelace added seven explanatory notes to her translation, which run about three times the length of the original. Her annotated translation has been called “the most important paper in the history of digital computing before modern times” (Bromley, “Introduction” in Babbage, Henry Prevost, Babbage’s Calculating Engines, xv). As Babbage never published a detailed description of the Analytical Engine, Ada’s translation of Menabrea’s paper, with its lengthy explanatory notes, represents the most complete contemporary account in English of this much-misunderstood machine.

"Babbage supplied Ada with algorithms for the solution of various problems, which she illustrated in her notes in the form of charts detailing the stepwise sequence of events as the machine progressed through a string of instructions input from punched cards" (Swade, The Cogwheel Brain, 165). 

These were the first published examples of  computer “programs,” though neither Ada nor Babbage used this term. She also expanded upon Babbage’s general views of the Analytical Engine as a symbol-manipulating device rather than a mere processor of numbers, suggesting that it might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations. . . . Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent (p. 694) . . . Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies, imagine that because the business of the engine is to give its results innumerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraical notation, were provisions made accordingly (p. 713).

Much has been written concerning what mathematical abilities Ada may have possessed. Study of the published correspondence between her and Babbage is not especially flattering either to her personality or mathematical talents: it shows that while Ada was personally enamored of her own mathematical prowess, she was in reality no more than a talented novice who at times required Babbage’s coaching. Their genuine friendship aside, Babbage’s motives for encouraging Ada’s involvement in his work are not hard to discern. As Lord Byron’s only legitimate daughter, Ada was an extraordinary celebrity, and as the wife of a prominent aristocrat she was in a position to act as patron to Babbage and his engines, though she never did so.

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The Contributions of the Scheutz Brothers to the Early History of Difference Engines and the Calculating and Printing of Mathematical Tables 1843 – 1857

In 1843 Swedish authors and inventors Georg and Evard Scheutz, inspired by Dionysius Lardner’s account of Babbage’s Difference Engine, working in Stockholm, constructed the first working difference engine based on Babbage's design. One of the reasons the Scheutzs were able to build the engine, while Babbage could not, was that they were willing to machine the parts to lower tolerances than Babbage demanded, with the result that the Scheutz machine was prone to errors.

In 1849 Georg Scheutz published in Stockholm Nytt och enkelt sätt att lösa nummereqvationer af hogre och lägre grader efter Agardhska teorien: För praktiska behov [A new and simple method of solving numerical equations of higher and lower degree with the help of Agardh’s theory: For practical purposes]. and Bihang till skriften: Nytt och enkelt sätt att lösa nummereqvationer af hogre och lägre grader efter Agardhska teorien. Innehällande seriemetodens tillämpning vid bestämmandet af imaginära, lika, och nära hvarandra belägna rötter i en eqvation. Af C[arl] A[dolph] Agardh [1785-1859] . . . Utgifvet af Georg Scheutz [Appendix to the treatise: A new and simple method of solving numerical equations, using Agardh’s theory, containing the serial method used in determining imaginary, exact, and approximate roots of an equation. By C. A. Agardh, . . . edited by G. S.].

The Scheutz machine, of which three examples were built, was based upon Charles Babbage’s design for his famous Difference Engine No. 1, which Babbage worked on intermittently between 1822 and 1834 before abandoning the project uncompleted (only a small working portion, about one-ninth the size of the projected Difference Engine, was ever constructed; the uncompleted machine ended up costing the British Government over £17,000).

Georg Scheutz—described by Lindgren as an “auditor, printer, journalist and editor, political commentator, spokesman for technology, translator and inventor”—first learned of Babbage’s Difference Engine circa 1830. Although his imagination was immediately fired by the possibilities of such a machine, he was unable to begin designing his own version until 1834, when Dionysius Lardner published his detailed review of Babbage’s Difference Engine in the July issue of the Edinburgh Review. Drawing on the information in Lardner’s article, Scheutz and his teenage son Edvard began working on their own design for a difference engine, which was both simpler and cheaper to produce than Babbage’s machine.

The Scheutz difference engine no. 1, a prototype model built by Edvard, was completed in 1843 and certified by members of the Swedish Academy of Sciences. Despite this mark of favor, the Scheutzes were initially unable to stir up any interest or official support for their machine, either at home or abroad. They did no further work on the Scheutz machine until 1850, when, in response to renewed interest in machines for printing tables, they began working on the Scheutz difference engine no. 2.

However, the Scheutz machine no. 1 did not lie entirely fallow during the seven years between 1843 and 1850, for in 1849, Georg Scheutz used it to produce and print a table of a polynomial of the third degree, which he published in Nytt och enkelt sätt att lösa nummereqvationer af hogre och lägre grader efter Agardhska teorien. This little one-column table, found on p. 74 of Scheutz’s pamphlet, is the earliest known automatically produced numerical table.

"In [Scheutz’s Nytt och enkelt sätt att lösa nummereqvationer af hogre och lägre grader efter Agardhska teorien] he gave an exposition of the method of solving equations by the method of differences, which the professor of botany, mathematician and latterly bishop Carl Adolph Agardh had presented in 1809. In an addendum he remarks that while the method is excellent, it is time consuming when used on equations of high degree. He then adds that this disadvantage could be removed if one 'could assign the laborious and time consuming figure work to some assistant, that never tired, never made an error and dealt with the numerical calculations for the higher degrees as swiftly and certainly as those for the first degree.” Georg Scheutz notes that such an assistant does in fact exist and he gives an example of a stereotyped table calculated and printed by the first engine. . . . The table shows that Scheutz still was fascinated by the machine’s capability to solve equations. But more importantly, this table is the only existing illustration [emphasis ours] of what the Scheutz prototype engine could do. It is also the oldest automatically made numerical table in the world, which has been preserved " (Lindgren, Glory and Failure: The Difference Engines of Johann Müller, Charles Babbage and Georg and Edvard Scheutz [1987] 138-39).

Lindgren was the first to note the existence of this numerical table generated by the Scheutz difference engine no. 1. Prior to this, the first examples of tables produced by a Scheutz engine were thought to have been contained in the Scheutz’s Specimens of Tables, Calculated, Stereomoulded and Printed by Machinery (London, 1857), which the Scheutzes produced, probably with Charles Babbage's cooperation, in both English and French editions as a means of showcasing the improved Scheutz difference engine no. 2, which was produced by the brothers in 1853.

The standard histories of computing, including Aspray’s Computing before Computers (1990), contain no reference to the table printed by the Scheutz difference engine no. 1. 

Merzbach, Georg Scheutz and the First Printing Calculator (1977). 


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The First Published Computer Programs, Translated and Augmented by Lord Byron's Daughter October 1843

In October 1843, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, translated Menabrea’s paper, "Notions sur la machine analytique de M. Charles Babbage" (1842).  Her "Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage . . . with Notes by the Translator" published in Scientific Memoirs, Selected from the Transactions of Foreign Academies of Science and Learned Societies 3 (1843): 666-731 plus 1 folding chart, was the first edition in English of the the first published account of Babbage’s Analytical Engine, and, more significantly, of its logical design.

In 1840 Babbage traveled to Torino to present to a group of Italian scientists an account of the Engine. Babbage’s talk, complete with drawings, models and mechanical notations, emphasized the Engine’s signal feature: its ability to guide its own operations. It also included the first computer programs though Babbage did not use that word. In attendance at Babbage’s lecture was the young Italian mathematician Luigi Federico Menabrea (later Prime Minister of Italy), who prepared from his notes an account of the principles of the Analytical Engine, which he published in French in 1842.

In keeping with the more general nature and immaterial status of the Analytical Engine, Menabrea’s account dealt little with mechanical details. Instead he described the functional organization and mathematical operation of this more flexible and powerful invention. To illustrate its capabilities, he presented several charts or tables of the steps through which the machine would be directed to go in performing calculations and finding numerical solutions to algebraic equations. These steps were the instructions the engine’s operator would punch in coded form on cards to be fed into the machine; hence, the charts constituted the first computer programs. Menabrea’s charts were taken from those Babbage brought to Torino to illustrate his talks there (Stein, Ada: A Life and Legacy, 92).

Menabrea’s paper was translated into English by Babbage’s close friend Ada, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of the poet Byron and a talented mathematician in her own right. At Babbage’s suggestion, Lady Lovelace added seven explanatory notes to her translation, which run about three times the length of the original. Her annotated translation has been called “the most important paper in the history of digital computing before modern times” (Bromley, “Introduction” in Babbage, Henry Prevost, Babbage’s Calculating Engines, xv). As Babbage never published a detailed description of the Analytical Engine, Ada’s translation of Menabrea’s paper, with its lengthy explanatory notes, represents the most complete contemporary account in English of this much-misunderstood machine.

Babbage supplied Ada with algorithms for the solution of various problems, which she illustrated in her notes in the form of charts detailing the stepwise sequence of events as the machine progressed through a string of instructions input from punched cards (Swade, The Cogwheel Brain, 165). This was the first published example of a computer “program,” though neither Ada nor Babbage used this term. She also expanded upon Babbage’s general views of the Analytical Engine as a symbol-manipulating device rather than a mere processor of numbers, suggesting that it might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations. . . . Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent (p. 694) . . . Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies, imagine that because the business of the engine is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraical notation, were provisions made accordingly (p. 713).

Much has been written concerning what mathematical abilities Ada may have possessed. Study of the published correspondence between her and Babbage (see Toole 1992) is not especially flattering either to her personality or mathematical talents: it shows that while Ada was personally enamored of her own mathematical prowess, she was in reality no more than a talented novice who at times required Babbage’s coaching. Their genuine friendship aside, Babbage’s motives for encouraging Ada’s involvement in his work are not hard to discern. As Lord Byron’s only legitimate daughter, Ada was an extraordinary celebrity, and as the wife of a prominent aristocrat she was in a position to act as patron to Babbage and his engines (though she never in fact did so).

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The First Full-Length Exposition in English of an Evolutionary Theory of Biology is Published Anonymously 1844

In 1844 the anonymous author of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation provided the first full-length exposition in English of an evolutionary theory of biology; it was the most sensational book on its subject to appear prior to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. By stating the case for evolution in a manner comprehensible to the general public, if not acceptable to the scientific community, the book absorbed the worst of the general public opposition to the concept, thus helping to prepare the way for the Origin. Vestiges was one of the greatest scientific best-sellers of the Victorian age, going through at least twelve large editions in England, numerous American editions, and several foreign-language translations. Remarkably, the identity of its author, the Scottish publisher, writer, and geologist Robert Chambers, was kept secret throughout his lifetime, and only divulged after Chambers's death in 1871. Secrecy of authorship undoubtedly contributed to the sensationalism surrounding the work.

Vestiges also played a significant role in transmitting some of Charles Babbage’s pioneering ideas on programming and coding mathematical operations. Babbage, in his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (1837), had likened the Creator to a kind of master computer programmer (although this term did not exist in Babbage’s time), and the operations of the universe to a gigantic program whose myriad changes over time had been set up from the very beginning. Babbage’s ideas were alien to most of the Victorian public, since virtually no one in Babbage’s time was accustomed to thinking in terms of a programmed series of mathematical operations. However, Babbage’s ideas about natural laws resembling “programs” received a much wider audience through the Vestiges. The thirteenth chapter of Vestiges, entitled “Hypothesis of the development of the vegetable and animal kingdoms,” is devoted to the question of how the earth’s most complex organisms could have evolved from its simplest, given the observed fact that “like begets like.” On pages 206-211 of the 1844 edition, Chambers showed that evolutionary change occurring over long periods of time could be seen as similar to the workings of Babbage’s Difference Engine, programmed from the beginning of its operation to produce in sequence several different series of numbers according to a succession of mathematical rules. This is one of the very earliest references to computing within the context of biology.

"During the whole time which we call the historical era, the limits of species have been, to ordinary observation, rigidly adhered to. But the historical era is, as we know, only a small portion of the entire age of our globe. We do not know what may have happened during the ages which preceded its commencement, as we do not know what may happen in ages yet in the distant future. All, therefore, that we can properly infer from the apparently inevitable production of like by like is, that such is the ordinary procedure of nature in the time immediately passing before our eyes. Mr. Babbage’s illustration powerfully suggests that this ordinary procedure may be subordinate to a higher law which only permits it for a time, and in proper seasons interrupts and changes it" (Chambers 1844, 211).

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) no. 55.

J. Norman (ed) Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed (1991) no. 218.

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The First of the Industrial Insurance Companies that Processed Immense Amounts of Data May 30, 1848

The Prudential Mutual Assurance, Investment and Loan Association was founded in Hatton Garden, London on May 30, 1848. The Prudential was the first of the great industrial life insurance companies that handled the insurance policies of millions of people, and processed an immense amount of data, initially by hand.

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1850 – 1875

Flong as an "Immutable Form of Information Capture" Circa 1850

The use of flong for stereotype printing plates in the 19th century provided an advantage for the publication of mathematical tables since stereotype plates represented “an immutable form of information capture that offered immunity from the inherent vulnerability of movable type to derangement during printing or storage” (Doron Swade, “The ‘Unerring Certainty of Mechanical Agency’: Machines and Table Making in the Nineteenth Century,” Campbell-Kelly [ed.] The History of Mathematical Tables [2003] 148).

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Alfred Smee Speculates About a Logic Machine that Might Occupy a Space Larger than London 1851

In his book, The Process of Thought Adapted to Words and Language published in 1851 English surgeon and writer Alfred Smee suggested the possibility of information storage and retrieval by a mechanical logical machine operating analogously to the human mind. This was an attempt to produce an artificial system of reasoning based upon neurological principles, which were then primarily a matter of speculation. The problem was that Smee's hypothetical “electro-biological” machine, built out of mechanical parts, which he conceived in generality, but had no way of engineering, or building even in part, might have occupied a space larger than London.

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William Farr Publishes the First Instances of a Printing Calculator Used to Do Original Work 1857 – 1864

In 1859 English statistician and epidemiologist William Farr published "On the Construction of  Life-Tables, Illustrated by a New Life-Table of the Healthy Districts of England," Philosophical Transactions 149, pt. 2 (1859) 837-78. This was the first report describing the use of the Scheutz Engine no. 3 to prepare life tables, and it included a table calculated and typeset by the calculator. Farr, a pioneer in the quantitative study of morbidity and mortality, was chief statistician of the General Register Office, England's central statistical office. Influenced by Charles Babbage, he had long been interested in the use of a calculating machine such as Babbage's Difference Engine No. 1 to compute life tables. On page 854 of his paper Farr referred to his 1843 letter on this subject to the registrar-general. Farr had seen and tested the machine's predecessor, the Scheutz Engine no. 2, when it was on display in London. It was at Farr's recommendation that the British government authorized in 1857 the sum of £1200 for the Scheutz Engine no. 3 to be constructed by the firm of Bryan Donkin, a manufacturer of machinery, including those for the color printing of bank notes and stamps. Costs overran and Donkin delivered the machine in July 1859, several weeks past the deadline, at a loss of £615 (Lindgren 1987, 224-25). Farr's preliminary report, received by the Royal Society on March 17 of 1859, was written while the Scheutz Engine no. 3 was still "in the course of construction by the Messrs. Donkin" (p. 854). The report's table B1, "Life-Table of Healthy English Districts," made from stereotype plates produced by the calculator, represents the very first application of a difference engine to medical statistics.

Prior to their production of their Difference Engine No. 3, in 1857 the Scheutz brothers had brought the Scheutz Engine no. 2 from Sweden to London, where it was used to produce Specimens of Tables, Calculated, Stereomoulded, and Printed by Machinery. (London, 1857. These were the first mathematical tables calculated and typeset by a mechanical calculator. 

The Scheutz Difference Engine No. 2 was purchased in 1857 by the Dudley Observatory in Albany, New York. The following year the observatory used the machine in the computation of tables for the planet Mars; however, these were experimental and probably never printed on paper (Lindgren 1978, 211). The Scheutzes, Farr, and the Dudley Observatory were the first to use the Scheutz calculator in a scientific context.

In 1864 Farr published English Life Table. Tables of Lifetimes, annuities, and premiums. . . . Published by authority of the Registrar-General of births, deaths and marriages in England. The colophon leaf of this book indicated that 500 copies were printed. Farr's English Life Table contained, what was for its time, a tremendous amount of data— 6.5 million deaths sorted by age. Included in English Life Table no. 3 were the first lengthy working tables produced by the Scheutz printing calculator— the first instance of such a machine being used extensively to do original work. However, none of the hoped-for benefits of mechanizing the calculation of the tables were realized, since the Scheutz machine failed to include any of Babbage's security mechanisms to guard against mechanical error, and it required constant maintenance.

The machine did accomplish some of the typesetting which it stamped into stereotype plates; however, the process was so problematic that there was little cost savings from automation. Of the 600 pages of printed tables in the book, only 28 pages were composed entirely by the machine; a further 216 pages were partially composed by the machine, and the rest were typeset by hand. Nor was there the hoped-for savings from using the machine to prepare stereotype plates. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, printer of the volume, stated that having the machine set the entire book automatically would have saved only 10 percent over the cost of conventional typesetting (Swade, The Cogwheel Brain [2000] 203-8).

Pages cxxxix-cxliv contained Farr's appendix entitled "Scheutz's calculating machine and its use in the construction of the English life table no. 3," in which he emphasized the usefulness of the new machine, but also the delicacy and skill necessary for its operation:

The Machine required incessant attention. The differences had to be inserted at the proper terms of the various series, checking was required, and when the mechanism got out of order it had to be set right. Of the first watch nothing is known, but the first steam-engine was indisputably imperfect; and here we had to do with the second Calculating Machine as it came from the designs of its constructors and from the workshop of the engineer. The idea had been as beautifully embodied in metal by Mr. Bryan Donkin as it had been conceived by the genius of its inventors; but it was untried. So its work had to be watched with anxiety, and its arithmetical music had to be elicited by frequent tuning and skilful handling, in the quiet most congenial to such productions.

This volume is the result; and thus—if I may use the expression—the soul of the Machine is exhibited in a series of Tables which are submitted to the criticism of the consummate judges of this kind of work in England and in the world (p. cxl)

Farr also noted Babbage's contribution to the venture—it was Babbage who "explained the principles [of the Scheutz calculator] and first demonstrated the practicability of performing certain calculations, and printing the results by machinery" (p. xiii).

Having invested so much time and money in the project while realizing only token gains, the British government showed little patience with the Scheutz calculating machine. The General Register Office soon reverted to manual calculations by human computers employing logarithms, which they used until the GRO's conversion to mechanical calculation methods in 1911.  

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) Nos. 77 & 85.

(This entry was last revised on 01-14-2015.)

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Having Refused to Support Babbage, the British Government Pays for a Difference Engine Produced in Sweden April 7, 1859

Long after refusing to fund the completion of Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 1, and long after refusing to fund construction of his Analytical Engine, the British government paid for the construction of the Scheutzes' third difference engine. In 1859 medical statistician William Farr first used the machine to calculate and set type for a table for Farr's paper, published in Philosophical Transactions, “On the Construction of Life-Tables, Illustrated by a New Life-Table of the Healthy Districts of England.”  Farr read this paper to the Royal Society on April 7, 1859.

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Babbage's "Passages from the Life of a Philosopher" 1864

In 1864 English mathematician, engineer and computer designer Charles Babbage published his autobiography, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, in which he presented the most detailed descriptions of his Difference and Analytical Enginespublished during his lifetime, and wrote about his struggles to have his highly futuristic inventions appreciated by society.

In the wording of his title Babbage used the word philosopher in its now obsolete sense of what we call a "scientist." The word scientist, coined by William Whewell, was not widely used until the end of the 19th or early 20th century. (See Reading 6.2.)

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Charles Babbage's Library: the First Catalogue of a Library on Computing and its History 1872

In 1872, the year after his death, Charles Babbage’s scientific library was sold at auction. The auction catalogue, containing over two thousand items on topics such as mathematical tables, cryptography, and calculating machines, and including many rare volumes, may be the first catalogue of a library on computing and its history.

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1875 – 1900

Baldwin & Odhner Invent Calculators Using a True Variable-Toothed Gear Circa 1875

Detail of image from Baldwin's Calculating Machine. See larger image and resize image for complete picture.

Frank Stephen Baldwin.

Odhner's arithmometer.

Willgodt Theophil Odhner.

About 1875 engineer Frank S. Baldwin of Philadelphia and Willgot Theophil Odhner, a Swedish engineer and entrepreneur working in St. Petersburg, Russia, independently invented calculators using a true variable-toothed gear. This was the first real advance in mechanical calculating technology since Gottfried Leibniz's stepped drum (1673). These calculators were called "pinwheel calculators."

The greater ease of use of this technology, its general reliability, and the compact size of the equipment incorporating it caused an explosion of sales in the calculator industry.

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The First Logarithmic Table Produced by a Calculating Machine 1875

In 1875 Swedish inventor Martin Wiberg used his difference engine to produce Tables de Logarithms Calculées et Imprimées au Moyen de la Machine à Calculer du M. Wiberg. This set of tables of seven-place logarithms from 1 to 100,000 was the first logarithmic table produced by a calculating machine. The device is preserved at Tekniska museet (The Technical Museum) of Sweden in Stockholm. 

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The Earliest Exhibition Exclusively of Scientific Instruments 1876

The earliest international exposition exclusively of scientific instruments was held at the South Kensington Museum, London in 1876.  As a record of the exhibition the South Kensington Museum published a Handbook to the Special Loan Collection of Scientific Apparatus 1876 (London 1876). The section on calculating machines on pages 23-34 was written by H. J. S. Smith, and included those of Babbage, Scheutz, Thomas de Colmar, and Grohmann. None were illustrated. James Clerk Maxwell contributed two chapters in this guide, Peter Guthrie Tait wrote one, and Thomas Henry Huxley wrote one.  A French translation of this work was published in Paris also in 1876.

The South Kensington Museum was later merged into the Science Museum in London.

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace 369.

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300 Clerks Reviewing 2,500,000 Insurance Policies with 24 Calculators 1877

In 1877 it took three hundred clerks working at The Prudential six months to review its 2,500,000 insurance policies, with the assistance of twenty-four Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar arithmometers.

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Abdank-Abakanowicz Invents the Integraph 1878

In 1878 Bruno Abdank-Abakanowicz, a mathematician, inventor and electrical engineer, invented the integraph, a form of integrator.

"The integraph is an elaboration and extension of the planimeter, an earlier, simpler instrument used to measure area. It is a mechanical instrument capable of deriving the integral curve corresponding to a given curve. Hence, it is capable of solving graphically a simple differential equation.

"Sets of partial differential equations are commonly encountered in mathematical physics. Most branches of physics such as aerodynamics, electricity, acoustics, plasma physics, electron-physics and nuclear energy involve complex flows, motions and rates of change which may be described mathematically by partial differential equations. A well-established example from electromagnetics is the set of partial differential equations known as Maxwell's equations.

"In practice, differential equations can be difficult to integrate, that is to solve. The integraph is capable of solving only simple differential equations. The need to handle sets of more complex non-linear differential equations, led Vannevar Bush to develop the Differential Analyzer at MIT in the early 1930s. In turn, limitations in speed, capacity and accuracy of the Bush Differential Analyzer provided the impetus for the development of the ENIAC during World War II.

"Abdank-Abakanowicz’s instrument could produce solutions to a commonly encountered class of simple differential equations of the form dy/dx = F(x) so that y = ò F(x)dx. The basic approach was to draw a graph of the function F and then use the pointer on the device to trace the contour of the function. The value of the integral could then be read from the dials. The concept of the instrument was taken up and soon put into production by such well known instrument makers as the Swiss firm of Coradi in Zurich" (From Gordon Bell's website, accessed 09-01-2010).

Abdank-Abakanowicz published a monograph entitled Les Intégraphes (Paris, 1886).

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Hollerith's Electromechanical Punched Card Tabulating Machine, Ancestor of IBM 1882 – 1924

In 1882 physician John Shaw Billings, at the U.S. Census Bureau, suggested to statistician Herman Hollerith that there ought to be a machine for speeding up the process of tabulating population and similar statistics. Billings was founder and librarian of the Surgeon General's Library (now the National Library of Medicine).

Inspired by Billings, in 1889 Hollerith of Georgetown, Washington, D. C. was awarded three U.S. patents (395,781, 395,782, and 395,783) for an electromechanical machine for tabulating information stored on punched cards.  

"These patents described both paper tape and rectangular cards as possible recording media. The card shown in U.S. Patent 395,781 of June 8 was preprinted with a template and had holes arranged close to the edges so they could be reached by a railroad conductor's ticket punch, with the center reserved for written descriptions. Hollerith was originally inspired by railroad tickets that let the conductor encode a rough description of the passenger:  

"I was traveling in the West and I had a ticket with what I think was called a punch photograph...the conductor...punched out a description of the individual, as light hair, dark eyes, large nose, etc. So you see, I only made a punch photograph of each person." 

"Use of the ticket punch proved tiring and error prone, so Hollerith invented a pantograph 'keyboard punch' that allowed the entire card area to be used. It also eliminated the need for a printed template on each card, instead a master template was used at the punch; a printed reading board could be placed under a card that was to be read manually. Hollerith envisioned a number of card sizes. In an article he wrote describing his proposed system for tabulating the 1890 U.S. Census, Hollerith suggested a card 3 inches by 5½ inches of Manila stock "would be sufficient to answer all ordinary purposes."  

"The cards used in the 1890 census had round holes, 12 rows and 24 columns. A reading board for these cards can be seen at the Columbia University Computing History site. At some point, 31⁄4 by 73⁄8 inches (82.550 by 187.325 mm) became the standard card size, a bit larger than the United States one-dollar bill of the time (the dollar was changed to its current size in 1929). The Columbia site says Hollerith took advantage of available boxes designed to transport paper currency. Hollerith's original system used an ad-hoc coding system for each application, with groups of holes assigned specific meanings, e.g. sex or marital status. Later designs standardized the coding, with twelve rows, where the lower ten rows coded digits 0 through 9. This allowed groups of holes to represent numbers that could be added, instead of simply counting units " Wikipedia article on Punched Cards, accessed 12-21-2011).

Hollerith's electric punched card tabulator was used in the 1890 United States census — the first major data-processing project to use electrical machinery. It reduced data-processing time by 80 percent over manual methods. 

In 1896 Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company, the world's first electric tabulating and accounting machine company. According to Alex Wright, Cataloguing the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age (2014) 42 in the spring of 1896, Hollerith and Melvil Dewey agreed on a three-year partnership under which Dewey's Library Bureau would supply cards and cabinets to commercial and government customers who used Hollerith's tabulating equipment. 

The next significant improvement that Hollerith made was the addition an automatic card feed to his electric punched card tabulating machine. This sped up processing of the 1900 census. 

In 1911 Hollerith sold the Tabulating Machine Company to Charles R. Flint, a noted trust organizer.  Flint merged Hollerith's Tabulating Machine Company with the Computing Scale Company, the International Time Recording Company, and the Bundy Manufacturing Company to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR), producing and selling Hollerith tabulating equipment, time clocks, and other business machinery. The new company was based in Endicott, New Yorkand had 1300 employees. In 1924 CTR became International Business Machines (IBM).
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NCR is Founded 1884

In 1884 John H. Patterson of Dayton, Ohio, and his associates acquired the Ritty patents on the cash register, and established the National Cash Register Company (NCR).

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Dorr E. Felt Invents the Comptometer 1887

Early comptometer.

Dorr E. Felt.

In 1887 American inventor Dorr E. Felt introduced the Comptometer, a non-printing key-driven calculating machine whose chief advantages were speed, versatility, and ease of use.

"Use. For each digit a push button from 1 to 9 is selected which rotates a Pascal-type wheel with the corresponding number of increments. Numbers are subtracted by adding the complement (shown in smaller numbers). The carrying of tens is accomplished by power generated by the action of the keys and stored in a helical spring, which is automatically released at the proper instant to perform the carry.  

"Through effective marketing and training of skilled operators versed in complement arithmetic at Comptometer Schools, these machines became the workhorse of the accounting profession in the first part of the [20th] century. They never successfully advanced into the electro-mechanical era, but remained purely mechanical, two-function adding and subtracting machines" (Gordon Bell's website, accessed 10-12-2011).

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The Most Complete Work on Babbage's Computers 1889

Charles Babbage’s son Henry Prevost Babbage completed and published his father’s unfinished edition of writings on the Difference Engine No. 1 and the Analytical Engine, together with a listing of his father’s unpublished plans and notebooks. These appear under the title of Babbage’s Calculating Engines.

This work was the principal source of information for the technical operation of Babbage’s Difference and Analytical engines. Toward the end of his life, Babbage began assembling his own and other’s previously published writings on his Difference and Analytical Engines with the intent of publishing a history of his work designing the machines, and descriptions of the way that the machines would operate. However, Babbage died before he could accomplish this task. He had the first 294 pages of this work typeset and printed on slightly varying qualities of paper during his lifetime. The differences in the paper used for portions of the work would suggest that sections were printed intermittently rather than all at one time. It would appear that Babbage’s purpose in producing this work was to collect the most significant published writings on his calculating engines, most of which had appeared as obscure pamphlets or in little-read journals, together with a listing of what remained unpublished, including all of Babbage’s notebooks and engineering drawings (listed on pp. 271-294), in the hope that his unfinished projects might be completed at some future date.

Almost twenty years after Babbage’s death, his youngest son, Major-General Henry Prevost Babbage, to whom Babbage had bequeathed his parts for his calculating engines, and everything else pertaining to them, completed the book, incorporating the printed sheets that Babbage had produced along with concluding material, reflecting his own frustrated efforts to effect realization of Babbage’s engines. Were it not for this volume, and for the bibliography of Babbage’s works published both here (on the last three printed pages of the book) and in Babbage’s autobiography, Babbage’s achievements might have been forgotten. Henry Babbage also completed six small demonstration pieces of the Difference Engine No. 1, and in 1910 at the age of 86, Henry Babbage also completed an experimental four-function calculator for the Mill for the Analytical Engine.  This was the only portion of the Analytical Engine that was ever produced in metal.

As it turned out Babbage’s designs were not implemented until the 20th century because in the era of human computers there was no pressing need for the machines that Babbage envisioned and designed. Yet because of these published works, Babbage’s ambitions and his ideas remained alive in the minds of people working in mechanical computation long after his technology had fallen into obsolescence. When Vannevar Bush suggested in 1936 that electromechanical technology might be the way to realize “Babbage’s large conception” of the Analytical Engine, he cited this volume among his references; and in building the electromechanical Harvard Mark I, Howard Aiken saw himself fulfilling Babbage’s ambition. However, some experts have inferred that Aiken’s knowledge of Babbage’s work may have been limited to what he read in Babbage’s autobiography, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, as Aiken did not include conditional branching in the design of the Mark I—a key idea that Babbage designed into the Analytical Engine.

Hyman, Charles Babbage, Pioneer of the Computer, 254. Van Sinderen, Alfred W. "The Printed Papers of Charles Babbage" Annals of the History of Computing, 2 (April 1980) :169-185 mentions in item CB80, that Babbage listed a History of the Analytical Engine as being “in the press” in 1864.

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Publication of the Tables of de Prony 1891

In 1891 the logarithmic and trigonometric tables of Gaspard Riche de Prony, compiled in 19 volumes of manuscript, mostly by hairdressers unemployed after the French Revolution, were finally published in an abbreviated form in one volume. They were the most monumental work of calculation ever carried out by human computers.

France. Service Geographique de l'Armee. Tables des logarithmes a huit decimales des nombres entiers de 1 a 120000 et des sinus et tangentes de dix secondes en dix secondes d'arc dans le systeme de la division centesimale du quadrant. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1891.

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2001) no. 301.

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The Millionaire Calculator 1893

Millionaire mechanical calculator.

In 1893 the "Millionaire" mechanical calculator, about the size of a small desk top, was introduced in Switzerland. The "Millionaire" was the first commercially successful calculator that could perform multiplication directly, rather than by repeated addition. It was designed by Otto Steiger, a Swiss engineer and was first patented in Germany in 1892. Patents were issued in France, Switzerland, Canada and the USA in 1893. Production by Hans W. Egli of Zurich started in 1893, and continued to 1935. Most models were driven by hand-crank but some were electrified.

Roughly 4000-5000 Millionaires were sold. 

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The First International Exhibition of Mathematical Devices September 1893

The recently established Deutsche Mathematiker-Vereinigung held an exhibition in Munich of Mathematical and Mathematical-Physical Models, Apparatus, and Instruments in September 1893. This was the first international exhibition limited to mathematical devices, including calculating instruments; it reflected the huge growth in the field since the London exposition of 1876. The exhibition had been planned for the previous year but was canceled because of an outbreak of cholera in northern Germany.

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d'Ocagne Publishes the First Systematic Classification of Calculating Machines 1894

In 1894 Philbert Maurice d'Ocagne published Le Calcul simplifiée par procèdes mécaniques et graphiques. This contained the first systematic classification of calculating machines.

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1900 – 1910

The Automatic Punched Card Feed 1900

To improve data processing of the 1900 census, American statistician and inventor Herman Hollerith added an automatic card feed to his electric punched card tabulating machine. 

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A New Version of Babbage's Analytical Engine, Lost 1908 – 1914

IN 1908 Irish accountant Percy Ludgate, working in Dublin, designed a general purpose programable computer about which he published "On a proposed analytical engine," Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, n.s., 12 (1909-10) 77-91. This described "the result of about six years' work, undertaken . . . with the object of designing machinery capable of performing calculations, however, intricate or laborious, without the immediate guidance of the human intellect" (p. 77).

Ludgate's efforts followed about eighty years after Babbage began designing his Analytical Engine, and although Ludgate knew nothing of Babbage's work until after he had completed the first design of his own machine, he was "greatly assisted in the more advanced stages of the problem by, and [received] valuable suggestions from, the writings of that accomplished scholar" (p. 78).

Ludgate was the only person to attempt to build a general purpose programable computer between Babbage and Howard Aiken, whose Harvard Mark I became operational in the early 1940s. Ludgate's machine, as designed, was much smaller than Babbage's, handling 192 variables of 20 figures each compared to Babbage's 1000 variables of 50 figures each, and using "shuttles" to store the variables instead of Babbage's bulkier columns of wheels.  Ludgate was never able to obtain funding to build his machine and he died at the early age of 39. His drawings of his machine were lost; the only records are in his 1909-10 paper, and in a very brief account embedded in Ludgate's report on automatic calculating machines published in the 1914 Handbook of the Napier Tercentenary Celebration (also issued as Modern Instruments and Methods of Calculation). Randell, Origins of Digital Computers (3d ed.) 73-87 reprints the text. Norman, From Gutenberg to the Internet (2005) Reading 6.3 reprints Ludgate's 1914 article.

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1910 – 1920

A Mechanical Punched-Card Tabulating System 1911

In 1911 Russian-born James Powers, an engineer hired by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1907 to help the government avoid what were perceived as excessive charges by Herman Hollerith's Tabulating Machine Company, managed to avoid patent infringement and created a faster, cheaper electric punched card tabulating machine that was compatible with Hollerith's punched card format. Powers then formed a corporation in Newark, New Jersey to manufacture and sell his device. Originally known as the Powers Tabulating Machine Company, the company changed its name to Powers Accounting Machine Company in order to target a wider market.  

In 1927 Powers' company was merged with the Remington Typewriter Company and Rand Kardex to form Remington Rand.

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Thomas J. Watson President of CTR 1914

Thomas J. Watson became president of Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, and focused the company on electric card-tabulating equipment for businesses.

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Summarizing the State of the Computer / Calculator Industry Prior to World War I July 24 – July 27, 1914

The Napier Tercentenary Celebration  marking the three hundredth anniversary of the publication of Napier's Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio (1614), was held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh from July 24 to July 27, 1914 — just five days before the start of World War I. Participants in the exhibition included individuals and companies from Scotland, England, France, and Germany. The meeting was intended to include a colloquium on the mathematics of computation, but that was canceled because war was considered imminent.

A celebration of Napier's pivotal role in the history of calculation, the exhibition featured displays of many different types of calculating machines, as well as exhibits of other aids to calculation such as mathematical tables, the abacus and slide rules, planimeters and other integrating devices, and ruled papers and nomograms. These were described in the Napier Tercentenary Celebration. Handbook to the Exhibition, which contained separate sections, with chapters by various contributors, devoted to each type of calculating device. Among the notable chapters is Percy E. Ludgate's "Automatic Calculating Machines" (pp. 124-27): apart from Ludgate's "On a proposed analytical machine" (Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society 12 [1909]: 77-91), this chapter contains the only discussion of his improvements to Babbage's Analytical Engine (none of which was ever realized). Also of note is W. G. Smith's "Notes on the Special Development of Calculating Ability" (pp. 60-68), discussing human "lightning calculators" and mathematically gifted "idiot savants," such as were employed by Gauss. Prior to the advent of electronic digital computers, these human computers were often faster than their mechanical counterparts.

The most widely used tools for calculation at the time of the Napier tercentenary were mathematical tables, which are thoroughly surveyed, explained, and described in the Handbook (bibliographical descriptions of the rare mathematical tables exhibited were published the following year in the Napier Tercentenary Memorial Volume. The Handbook also contains a large illustrated section on calculating machines, which were divided into four types: (1) stepped-gear machines based on the Leibniz wheel, such as those of Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar; (2) machines with variable-toothed gears, such as the Brunsviga; (3) key-set machines like those made by Burroughs; and (4) key-driven machines such as those made by Felt and Tarrant.

The Handbook was published in two forms: a softcover version presented to those who registered for the exhibition; and a hardcover version issued for sale under the title Modern Instruments and Methods of Calculation. Relatively few copies of the softcover version seem to have been distributed at the exhibition, partly because the exhibition took place in Edinburgh, but mainly because war broke out just after it began. Most copies were bound in cloth and sold in London.

"The events of the First World War caused no less upheaval in the world of computing than in the rest of society. A great many technical changes, such as the ever-increasing use of punched-card accounting machines, were to cause computing to assume a different character in the time between the two World Wars. Thus the Handbook should be viewed as a report on the state of the art just before these changes were to begin taking place" (Williams 1982, [x]).  

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2001) no. 322.

(This entry was last revised on April 28, 2014.)

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800,000 Burroughs Calculators Have Been Sold 1919

800,000 Burroughs calculating machines were sold worldwide by 1919.

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1920 – 1930

Imagining Using 64,000 Human Computers to Predict the Weather 1922

Meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson, creator of the first dynamic model for weather prediction, proposes the creation of a “forecast factory” that would employ some 64,000 human computers sitting in tiers around the circumference of a giant globe. Each calculator would be responsible for solving differential equations related to the weather in his quadrant of the earth. From a pedestal in the center of the factory, a conductor would orchestrate this symphony of equations by shining a beam of light on areas of the globe where calculation was moving too fast or falling behind.

In 1922 English mathematician, physicist, meteorologist, psychologist and pacifist Lewis Fry Richardson, an early advocate of the team approach to the solution of large-scale computing problems, published Weather Forecasting by Numerical Process in Cambridge at Cambridge University Press.  In this work Richardson described a fantasy weather forecast “factory” of sixty-four thousand human computers working in “a large hall like a theatre,” calculating the world’s weather forecasts from meteorological data supplied by weather balloons spaced two hundred kilometers apart around the globe.

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IBM Adopts the Eighty-Column Punched Card, Standard for the Next 50 Years 1928

In 1928 IBM adopted the eighty-column punched card, the standard for about the next fifty years, and one of IBM's most profitable products.

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Key Achievements of Leslie J. Comrie, Including Foundation of the First Independent Scientific Computing Service 1928 – 1937

In 1928 English astronomer and mechanical computation pioneer Leslie J. Comrie, working in London, discovered how to use a commercial accounting machine as a difference engine. With this technique Comrie reformed the production of the Nautical Almanac, greatly increasing the accuracy of the navigation tables. 

Comrie used electric punched-card tabulating machines to calculate the motions of the moon. This project, in which twenty million holes were punched into five hundred thousand cards, continued into 1929. It was the first use of punched cards in a purely scientific application.

In 1937 Comrie founded Scientific Computing Service in London. It was the first independent scientific computing service bureau in the world

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1930 – 1940

The IBM 601 Multiplying Punch 1931

In 1931 IBM of Endicott, New York began manufacture of the 601 multiplying punch.

"It read two factors up to eight decimal digits in length from a card and punched their product onto a blank field of the same card. It could subtract and add as well as multiply. It had no printing capacity, so was generally used as an offline assistant for a tabulator or accounting machine."

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Wallace J. Eckert and IBM Develop the First Machine to Perform Complex Scientific Calculations Automatically 1933 – 1934

From 1933 to 1934 Wallace J. Eckert, who would become founder and Director of the Thomas J. Watson Astronomical Computing Bureau at Columbia University (1937-40), commissioned from IBM a special model of the 601 multiplying punch that was capable of doing direct interpolation—a very unusual feature. The punch was especially designed for Eckert by one of IBM's top engineers at Endicott, New York.

Eckert connected the 601 to a Type 285 Tabulator and a Type 016 Duplicating Punch through a calculation control switch of his own design, forming the first machine to perform complex scientific computations automatically.

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Key Contributions of Konrad Zuse to the History of Computer Design and Software 1934 – 1958

Konrad Zuse made numerous original contributions to computer design and software that predated American and English developments, but because Zuse worked in Nazi Germany his ideas were unknown outside of Germany until well after World War II, and thus had no influence on the development of the computer industry in America and England. While completing his engineering degree at the Technische Universität Berlin in 1934, Zuse,realized that an automatic calculator would need only a control, a memory, and an arithmetic unit. On April 11, 1936 Zuse applied for a patent on his electromagnetic, program-controlled calculator, called the Z1, which he built in the living room of his parents’ apartment in Berlin. Zuse completed the ZI, which had 30,000 parts, in 1938. Independently of Claude Shannon, Zuse developed a form of symbolic logic to assist in the design of the binary circuits

The Z1 was the first freely programmable, binary-based calculating machine ever built, but it did not function reliably, and it was destroyed in World War II. Zuse's patent application is the only surviving documentation of Zuse's prewar work on computers. Between 1986 and 1989 Zuse and three associates created a replica of the Z1, which is preserved in the Deutsche Technikmuseum, Berlin.

With his associate Helmut Schreyer, Zuse began work on his Z2 shortly after completing the Z1. In 1939 the men completed the Z2 machine in Berlin. It used the same kind of mechanical memory as the Z1, but used 800 relays in the arithmetic and control units. On October 15, 1939 Helmut Schreyer wrote a memorandum concerning the Z2, Rechnische Rechenmachine (unpublished at the time), in which he stated that it would be possible to build a computer with vacuum tubes that would process “10,000 operations per second.” This memorandum and the rest of Zuse's and Schreyer's ideas only became known in the west after World War II.

In 1940 the German government began funding Zuse's work through the Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt (AVA, Aerodynamic Research Institute, forerunner of the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V, DLR). At this time Zuse built the S1 and S2 computers —special purpose machines for computing aerodynamic corrections to the wings of radio-controlled flying bombs.

"The S2 featured an integrated analog-to-digital converter under program control, making it the first process-controlled computer. These machines contributed to the Henschel Werke Hs 293 and Hs 294 guided missiles developed by the German military between 1941 and 1945, which were the precursors to the modern cruise missile. The circuit design of the S1 was the predecessor of Zuse's Z11. Zuse believed that these machines had been captured by occupying Soviet troops in 1945" (Wikipedia article on Konrad Zuse, accessed 03-03-2012).

Continuing to work in Berlin, with the assistance of Helmut Shreyer, Zuse completed his Z3 machine on May 12, 1941. This was the world’s first fully functional Turing-complete electromechanical digital computer—with twenty-four hundred relays. The Z3 ran programs punched into rolls of discarded movie film. In 1944 it was destroyed in bombing raids. Also in 1941 Schreyer received his doctorate in telecommunications engineering from the Technische Universität Berlin with a dissertation on the use of vacuum-tube relays in switching circuits. Schreyer converted Zuse’s logical designs into electronic circuits, building a simple prototype of an electronic computer with 100 vacuum tubes, which achieved a switching frequency of 10,000 Hz. Because no one outside of Germany had any knowledge of the Z3, Zuse's design had no influence on the development of computing in the the United States or England during or after World War II. In 2012 there was a replica of the Z3 on display in the Deutsches Museum, Munich.

In 1942 Zuse started work on the Z4 electromechanical computer in Berlin, completing the work shortly before V-E Day in 1945. Built by his company, Zuse Apparatebau, the Z4 was the world's first commercial digital computer. To safeguard it against bombing, the machine was dismantled and shipped from Berlin to a village in the Bavarian Alps. In 1950 it was refurbished, modified, and installed at ETH in Zurich. For several years it was the only working electronic digital computer in continental Europe, and it remained operational in Zurich until 1955. It is preserved in the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

"The Z4 was very similar to the Z3 in its design but was significantly enhanced in a number of respects. The memory consisted of 32-bit rather than 22-bit floating point words. A special unit called the Planfertigungsteil (program construction unit), which punched the program tapes made programming and correcting programs for the machine much easier by the use of symbolic operations and memory cells. Numbers were entered and output as decimal floating point even though the internal working was in binary. The machine had a large repertoire of instructions including square root, MAX, MIN and sign. Conditional tests included tests for infinity. When delivered to ETH Zurich the machine had a conditional branch facility added and could print on a Mercedes typewriter. There were two program tapes where the second could be used to hold a subroutine (originally six were planned).

"In 1944 Zuse was working on the Z4 with around two dozen people, including several women. Some engineers who worked at the telecommunications facility of the OKW also worked for Zuse as a secondary occupation. To prevent it from falling into the hands of the Soviets, the Z4 was evacuated from Berlin in February 1945 and transported to Göttingen. The Z4 was completed in Göttingen in a facility of the Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt (AVA, Aerodynamic Research Institute), which was headed by Albert Betz. But when it was presented to scientists of the AVA the roar of the approaching front could already be heard, so the computer was transported with a truck of the Wehrmacht to Hinterstein in Bad Hindelang, where Konrad Zuse met Wernher von Braun" (Wikipedia article on Z4, accessed 01-01-2015).

For the Z4 Zuse developed Plankalkül, the first "high-level" non-von Neumann programming language. Some of his earliest notes on the topic date to 1941. The language was well-developed by 1945. Because of war time secrecy, and Zuse's efforts to commercialize the Z3 computer and its sucessors, Zuse did not publish anything on Plankalkühl at the time he developed it. Zuse wrote a book on the subject in 1946 but this remained unpublished until it was edited many years later for Internet publication. In 1948 he published a summary paper,  "Über den Allgemeinen Plankalkül als Mittel zur Formulierung schematisch-kombinativer Aufgaben", Archiv der Mathematik I (1948) 441-449. However, this did not attract much attention.

" . . . for a long time to come programming a computer would only be thought of as programming with machine code. The Plankalkül was eventually more comprehensively published in 1972 and the first compiler for it was implemented in 1998. Another independent implementation followed in the year 2000 by the Free University of Berlin" (Wikipedia article on Plankalkühl, accessed 12-04-2011).

Because of his Nazi affiliation Zuse was not allowed to get back into the computer industry until the 1950s. In 1958 he produced the Z22, the first commercial electronic digital computer produced in Germany. The Z22 used vacuum tubes—a relatively late date for that technology, as most American computer companies switched to solid state by 1957. Zuse's company, Zuse KG, became the first independent German electronic computer company. It was eventually purchased by Siemens.

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The Social Security Program Creates a Giant Data-Processing Challenge 1935 – 1936

The Social Security Act of 1935 required the U. S. government to keep continuous records on the employment of 26 million individuals.

The first  Social Security Numbers (SSNs) were issued by the Social Security Administration in November 1936 as part of the New Deal Social Security program.

"Within three months, 25 million numbers were issued.

"Before 1986, people often did not have a Social Security number until the age of about 14, since they were used for income tracking purposes, and those under that age seldom had substantial income. In 1986, American taxation law was altered so that individuals over 5 years old without Social Security numbers could not be successfully claimed as dependents on tax returns; by 1990 the threshold was lowered to 1 year old, and was later abolished altogether." (Wikipedia article on Social Security Number, accessed 01-17-2010).

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IBM's German Subsidiary, Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen, Introduces the First Automatic Sequence-Controlled Calculator September 1935

In September 1935 IBM’s German subsidiary, Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen (Dehomag) introduced the Dehomag D11 tabulator, the first automatic sequence-controlled calculator, incorporating internal instructions programmed with a plug board.

Kistermann, "The way to the first automatic sequence-controlled calculator: The 1935 DEHOMAG D 11 tabulator," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing XVII (1995): 33-49.

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George Stibitz Builds the First Electromechanical Computers in America November 1937 – October 1941

In November 1937 George Stibitz, a research mathematician at Bell Telephone Labs in New York City, built a binary adder out of a few light bulbs, batteries, relays and metal strips cut from tin cans on his kitchen table. This device was similar to a theoretical design described a few months earlier by Claude Shannon in his master's thesis. Stibitz's "Model K" (for “Kitchen”) was the first electromechanical computer built in America.

In 1939 Stibitz and Samuel Williams of Bell Labs in New York City began construction of the Complex Number Calculator (later known as the Bell Labs Model I). This machine was called “the first electromechanical computer for routine use.” It used telephone relays and coded decimal numbers as groups of four binary digits (bits) each.

On January 8, 1940 the Complex Number Calculator was operational. On September 11 the machine, located in New York, was demonstrated via a remote teletype terminal at the American Mathematical Association Meeting in Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. This was the first demonstration of remote computing. At the demonstration mathematician Norbert Wiener, and physicist John Mauchly spent a lot of time experimenting with the system. 

Inspired by the demonstration of remote computing using Wiener sent a letter to Vannevar Bush enclosing a “Memorandum on the Mechanical Solution of Partial Differential Equations.” This outlined a machine that had all the features of an electronic digital computer except for a stored program. The memorandum was not published until it appeared in Wiener’s Collected Works issued from 1976 to 1984.

On October 8, 1941 mathematician and computing pioneer Edmund C. Berkeley, an actuary at the Prudential Insurance Company in Boston, wrote a report on the possible application of Stibitz’s Complex Number Calculator for insurance-company calculations. This was one of the earliest reports on the application of an electromechnical computer in industry.

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Key Aspects of the Development of the Harvard Mark 1 and its Software November 1937 – 1946

American computing pioneer Howard H. Aiken first conceived of building a powerful, large-scale calculating machine in 1935 while pursuing graduate studies in physics at Harvard University. In 1937, after Aiken had become a professor of applied mathematics at Harvard's Graduate School of Engineering, he proposed his idea to a number of calculating-machine manufacturers, drafting a proposal for an automatic calculating machine, and receiving several rejections before finally convincing IBM to undertake the project. The project, known initially as Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), and later called the Harvard Mark I, was partly funded by money from the United Statses Navy; the remainder came from IBM, whose president, Thomas J. Watson, viewed the undertaking as good publicity and as a showcase for IBM's talents. 

Aiken's machine began construction in May 1939 at IBM's North Street Laboratory in Endicott, New York. The chief engineers on the project were Clair D. Lake, James W. Bryce, Francis E. Hamilton, and Benjamin Durfee; these men were responsible for translating Aiken's design ideas into workable machinery, and Aiken never hesitated to acknowledge them as co-inventors of the Mark I. To give the machine a beautiful appearance, Watson commissioned the avant-garde industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes to design a metal cabinet for the machine. Geddes's work gave the machine a very modernistic look. By January 1943  the machine was operational at IBM Endicott Labs under wartime security. The completed electromechanical calculating machine weighed five tons.

Construction of the Mark I was completed in early 1943, and a year later the machine was dismantled and shipped to Harvard, where it became operational in May 1944. he electromechanical machine solved addition problems in less than a second, multiplication in six seconds, and division in 12 seconds. Grace Hopper wrote some of its first programs, which ran on punched tape.The machine was officially presented to Harvard by IBM at a dedication ceremony held on August 7. Unfortunately, the press release announcing the event slighted IBM by describing Aiken as the machine's sole inventor, ignoring the crucial role IBM had played in its creation. This regrettable faux pas infuriated Watson, who was in attendance at the ceremony, and put an end to any hopes of a continuing partnership between IBM and Harvard. 

In 1945, probably in October, Aiken published Tables of the Modified Hankel Functions of Order One-Third and of their Derivatives. These tables, calculated by the Harvard Mark I were the first published mathematical tables calculated by a programmed automatic computer, finally fulfilling the dream of Charles Babbagefirst expressed in 1822. Calculating these tables required the equivalent of forty-five days of computer processing time on the Mark I. Prior to the Mark I, calculating the tables would have required years of human computation.

In 1946 Aiken and Grace Hopper published Manual of Operation for the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator. The instruction sequences scattered throughout this volume on the Harvard Mark I were among the earliest published examples of digital computer programs. Aiken saw himself as Babbage's intellectual successor, and in an excellent historical introduction to this technical manual he and Hopper placed the Harvard Mark I in its historical context.  The introduction began with the following quotation from Babbage's autobiography (1864):

"If, unwarned by my example, any man shall undertake and shall succeed in really constructing an engine embodying in itself the whole of the executive department of mathematical analysis upon different principles or by simpler mechanical means, I have no fear of leaving my reputation in his charge, for he alone will be fully able to appreciate the nature of my efforts and the value of their results."  

I. B. Cohen, in his biography of Aiken, Portrait of a Computer Pioneer (2000) pointed out that Aiken was not well informed about the actual design of Babbage's Analytical Engine when he was designing the Mark I; otherwise Aiken would have included conditional branch facilities in its original design. Before designing the machine Aiken seems to have read Babbage's autobiography rather than the posthumous Babbage's Calculating Engines, in which more details of the design of the Analytical Engine were given. An imposing thick quarto with large photographs of the very modernistic looking Mark I, this technical volume full of computer programs must have been perceived as radically new when it was published. The computer historian Paul Ceruzzi implies as much in the following description:

"[The Harvard Mark I] manual was a milepost that marked the state of the art of machine computation at one of its critical places: where, for the first time, machines could automatically evaluate arbitrary sequences of arithmetic operations. Most of this volume (pp. 98-337, 406-557) consists of descriptions of the Mark I's components, its architecture, and operational codes for directing it to solve typical problems. . . . The Manual is one of the first places where sequences of arithmetic operations for the solution of numeric problems by machine were explicitly spelled out. It is furthermore the first extended analysis of what is now known as computer programming since Charles Babbage's and Lady Lovelace's writings a century earlier. The instruction sequences, which one finds scattered throughout this volume, are thus among the earliest examples anywhere of digital computer programs" (Ceruzzi 1985, xv-xvii).

The Mark I was an electromechanical machine, based largely on existing IBM punched-card technology. Paul Ceruzzi, in his introduction to the 1985 reprint of the Mark I's manual, described it as follows:

"The architecture of the Mark I was unlike that of any modern computer. Its basic units were a set of seventy-two accumulators that could both store and add 23-digit signed decimal numbers. There was no clear separation of the storage and arithmetic functions. Besides the accumulators there were sixty constant registers whose contents could be read but not altered during a program run, a multiply-divide unit, and paper tape readers for reading numbers and sequences of operations. . . ."  

"The basic computing element of the Mark I was a multipole rotary switch, connected by a clutch to a drive shaft, by which decimal units, carry, and timing information were stored. Banks of twenty-four switches (holding twenty-three decimal digits and the sign of a number), made up one accumulator. The drive shaft rotated continuously; electrically activated clutches engaged the wheels of an accumulator whenever a number was to be transferred. The clutches were in turn driven by double-throw relays. The Mark I was an electromechanical calculator: it held numbers in mechanical elements (the rotary switches), which were electrically controlled (by the clutch relays). Electrical pulses traveling along a common bus conveyed numbers to and from the accumulators. . . . Getting the Mark I to execute a desired sequence of operations involved a combination of two processes: preparing a sequence tape fed into the Sequence Control Unit (coding) and plugging cables into plugboards located at several places on the machine (setup). . . . The Sequence Tape reader had no provision for backing up the tape or for skipping steps. This meant that the Mark I executed only simple, linear sequences of instructions. Sequence (and Value) tapes could be cemented into endless loops, however, and this was frequently done. After 1947 a Subsidiary Sequence mechanism was attached to the Calculator that allowed such endless loops of tape to supply sub-sequences to the main sequence control (Ceruzzi 1985, xxi-xxvi).

After the Mark I was set up at Harvard in 1944 it was immediately commandeered for war work by the United States Navy. Aiken, a commander in the United States Naval Reserve (USNR), was put in charge of the navy's computation project, and he later joked that he was first naval officer ever to command a computer. Most of Aiken's staff at the Computation Laboratory also held commissions in the USNR. One of these was Lieutenant (later Admiral) Grace M. Hopper, a mathematician who, in her own words, had "never met a digit" until joining the Computation Laboratory (quoted in Ceruzzi 1985, xviii); she would go on to become one of the most famous of the postwar computer pioneers, making fundamental contributions to the development of the first compilers.  

The operating manual for the Mark I calculator - published as Volume 1 of the Annals of the Computation Laboratory of Harvard University - was written largely by Hopper, who was the chief author of chapters 1-3 and the eight appendices following chapter 6. Chapters 4 and 5 were written by Aiken and Robert Campbell, and chapter 6, containing directions for solving sample problems on the machine, was primarily the work of Brooks J. Lockhart.

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace, no. 411 and other entries.

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1940 – 1950

The Design and Principles of John Atanasoff's ABC Machine, and What John Mauchly Knew About It August – December 1940

In August 1940 American physicist and inventor John Atanasoff at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, wrote a thirty-five-page memorandum describing the design and principles of the what came to be known as the Atanasoff-Berry Computer or ABC machine. This may be the earliest extant document describing the principles of an electronic digital computer. It remained unpublished until 1973.

In December 1940 John Mauchly met Atanasoff at the Philadelphia meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science. After corresponding with Atanasoff about electronic calculating, Mauchly visited Atanasoff in Ames, and read the 35-page memorandum on the ABC machine that Atanasoff had written in August. Mauchly would later incorporate some of Atanasoff's ideas into his design for the ENIAC.

Because of World War II, in 1942 Atanasoff abandoned work on his special purpose ABC machine when it was nearly operational. The machine was largely forgotten until interest in it was revived for the lawsuit over the ENIAC patent. As a reference on Atanasoff and the ENIAC patent case I recommend the Iowa State University Department of Computer Science website on Atanasoff. In December 2014 it was available at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 12-31-2014.)

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The First Application of Electric Punched Card Tabulating Equipment in Crystal Structure Analysis 1941 – 1946

At the suggestion of Wallace J. Eckert of Columbia University, physical chemist Linus Pauling and associates at Caltech used IBM electric punch card tabulating equipment to speed up the Fourier calculations in crystal structure analysis in their researches. The first paper resulting from these applications was David E. Hughes, "The Crystal Structure of Melamine," J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 63 (1941) 1737-52. 

Prior to this Leslie J. Comrie had attempted to introduce IBM Hollerith electric punched card tabulating to speed up Fourier calculations in crystal structure analysis in England, but the method did not gain acceptance.

Applications of IBM equipment in crystallographic research continued at Caltech but the method was not published until 1946: Shaffer, Philip. A., Jr.; Schomaker, Verner; and Pauling, Linus  The use of punched cards in molecular structure determinations. I. Crystal structure calculations [II. Electron diffraction calculations], Journal of Chemical Physics 14 (1946) 648–658, 659–664.  The offprint version of the first paper contained a 10-page supplement with 5 full-age diagrams.

"Shaffer, Schomaker, and Pauling developed methods of carrying out Fourier calculations on IBM punched-card machines, using a Type 11 electric keypunch, a Type 80 electric sorting machine, and a Type 405 alphabetic direct-subtraction tabulating machine. This paper cites work as early as 1941 performed on the structure of various less-complex organic crystals using electric tabulation methods.

"The supplement to Part I of this paper, which was included only in the offprint version, provided additional information on card design, plugboard wiring and operating procedures. 'The time factor is in all cases greatly in favor of the punched-card method relative to summation procedures used in the past. Fourier projections which by the Beevers-Lipson method required several days of calculation can now be made in 5 to 7 hours. At the same time the density of calculated points is much greater and the accuracy of the computation is assured. The machine steps in the least-squares calculations require only a few hours, as compared to one or two days with use of an adding machine, and again the accuracy of the work is assured. With the use of parameter cards and the structure-factor files the calculation of structure factors can be accomplished in about one-eighth of the time previously required.' (p. 658). Most of the detail in the technique of data processing, including information on card design, plugboard wiring, and operating procedures appears in the supplement" (Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace [2002] no. 879).

Cranswick, "Busting out of crystallography’s Sisyphean prison: from pencil and paper to structure solving at the press of a button: past, present and future of crystallographic software development, maintenance and distribution," Acta Crystallographica Section A Foundations of Crystallography A64 (2008) 65-87. (Accessed 04-20-2010).

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Key Events in the Development of the First General Purpose Electronic Digital Computer, the ENIAC June 1941 – October 2, 1955

In June 1941 J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly met at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering, now part of the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science, and began discussions on electronic computing. In August 1942 Mauchly wrote a privately circulated confidential memorandum on “The Use of High Speed Vacuum Tube Devices for Calculating.” This was after he had visited John Atanasoff in Iowa.

With the goal of speeding up the calculation of artillery firing tables, on April 8, 1943  Eckert and Mauchly submitted a proposal to the Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, near Aberdeen, Maryland. Their proposal was entitled Report on an Electronic Difference Analyzer. By calling their proposed device an electronic difference analyzer Eckert and Mauchly tried to make the distinction between the electromechanical analog differential analyzer that the United States Army was using and the new electronic digital machine that would be developed. The proposal was submitted to army ordnance in May.

When the first contracts were signed between the U. S. Army and the Moore School, the name of the machine was changed to Electronic Numerical Integrator. Because Mauchly stressed that the machine could be used for more general problems, the device was called an “Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC).” Eckert was appointed laboratory supervisor and chief engineer on the project. Mauchly, along with Eckert, was put in charge of engineering and testing. On May 31, 1943 construction of the ENIAC started at the Moore School. The actual contract between the Moore School and the army did not go into effect until July 1. For security reasons, the understandable rumor that the project was a “white elephant” was promoted rather than denied.

In July 1944 Eckert had two accumulators of the ENIAC operational.

About May 1945 the ENIAC was completed and tested at the Moore School. With eighteen thousand vacuum tubes and weighing thirty tons, the ENIAC was about one thousand times faster than the Harvard Mark I, and 10,000 times the speed of a human computer doing a calculation. Programming the ENIAC was accomplished by time-consuming plugging of patch cords from buses to panels for each individual problem.

On November 30, 1945 Eckert, Mauchly, John Brainerd, and Herman Goldstine issued the first confidential published report on the completed ENIAC, discussing how it operated and the methods by which it was programmed: Description of the ENIAC and Comments on Electronic Digital Computing Machines.The report was published under the auspices of theApplied Mathematics Panel, National Defense Research Committee. In the spring of 1945 the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) was becoming very interested in electronic computers, and mathematician Warren Weaver, head of the NDRC’s Applied Mathematics Panel, asked John von Neumann to write a report on the Moore School’s ENIAC and EDVAC projects. Von Neumann was unable to fulfill Weaver’s request, so Weaver assigned the task to John Grist Brainerd, director of the ENIAC project. Brainerd was eager to have the report appear under his name, but Eckert and Mauchly objected, since Brainerd was largely unfamiliar with the scientific aspects of the project. After some internal dispute, it was agreed that the report’s authors should be listed on the title as Eckert, Mauchly, Goldstine, and Brainerd. The report was issued with a “Restricted” classification and 91 copies were distributed to military, Office of Scientific Research and Development and NDRC personnel, as indicated by the distribution list on the inside front cover.

Although confidential progress reports on ENIAC had been issued in 1944, this report of November 30, 1945, was the first account of the completed machine. As stated in the title, the report contained a detailed description of ENIAC, the world’s first large-scale electronic general-purpose digital computer, as well as chapters on the need for high-speed computing machines, the advantages of electronic digital machines, design principles for high-speed computing machines, and reliability and checking. At the end are three appendices discussing ENIAC’s arithmetic operations, programming methods, and general construction data. This may have been the earliest published report on how the first electronic digital computer was programmed. Even though the ENIAC was not a stored-program computer its design and mode of operation involved numerous programming firsts The report also provided information on the planned stored-program EDVAC, which was then in an early design stage. For the three years between May 1945 and June 1948, ENIAC remained the only functioning electronic, general purpose digital computer in the world until the short-lived Manchester “Baby” prototype became operational in 1948.

 On February 14, 1946 the ENIAC was publicly unveiled in Philadelphia.

On July 15, 1946 Eckert lectured at the Moore School on “A preview of a digital computing machine.” He proposed replacing the three different kinds of memory used in the ENIAC (flip-flops in accumulators, function tables [read-only memory] and interconnecting cables with switches) with a single erasable high-speed memory—the mercury delay-line memory that he invented for this purpose. This was a key step in the development of a stored-program computer. In 1947 the ENIAC was converted into an elementary stored-program computer by the use of function tables. 

At 11:45 p.m. on October 2, 1955, after roughly ten years of continuous service, power to the ENIAC was disconnected for the last time at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and the machine was retired. It was estimated that this single machine did more computation during the ten years of its operation than the entire human race had done up till the time of its invention.

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) No. 1107 and other entries.

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IBM's Vacuum Tube Multiplier, the First Complete Machine to Perform Arithmetic Electronically 1943

In 1943 IBM at Endicott, New York developed the Vacuum Tube Multiplier. This was first complete machine to perform arithmetic electronically. By substituting vacuum tubes for electro-mechanical relays it could process information thousands of times faster than electro-mechanical calculators.

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MTAC: The First Computing Journal 1943 – 1960

In 1943 Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation (MTAC), the world’s first computing journal, began publication in Washington, D.C. At this time mathematical tables prepared by human computers were the primary calculating aid. The journal reported new mathematical tables, and on the new electromechanical and electronic “aids to computation” as they were developed.

By 1960, reflecting the obsolescence of mathematical tables as a result of the development of electronic computing, MTAC changed its name to Mathematics of Computation.

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The Bell Labs Relay Interpolator, Possibly the First Electromechanical Computer to Run Programs in the U.S. September 1943

In September 1943 the Bell Labs Relay Interpolator (later called the Model II) was operational for the first time. Using programs from punched tape, the Relay Interpolator, which used 440 relays, was possibly the first electromechanical computer to run programs in the United States. 

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Key Developments Concerning the ENIAC Patent, the Patent on the General Purpose Electronic Digital Computer January 29, 1944 – October 19, 1973

On January 29, 1944, while Pres Eckert and John Mauchly were working on making the ENIAC operational at the Moore School at the University of Pennsylvania, Eckert wrote a three-page typewritten document entitled Disclosure of Magnetic Calculating Machine. This confidential document, which was not formally published until decades after it was written, very briefly and generally described a theoretical electronic computer that would store its program and data in an electronic memory— a type of magnetic disc or drum. Years later the document was unearthed in the trial over the ENIAC patent, to show that Eckert had conceived elements of the stored program concept before John von Neumann wrote down and distributed a complete theoretical description of a stored-program computer in his First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC

Mostly likely von Neumann and Eckert and Mauchly developed the stored-program computer concept jointly— Eckert from the engineering side and von Neumann from the theoretical side. Because von Neumann first described the design of the stored-program computer, its architecture has come to be known as the von Neumann architecture. In October 2013 I viewed the copy of Eckert's disclosure posted on the website of the Computer History Museum. This copy included an informative cover letter sent by John Mauchly to Donald Knuth on June 22, 1978.

About eight months after Eckert's "Disclosure," on September 27, 1944 Eckert and Mauchly declared that their conception of the ENIAC was complete. Eckert wrote a letter to other members of the project asking them to state written claims to inventions on the project. None was received. Also in September 1944, faced with mathematical computations regarding the Atomic bomb that were impossible for human computers, mathematician and physicist John von Neumann visited the ENIAC two-accumulator system for the first time, well before the computer was operational, and became deeply interested in the project. This visit represented the beginning of von Neumann's interest in electronic computing. As a result of his research, on June 30, 1945 von Neumann privately circulated copies of his First Draft on a Report on the EDVAC to twenty-four people connected with the EDVAC project. This document, written between February and June 1945, provided the first theoretical description of the basic details of a stored-program computer.

On April 8, 1947 Eckert and Mauchly learned from a patent lawyer that John von Neumann’s First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC was a publication barring their patenting the ENIAC because von Neumann's report, which described the theoretical principles of the machine, was issued more than a year before they planned to apply for a patent. Nevertheless, that knowledge did not, however, deter Eckert and Mauchly from applying for the patent. On June 26, 1947 Eckert and Mauchly applied for the broad ENIAC patent, essentially a patent on the stored-program electronic digital computer. They based their description of the machine to a large extent on the government report they issued on November 30, 1945.

While the ENIAC patent was being applied for, on August 21, 1956 Sperry Rand, to whom Eckert and Mauchly had transferred their patent rights, agreed to cross-license patents with IBM, thereby turning over strategic technology. On February 4, 1964 Eckert and Mauchly finally received U.S. patent no. 3,120,606 for the ENIAC—a general patent on the stored-program electronic computer, roughly 18 years after their application. Sperry Rand Univac, owner of the patent, charged a 1.5 percent royalty for all electronic computers sold by all companies except IBM, with which it had previously cross-licensed patents. Since IBM manufactured the majority of computers produced at this time, the royalties on the patent were not as large as they could have been.

On October 19, 1973 Eckert and Mauchly’s ENIAC patent was ruled invalid in the case of Honeywell Inc. v. Sperry Rand Corporation et al, largely because of John von Neumann's prior theoretical description of the machine that was circulated in his First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC. and evidence that John Mauchly obtained some of his key ideas for the design of the ENIAC from John Atanasoff's report of 1940.

Norman, From Gutenberg to the Internet, 

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The Fastest Digital Calculators in the U.S. December 1944

In December 1944 IBM produced the Pluggable Sequence Relay Calculator (PSRC) for the United States Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground. This special-purpose punched-card calculator, developed for calculating artillery firing trajectories, was capable of performing a sequence of up to fifty arithmetic steps.

For the rest of the war these punched-card calculators, programmed with plug boards, remained the fastest digital calculators in the United States.

“These are the fastest relay calculators in operation; they perform six multiplications a second together with a great deal of addition, subtraction, reading, writing and consulting tables. They are not as elaborate as the Sequence Calculator at Harvard in that they have less storage capacity and less sequencing facilities; however, they are about twenty times as fast. Consequently, for those problems which can be handled in this way, they will do in one day what the Sequence Calculator will do in twenty days” (W.J. Eckert, 1947).

Because the ENIAC did not become operational until 1945, and stored-program computers following the EDVAC design were a later development, the PSRC has sometimes been called "the missing link between punched card equipment and stored program computers."

"As late as 1947, the Aberdeen machines still had the fastest calculating unit in existence. Their basic operations included addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square root, and column shift. These were the first punched-card machines to support division and square root. There were 36 storage and computing registers, and certain parallel processing capabilities, including the ability to read and process four input card streams simultaneously."

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The First Use of "Bug" in the Context of Computing September 9, 1945

On September 9, 1945 Grace Hopper, testing Aiken’s Harvard Mark II Relay Calculator, found that a large dead moth, trapped between points at Relay #70, Panel F,  caused the relay to fail. She removed the bug and entered the dead insect into a log book with the note, "First actual case of bug being found." This was first use of the term “bug” within the context of computing, and also perhaps the origin of the concept of “debugging” within the context of computing.

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Turing's Main Hardware Design After World War II, the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) Circa October 1945 – February 20, 1947

About October 1945 Alan Turing arrived at the National Physical Laboratory,Teddington, England, to work on the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE). There Turing prepared a typed proposal, “Proposed electronic calculator,” outlining the development of the ACE. In February 2012 Turing's report could be read at the Turing Digital Archive, at this link: http://www.turingarchive.org/browse.php/C/32.

In a lecture on February 20, 1947 to the London Mathematical Society that remained unpublished until 1986 Turing stated that “digital computing machines such as the ACE. . . are in fact practical versions of the universal machine,” i.e. the Turing machine.

(This entry was last revised on 12-31-2014.)

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Eckert & Mauchly Found Electronic Control Co., the World's First Electronic Computer Company March 15, 1946

On March 15, 1946 Pres Eckert and John Mauchly left the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and established their own firm, Electronic Control Company in Philadelphia. Electronic Control Company was the first electronic computer company in the world. Eckert and Mauchly's business plan stated that they expected to sell an electronic computer for between $5000 and $30,000.

In September 1946 the company received a grant of $75,000 from the National Bureau of Standards for a research project involving Eckert's mercury delay line memory system, and tape input/output devices.

"With the prospect of receiving some money," the company rented their first offices at 1215 Walnut Street in Philadelphia and began to hire employees.

(This entry was last revised on 01-01-2015.)

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A Soroban Beats an Electric Calculator November 12, 1946

On November 12, 1946  contest was held in Tokyo between the Japanese soroban, used by Kiyoshi Matsuzaki, a champion operator in the Savings Bureau of the Japanese postal administration, and an electric calculator, operated by US Army Private Thomas Nathan Wood of the 240th Finance Distributing Section of General MacArthur's headquarters. Wood was the most experienced calculator operator in Japan at the time. The bases for scoring in the contest were speed and accuracy of results in all four basic arithmetic operations, and a problem which combined all four. The soroban won 4 to 1, with the electric calculator prevailing in multiplication.

"About the event, the Nippon Times newspaper reported that "Civilization ... tottered" that day, while the Stars and Stripes newspaper described the soroban's "decisive" victory as an event in which "the machine age took a step backward. . . ."

"The breakdown of results is as follows:

"* Five additions problems for each heat, each problem consisting of 50 three- to six-digit numbers. The soroban won in two successive heats.

"* Five subtraction problems for each heat, each problem having six- to eight-digit minuends and subtrahends. The soroban won in the first and third heats; the second heat was a no contest.

"* Five multiplication problems, each problem having five- to 12-digit factors. The calculator won in the first and third heats; the soroban won on the second.

"* Five division problems, each problem having five- to 12-digit dividends and divisors. The soroban won in the first and third heats; the calculator won on the second.

"* A composite problem which the soroban answered correctly and won on this round. It consisted of:

"o An addition problem involving 30 six-digit numbers

"o Three subtraction problems, each with two six-digit numbers o Three multiplication problems, each with two figures containing a total of five to twelve digits

"o Three division problems, each with two figures containing a total of five to twelve digits" (Wikipedia article on Soroban, accessed 04-15-2009). 

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Couffignal Decides against Building a Stored-Program Computer in France 1947

In 1947 French mathematician Louis Couffignal and French-American physicist Leon Brillouin held a small conference on “large computers” in Paris, at which Couffignal discussed French work, and Brillouin summarized American accomplishments in electronic digital computing.

Having researched computing theory as early as 1942, when he delivered a lecture to the Comité National de l'Organisation Française on the future of computingCouffignal decided against building a stored-program computer. This mistake caused France to fall behind England and America in computing technology. The government agency where Couffignal worked, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), did not obtain a stored-program computer (a British model) until 1955. Only in 1956 was the first stored-program computer manufactured in France.

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The First Large Conference on Electronic Computers is Held in Cambridge, Massachusetts January 7 – January 10, 1947

The first large conference on electronic and electromechanical digital computers was held at Cambridge, Massachusetts from January 7-10, 1947. About 250 people attended. At the conference Samuel H. Caldwell suggested the formation of an organization of people engaged in this new field. This organization was later named the Eastern Association for Computing Machinery. It was the predecessor of the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery).

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Key Events in the Development of the UNIVAC, the First Electronic Computer Widely Sold in the United States April 24, 1947 – November 4, 1952

On April 24, 1947 the Electronic Control Company (Pres Eckert and John Mauchly) in Philadelphia developed the tentative instruction code C-1 for what they called  “a Statistical EDVAC.” This was the earliest document on the programming of an electronic digital computer intended for commercial use. On May 24, 1947 they renamed the planned “Statistical EDVAC” the UNIVAC. About November 1947 Electronic Control Company  issued the first brochure advertising the UNIVAC —the first sales brochure ever issued for an electronic digital computer. A special characteristic of the brochure was that it did not show the product, since at this time the product was not yet fully conceptualized either in design or external appearance. 

On October 31, 1947 Eckert and Mauchly applied for a U.S. patent on the mercury acoustic delay-line electronic memory system. This was the "first device to gain widespread acceptance as a reliable computer memory system." (Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace [2002]1191).  The patent 2,629,827 was granted in 1953.

In 1948 a contract was drawn up between the renamed company, Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, and the United States Census Bureau for the production of the UNIVAC. On October 31, 1947 Pres Eckert and John Mauchly of Philadelphia applied for a U.S. patent on the mercury acoustic delay-line electronic memory system. This was the "first device to gain widespread acceptance as a reliable computer memory system." (Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace [2002]1191). The patent 2,629,827 was granted in 1953.

As the first UNIVAC was being developed, in 1949 Betty Holbertson  developed the UNIVAC Instructions Code C-10. C-10 was the first software to allow a computer to be operated by keyboarded commands rather than dials and switches. It was also the first mnemonic code. Also in 1949, Grace Hopper left the Harvard Computation Laboratory to join Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a senior mathematician/programmer. In June 1949 John Mauchly conceived the Short Code—the first high-level programming language for an electronic computer—to be used with the BINAC. It was also the first interpreted language and the first assembly language. The Short Code first ran on UNIVAC I, serial 1, in 1950. [In 2005 no copies of the Short Code existed with dates earlier than 1952.]

UNIVAC I, serial 1, was signed over to the United States Census Bureau on March 31, 1951. The official dedication of the machine at the government offices occurred on June 14, 1951. Excluding the unique BINAC, the UNIVAC I was the first electronic computer to be commercially manufactured in the United States. Its development preceded the British Ferranti Mark 1; however, the British machine was actually delivered to its first customer one month earlier than the UNIVAC I.

Though the United States Census Bureau owned UNIVAC I, serial 1, the Eckert-Mauchly division of Remington Rand retained it in Philadelphia for sales demonstration purposes, and did not actually install it at government offices until twenty-one months later.

In 1951 magnetic tape was used to record computer data on the  UNIVAC I with its UNISERVO tape drive. The UNISERVO was the first the tape drive for a commercially sold computer.

It's "recording medium was a thin metal strip of ½″ wide(12.7 mm) nickel-plated phosphor bronze. Recording density was 128 characters per inch (198 micrometre/character) on eight tracks at a linear speed of 100 in/s (2.54 m/s), yielding a data rate of 12,800 characters per second. Of the eight tracks, six were data, one was a parity track, and one was a clock, or timing track. Making allowance for the empty space between tape blocks, the actual transfer rate was around 7,200 characters per second. A small reel of mylar tape provided separation from the metal tape and the read/write head" (Wikipedia article on Univac I, accessed 04-26-2009).

In 1952 Grace Hopper wrote the first compiler (A-0) for UNIVAC, and on October 24, 1952 he UNIVAC Short Code II was developed. This was the earliest extant version of a high-level programming language actually intended to be used on an electronic digital computer.

On November 4, 1952 UNIVAC I, serial 5, used by the CBS television network in New York City, successfully predicted the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as president of the United States. This was the first time that millions of people (including me, then aged 7) saw and heard about an electronic computer. The computer, far too large and delicate to be moved, was actually in Eckert-Mauchly's corporate office in Philadelphia. What was televised by Walter Cronkite from CBS studios in New York was a dummy terminal connected by teletype to the machine in Philadelphia.

Univac 1, serial 5 was later installed at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in Livermore, California.

♦ In 2010 journalist Ira Chinoy completed a dissertation on journalists' early encounters with computers as tools for news reporting, focusing on election-night forecasting in 1952. The dissertation, which also explored methods journalists used to cover elections in the age of print, was entitled Battle of the Brains: Election-Night Forecasting at the Dawn of the Computer Age.

In 1954 UNIVAC I, serial 8, was installed at General Electric Appliance Park, Louisville, Kentucky. Serial 8 was the first stored-program electronic computer sold to a nongovernmental customer in the United States. It ran the "first successful industrial payroll application."

This humorous promotional film for the Remington Rand UNIVAC computer features J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly in leading roles. Produced in 1960, the film outlines the earlier history of computing leading to the development and application of the UNIVAC.

(This entry was last revised on 12-31-2014.)
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Innovative Aspects of the BINAC, the First Electronic Computer Ever Sold October 1947 – September 1950

In October 1947 Northrop Aircraft, Inc. of Hawthorne, California, ordered the BINAC (BINary Automatic Computer) from Pres Eckert and John Mauchly’s Electronic Control Company in Philadelphia. The BINAC consisted of two identical serial computers operating in parallel, with mercury delay-line memories, and magnetic tape as secondary memories and auxiliary input devices.

On September 9, 1948 the second module of the BINAC was completed in Philadelphia. Among its numerous innovations were germanium diodes in the logic processing hardware—probably the first application of semiconductors in computers. Until its delivery to Northrop Aircraft in September 1949, the BINAC remained in Philadelphia for use in numerous sales demonstrations.

In February 1949 Albert A. Auerbach, one of the designers of the BINAC CPU at Pres Eckert and John Mauchly's Electronic Control Company, ran a small test routine for filling memory from the A register. This was the first program run on the first stored-program electronic computer produced in the United States. 

On August 22, 1949 Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation of Philadelphia issued a press release describing the sale of the BINAC. This was the first press release ever issued for the sale of an electronic computer.

In 2014 it was my privilege and pleasure to handle the only known copy of the first manual ever written for a functioning electronic computer: the Operating and Maintenance Manual for the BINAC Binary Automatic Computer Built for Northrop Aircraft CorporationThis 37-page document, reproduced from typescript by Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp. in Philadelphia in 1949, was the model for countless numbers of operating manuals for computers that were written in the following decades. As only one BINAC was ever built it is likely that only a handful of copies of the manual were ever produced.

Eckert and Mauchly’s BINAC was the first stored-program computer ever fully operational, since the Moore School’s EDVAC, which was designed to be the first stored-program computer, did not become operational until 1952. The BINAC was also the first stored-program computer that was ever sold.

The BINAC was extremely advanced from a design standpoint: It was a binary computer with two serial CPUs, each with its own 512-word acoustic delay line memory. The CPUs were designed to continuously compare results to check for errors caused by hardware failures. It used approximately 1500 vacuum tubes, making it virtually a mini-computer compared to its predecessor, the large-room-sized ENIAC, which used approximately 18,000 vacuum tubes. The two 512-word acoustic mercury delay line memories were divided into 16 channels each holding 32 words of 31bits, with an additional 11-bit space between words to allow for circuit delays in switching. The clock rate was 4.25 MHz (1 MHz according to one source) which yielded a word time of about 10 microseconds. The addition time was 800 microseconds and the multiplication time was 1200 microseconds. New programs or data had to be entered manually in octal using an eight-key keypad. BINAC was significant for being able to perform high-speed arithmetic on binary numbers, although it had no provisions for storing characters or decimal digits.

In 1946, after developing and building the ENIAC (the first general-purpose electronic computer) for the U. S. Army during World War II, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly founded their own company for the purpose of designing and manufacturing electronic stored-program computers on a commercial basis. In October 1947, needing money to keep their business afloat while working on their UNIVAC machine for the U.S. Census Bureau, Eckert and Mauchly entered into a contract with Northrop Aircraft to build the Binary Automatic Computer (BINAC). Northrop, based in Hawthorne, California, was then engaged in a project to build a long-range guided missile for the U.S. Air Force, and had the idea of using electronic computers for airborne navigation; the BINAC, while not designed to work in flight, would perhaps be an initial step toward that eventual goal. Airborne computers did not become feasible until the 1960s, when miniaturized solid-state transistorized components became available.

The BINAC was completed in August, 1949, $178,000 over budget; Eckert and Mauchly absorbed the loss themselves. Built with two serial processors, the BINAC functioned more like two computers than one, with the goal of providing a safety back-up for airplanes. Each part of the device was built as a pair of systems that would check each step. All instructions were carried out once by each unit, and then the result would be compared between the units. If they matched, the next instruction would be carried out; but if there was a discrepancy between the two parts of the machine, it stopped. The processors were only five feet tall, four feet long and a foot wide, tiny for those days. The machine could only do 3,500 additions per second compared to 5,000 on the ENIAC, but it could do 1,000 multiplications per second, compared to only 333 on the ENIAC.

Many histories of computing state that the BINAC never operated successfully; however, Northrop’s “Description of Northrop Computing Center,” an internal company document dated September 16, 1950, which I also handled in 2014, listed the BINAC as one of its three main pieces of computing equipment, and even though the machine was currently “being revised and improved for more reliable operation,” it was still functioning at least somewhat satisfactorily a year after its delivery.

"This machine has solved in seven minutes a problem on the effect of a certain wind pressure on a rubber diaphragm that would have occupied a mathematician for a year. It has solved Poisson’s Equation and obtained a network of 26 solutions in only two hours. For each of these solutions, the BINAC performed 500,000 additions, 200,000 multiplications, and 300,000 transfers of control, all in the space of five minutes. . . . This machine, which is a general purpose computer calculating in the binary system but receiving and emitting its instructions in the octal system, will be demonstrated today on a short test problem (“Description of Northrop Computing Center,” p. 2).

The task of writing the BINAC’s operating manual was assigned to Joseph D. Chapline, an EMCC employee who had helped Eckert and Mauchly on the ENIAC project at the Moore School. Realizing that the BINAC’s users at Northrop would not be electronic computer specialists, Chapline decided to model his BINAC guide on the owner’s manuals issued by automobile companies, rather than on the technical reports written for the Moore School’s ENIAC and EDVAC, which were intended for highly trained engineers and scientists already familiar with the respective machines. Chapline’s Operating and Maintenance Manual provided the BINAC user with a full overview of the machine’s construction, operations and maintenance in a step-by-step, readable manner, with clear diagrams illustrating the BINAC’s various components. Chapline’s instructional, user-oriented approach set the pattern for the millions of computer manuals that would follow it.

Chapline, who also wrote the documentation for the ENIAC, was a pioneer in the field of modern technical writing, which “translate[s] complex technical concepts and instructions into a series of comprehensible steps that enable users to perform a specific task in a specific way” (Wikipedia). Chapline taught over 200 classes in technical writing at the Moore School before leaving the computer profession in 1953 to become the organist and choirmaster at the Unitarian Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. Brockman, From Millwrights to Shipwrights to the Twenty-First Century, ch.7.

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The Williams Tube and the "Manchester Baby," the First Operational Stored-Program Computer Runs its First Program June 21, 1948

In July 1946 mathematician Max Newman founded the computer laboratory at Manchester University via a grant from the Royal Society. Early on engineers in the department recognized that building an electronic memory would be the most difficult task in building a stored-program computer. In June 1946, English engineer F.C. (Freddie) Williams had begun research on the storage of both analog and digital information on a cathode ray tube at the Telecommunications Research Establishment. By November 1946 he was able to store a single bit (with the "anticipation" method), based around a standard radar CRT, and filed a provisional patent for the mechanism in December 1946.

"In December 1946 Freddie Williams was appointed to a chair at the University of Manchester, and left TRE. However both he and TRE wanted the research to continue, so Tom Kilburn, who was in his group at TRE, was seconded to the University of Manchester to continue the work with Freddie Williams on digital CRT storage. A Scientific Officer from TRE was also seconded full time to help him, initially Arthur Marsh, who left after a few months, and was replaced in the summer of 1947 by Geoff Tootill.

"By March 1947 Tom Kilburn had discovered a different and better method of storing information, more suited to storing a large number of bits on the same tube. By November 1947 they had succeeded in storing 2048 bits for a period of hours, having investigated a number of variations on storing a set of bits (dot-dash, dash-dot, defocus-focus, focus-defocus)" (http://www.computer50.org/mark1/new.baby.html#tootill, accessed 10-09-2011).

"The Williams tube tended to become unreliable with age, and most working installations had to be "tuned" by hand. By contrast, mercury delay line memory was slower and also needed hand tuning, but it did not age as badly and enjoyed some success in early digital electronic computing despite its data rate, weight, cost, thermal and toxicity problems. However, the Manchester Mark 1 was successfully commercialised as the Ferranti Mark 1. Some early computers in the USA also used the Williams tube, including the IAS machine, originally designed for Selectron tube memory, the UNIVAC 1103, IBM 701, IBM 702 and the Standards Western Automatic Computer (SWAC). Williams tubes were also used in the Soviet computer, Strela-1" (Wikipedia article on Williams Tube, accessed 10-09-2011).

After two years of research and development, on June 21, 1948 the Manchester Small Scale Experimental Machine,or  Manchester "Baby" prototype computer (Manchester Baby), ran its first program, written by Tom Kilburn. This small pilot version of a larger computer was the first stored-program electronic digital computer. It operated for only a short time.  The machine was built at the Victoria University of Manchester in England by Frederic C. Williams, Tom Kilburn and Geoff Tootill to test the Williams-Kilburn cathode ray tube (CRT) memory (Williams tube).

"The machine was not intended to be a practical computer but was instead designed as a testbed for the Williams tube, an early form of computer memory. Although considered 'small and primitive' by the standards of its time, it was the first working machine to contain all of the elements essential to a modern electronic computer. As soon as the SSEM had demonstrated the feasibility of its design, a project was initiated at the university to develop it into a more usable computer, the Manchester Mark 1. The Mark 1 in turn quickly became the prototype for the Ferranti Mark 1, the world's first commercially available general-purpose computer.

"The SSEM had a 32-bit word length and a memory of 32 words. As it was designed to be the simplest possible stored-program computer, the only arithmetic operations implemented in hardware were subtraction and negation; other arithmetic operations were implemented in software. The first of three programs written for the machine found the highest proper divisor of 218 (262,144), a calculation it was known would take a long time to run—and so prove the computer's reliability—by testing every integer from 218 − 1 downwards, as divisions had to be implemented by repeated subtractions of the divisor. The program consisted of 17 instructions and ran for 52 minutes before reaching the correct answer of 131,072, after the SSEM had performed 3.5 million operations (for an effective CPU speed of 1.1 kIPS)" (Wikipedia article Manchester Small Scale Experimental Machine, accessed 10-09-2011).

You can watch a streaming video of a 1948 BBC newsreel about the Manchester "Baby" at this link. [You will need to scroll down the web page.]

None of the original Manchester Baby exists; however, a working replica 5.2 meters long and 1 ton in weight is on display at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). In June 2013 its operation was demonstrated every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11AM to 3PM.

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Foundation of MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and SAGE 1949 – 1951

In August 1949, the Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb. When Truman administration broke the news a month later the disclosure provoked a wave of fear and confusion — a reaction that intensified with the equally frightful revelation that the Soviets had developed long-range bombers capable of crossing the North Pole and attacking the United States.

To develop an automated detection and interception system to protect the entire U.S. from incoming bombers, in 1949, under the name Project Charles, the Air Force funded a project proposed by George Valley and Jay Forrester of MIT to develop a military grade version of the Whirlwind computer. The Final Report of the Air Defense Systems Engineering Committee (1950) concluded that the United States was unprepared for the threat of an air attack, and, as a result, in 1951 MIT's Lincoln Laboratory was founded in Lexington, Massachusetts, as a federally funded research and development center, initially focused on improving the nation's air defense system through advanced electronics. 

Because of MIT's management of the Radiation Laboratory  during World War II, and the experience of some of its staff on the Air Defense Systems Engineering Committee, and MIT's proven competence in electronics, the U.S. Air Force recommended that MIT could provide the research needed to develop an air defense that could detect, identify, and ultimately intercept air threats. However, it was soon determined that technology based on the Whirlwind computer, which Valley and Forrester had originally recommended for the purpose, was clearly inadequate. Instead, the project evolved into the huge Semi-Automatic Ground Environment or SAGE system, development of which occurred from 1954 to 1963.

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Roberto Busa & IBM Adapt Punched Card Tabulating to Sort Words in a Literary Text: The Origins of Humanities Computing 1949 – 1951

In 1949 Roberto Busa, Jesuit priest, professor of Ontology, Theodicy and Scientific Methodology and, for some years, librarian in the "Aloisianum" Faculty of Philosophy of Gallarate, in Northern Italy,  began the monumental task of creating an index verborum of all the words in the works of St Thomas Aquinas and related authors, totaling some 11 million words of medieval Latin. This was, of course, before any electronic digital computers were available. What was available was a single operating example of Vannevar Bush's Rapid Selector in Washington, D.C., and various versions of electric punched card tabulators, some of which could be programmed. Busa's first published report on this project appears to be Sancti Thomae Aquinatis hymnorum ritualium varia specimina concordantiarum. Archivum Philosophicum Aloisianum, Ser. II, no. 7. (Milan, 1951), in which the specimen of the concordance was, of course, published in Latin, while Busa's introductory text was published in English and Italian. The bilingual subtitle of the work read in English, "A First Example of Word Index Automatically Compiled and Printed by IBM Punched Card Machines." In this work Busa first summarized notable examples of indices verborum compiled before his project, and then analyzed five stages of the process:

"1- transcription of the text, broken down into phrases, on to separate cards;

"2- multiplication of the cards (as many as there are words on each);

"3- indicating on each card the respective entry (lemma);

"4- the selection and placing in alphabetical order of all the cards according to the lemma and its purely material quality;

"5 - finally, once that formal elaboration of the alphabetical order of the words which only an expert's intelligence can perform, has been done, the typographical composition of the pages to be published.

"A kind of mechanisation has been working for years so far as regards caption 2: the T.L.L. and the Mitellateinisches Wörterbuch use the services of Copying Bureaux, where one of the many well known systems of duplicating are used; Prof. J.H. Defarrari of Washington used electrical typewriters which can make many copies; Prof. P. O'Reilly of Notre Dame. . .had each side of the page repeated as many times as there were words contained theron" (Busi, op. cit., p. 20).

Busa ruled out the Rapid Selector and approached IBM in New York and in IBM's head office in Milano, where he obtained funding and cooperation. Busi's summary of his progress to date published in 1951 is perhaps the earliest detailed discussion of the methods used and problems encountered in applying punched card tabulators to a humanities project. Therefore I quote it in detail. Readers will notice some pecularities in the English translation published:

" Now what I intend publishing, are the results of a first series of experiments carried out with electric accounting machines operating by means of punched cards. Of the three companies using this system, the International Business Mchines (IBM), the Powers of the Remington Rand, and the Bull, it was at the Milan Head Office of the Italian organisation of the first, which is also the most important, that I continued the research I had commenced at the New York Headquarters.

"What had first appeared as merely intuition, can today be presented as an acquired fact: the punched card machines carry out all the material part of the work mentioned under captions 2, 3, 4, and 5 [above].

"I must say that if this success has its origin in the multiple adaptability, characteristic of the equipment in question, it was nonetheless due to the openmindedness and intelligence of the IBM people, who have honoured me with their patient confidence, that the method for such application has been found. I will give a brief description of the stages of the process and the first trials which were carried out on one of Dante's Cantos.

"The Automatic Punch, controlled by a keyboard similar to that of an ordinary typewriter, «wrote» by holes or perforations, one for each card, all the lines; a total of 136 cards. This is the sole work done by human eyes and fingers directly and responsibly; if at this point oversights occur, the error will be repeated from stage to stage; but if no mistakes were made, or were elminated, there is no fear of fresh errors; human work from now onwards is reduced to mere supervision on the proper functioning of the various machines.

"The contents of each card can be made legible either on the punch itself which, if required, can simultaneously write in letters on the upper edge of the card what is «written» in holes on the various lines of columns thereon; or else on a second machine, the so-called Interpreter, which transcribes in letters the holes it encounters on the cards (previously punched). This offers not only a more accurate transcription in virtue of the better type and greater spacing of the characters, but a transcription which can be effected on any desired portion of the card.

"The 136 cards thus punched were then processed through a third machine, the Reproducer: this automatically copied them on another 136 cards, but adding, sideways of the lines and their quotations, the first of the words contained in each. Subsequently it makes a second copy, adding on the side the second word, then a third copy adding the third, and so forth. There were finally 943 cards, as many as were the words of the third canto of Dante's Inferno; thus each word in that canto had its card, accompanied by the text (or rather, here, by the line) and by the quotation. This is equivalent to state that each line was multiplied as many times as words it contained. I must confess that in actual practice this was not so simple as I endeavoured to make it in the description; the second and the successive words did not actually commence in the same column on all cards. In fact, it was this lack of determined fields which constituted the greatest hindrance in transposing the system from the commercial and statistical uses to the sorting of words from a literary text [bold text mine, JN] The result was attained by exploring the cards, column by column, in order to identify by the non-punched columns the end of the previous word and the commencement of the following one; thus, operating with the sorter and reproducer together, were produced only those words commencing and finishing in the same columns.

"This operation is rather a long one; theoretically as many sortings and groups of reproductions as there are columns occupied by the longest line, multiplied by the number of letters contained in the longest word; in practice various devices make it possible to shorten this routine a good deal. It must be borne in mind that the amount of human work entailed by all ths processing the words and setting up of the reproducer panels--about two persons' one day work--remains unchanged notwithstanding the increased number of cards. While it is true that there are longer intervals, namely those intervals during which the machines carry out their own operations, it is equally true that the operations which in the case of a few cards are inevitably consecutive, with many cards can be simultaneous; the time taken by the reproducer to copy one stack can be used to sort others or to set up the panel for the next reproduction. At present the reproducer can reproduce 6,000 cards an hour, and the sorter can explore 36,000.

"Having reached this point, it is a trifle to put the words into alphabetical order; the Sorter, proceeding backwards, from the last letter, sorts and groups gradually column by column, all the identical letters; in a few minutes the words are aligned and the card file, in alphabetical order, is already compiled.

"This order can be obtained again with the same ease, as often as required. If the scholar, while making his research on the carried conceptual content, disturbed the alphabetical order of the items, this same order can be very easily obtained once more merely by the use of the sorter, which is the most elementary IBM machine.

"The philologist, however, must group or sort further on what the machine has not been able to «feel»; thus have, had are different forms of the same verb; thus, in Italian, andiamocene, diamogliene are several words joined into one, and for the Latin mortuus est is a single word form which means died, but could also mean the dead man is and then they would be two items; and so on for the whole wide range of homonyms.

"When the order has thus been properly modified and attains its final form, the cards are ready to be process in the Alphanumerical Accounting Machine, or Tabulator.

"The tabulator retranscribes on a sheet of paper, in letters and numbers— no longer in holes— line after line, the contents represented by the holes in the cards, at the rate of 4,800 cards per hour; and this is a page of the concordance or index in its final arrangement. The published edition can now obtained by some kind of reproduction; for ex. employing ribbon and paper of the kind that allows the use of lithographical dupicators.

"The concordance which I am presenting as an example is precisely an off-set reproduction of tabulated sheets turned out by the accounting machine.

"The flexibility of these machines offers the possibility of making varied and sometimes extremely useful, applications. I am making a brief mention of the most salient ones.

"The tabulated document can be printed on a continuous paper roll or else on separate sheets of varying sizes; in other words, the machine can be made to change the sheet automatically after a given number of lines.

"The distance between lines can also be automatically differentiated; it is possible to arrange the machine so as to make, for example, without further human intervention, a double space when it goes on to a new word (for example from anima to animato) and, say, four spaces between the words commencing with the letter A and those commencing with B, and so on,. The data which are, for example, at the right of the card can be tabulated, if desired, at the left, viceversa; so that the quotation can be placed prior or subsequent to the line independently of its position on the card.

"The card contents can be reproduced also partially, which makes it possible to obtain only an index of the quotations for those words of which it is not deemed desirable to have the concordance.

"The tabulator's performance is extremely useful when, to use, the current technical phrase, it is running in tab.

"Then it turns out only the list of the words which are different if, for example, the cards containing the preposition ab total two hundred, the machine will print ab once only, but, if desired, will add at the side thereof the number of times, that is 200, and so on for each word. The list thus obtained is very useful in studying those intelligent integrating touches to be given to the alphabetical order of the words, which, as I said, is effected by the machine on the mere basis of the purely material quality of the printed word. It is also useful as an entry table for all who wish to peruse the whole vocabulary of an author for determined purposes; still more useful when beside the word is shown the frequency with which it is used. When another machine called the Summary Punch is connected to the accounting machine running in tab, while the latter is turning out the long tabulated list of different words, the former, electrically controlled by the accounting machine, simultanteously punches a new card for each of these words, thus providing ready headings to be placed before the single groups of lines or quotations. If necessary, these can be inserted in their proper place among all the others automatically by the collator.

"This Collator which searches simultaneously two separate groups of cards at the rate of 20,000 per hour, and can insert, substitute and change cards from one with the cards from the other group, also offers some initial solutions to the problem of finding phrases or compound expressions. Taking, for example the expression according to: the group of cards containing according and that containing to are processed in the machine; on the basis of the identical quotation, the machine will extract all those cards on which both appear. It is true that they may be separated by other words, but one thing is certain, namely that all the cards bearing according to will be among those extracted; the eye and the hand must do the rest. It is still easier to obtain the same result when a card beaing the phrase sought for can be used as a pilot-card.

"The collator can also be used to verify and correct the cards which have been manually punched at the beginning, and thus guarantee the accuracy of the transcription, an indispensable condition for philological works, particularly in the light of their peculiar function. Two separate typists punch the same text, each on his own; the collator compares the two series of cards, perceiving the discrepancies; of the cards not coinciding, at least one is wrong. This control allows only the following case to pass unobserved, namely two typists make the same error in the same place. This case is very improbable and so much the less probable in as much as the qualities and circumstances of typing and typist are different.

"This method of verifying, although substantially the same, offers perhaps some advantages over the other, usually employed by IBM in the intent of not doubling the number, and consequently the cost, of the cards purposely, whereas in our case this is no hindrance, since each card already has to be multiplied as many times as the words it contains; the punched cards are put through the Verifier on the keys of which a typist repeats the sane text; the machine signals him when his punching does not concord with the existing holes; one of the two is wrong.

"Before concluding, a criticism of these initial results should be made, also to justify the lines along which I am working to perfect the method: only the first man [an allusion to Adam] happened to begin his life as an adult.

"In the first place, the machines I used— those commonly used in Europe up to 1950— produce a final tabulated page the appearance of which is still perceptibly less satifactory than that of printed material. Many will hold the opinion that this is compensated by the automatic performance and the high speed of their writing. But it is indeed hard to sacrifice accents and punctuation as well as the difference between capitals and small letters. Similar considerable limitations are involved by the card capacity; eighty spaces.

"Since each card includes both quotation and lemma, the average text for each word could not therefore surpass, by much, a hendecasyllable. And this is little, the more so one bears in mind that the machines do not allow the omission of subordinate phrases or even words, by which the penworker instead can choose only those few words, which constitute the substance of an expression. This brevity in the text, perceptible in a printed concordance and even more so in the case of prose instead of verse, is extremely distressing when the card file is used for research work; infinite occasions will indeed arise where the scant surrounding will not give the lexicographer sufficient elements for a well-grounded interpretation and, by compelling him to a too frequent and aggravating recourse to the text, will tempt him—there are even little devils specialised in leading philologists into sin!— with the bait of a hasty judgment.

"Even with only the groups of machines above mentioned, it is quite possible to obviate the latter hindrance, but I will not set forth the various means of doing this. Not only so as not to disconcert the reader; it does happen indeed that when one glimpses at the unimagined possibility of carrying out, for example, in four years a work which would have required otherwise half a century (this is the case of the concordance I have in mind for 13,000 in folio pages of the works of St.Thomas Aquinas) everyone becomes so confident and at the same time so exacting with the new method, that all feel deluded when told that the operations involved in making it possible to have an abundance of text on every card will delay, let us say, by twelve months, the conclusion of the work. But it would above all be purposeless to devote time and attention to such devices, for new model IBM machines already in public use in the United States, but not yet in Europe, will allow a more aesthetically precise final printing, punctuation, accents and texts longer than the usual card capacity. I refer to the Cardatype and the type 407 Accounting Machine. I hope to write about this in the near future" (Busa, op. cit. 22-34).

(This entry was last revised on 03-15-2015.)

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The First Stored-Program Computer in Australia November 1949

At the University of Melbourne in November 1949 the first test program was run on Trevor Pearcey's and Maston Beard’s CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) Mk1, the first stored-program computer in Australia. In 1956 the machine was renamed CSIRAC.

Excluding the BINAC, which only operated for a short time, the CSIR Mk1 was one of only three stored-program computers operating in the world at this time.  CSIRAC, preserved at the Melbourne Museum, is one of only a very few first generation electronic computers that have survived, including the Zuse Z4, and one or two Ferranti Pegasus computers.

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1950 – 1960

Jule Charney, Agnar Fjörtoff & John von Neumann Report the First Weather Forecast by Electronic Computer 1950

In 1950 meteorologist Jule Charney of MIT, Agnar Fjörtoff, and mathematician John von Neumann of Princeton published “Numerical Integration of the Barotropic Vorticity Equation,” Tellus 2 (1950) 237-254. The paper reported the first weather forecast by electronic computer. It took twenty-four hours of processing time on the ENIAC to calculate a twenty-four hour forecast.

"As a committed opponent of Communism and a key member of the WWII-era national security establishment, von Neumann hoped that weather modeling might lead to weather control, which might be used as a weapon of war. Soviet harvests, for example, might be ruined by a US-induced drought.

"Under grants from the Weather Bureau, the Navy, and the Air Force, he assembled a group of theoretical meteorologists at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). If regional weather prediction proved feasible, von Neumann planned to move on to the extremely ambitious problem of simulating the entire atmosphere. This, in turn, would allow the modeling of climate. Jule Charney, an energetic and visionary meteorologist who had worked with Carl-Gustaf Rossby at the University of Chicago and with Arnt Eliassen at the University of Oslo, was invited to head the new Meteorology Group.

"The Meteorology Project ran its first computerized weather forecast on the ENIAC in 1950. The group's model, like [Lewis Fry] Richardson's, divided the atmosphere into a set of grid cells and employed finite difference methods to solve differential equations numerically. The 1950 forecasts, covering North America, used a two-dimensional grid with 270 points about 700 km apart. The time step was three hours. Results, while far from perfect, justified further work" (Paul N. Edwards [ed], Atmospheric General Circulation Modeling: A Participatory History, accessed 04-26-2009).

As Charney, Fjörtoff, and von Neumann reported:

"It may be of interest to remark that the computation time for a 24-hour forecast was about 24 hours, that is, we were just able to keep pace with the weather. However, much of this time was consumed by manual and I.B.M. oeprations, namely by the reading, printing, reproducing, sorting and interfiling of punch cards. In the course of the four 24 hour forecasts about 100,000 standard I.B.M. punch cards were produced and 1,000,000 multiplications and divisions were performed. (These figures double if one takes account of the preliminary experimentation that was carried out.) With a larger capacity and higher speed machine, such as is now being built at the Institute for Advanced Study, the non-arithmetical operations will be eliminated and the arithmetical operations performed more quickly. It is estimated that the total computation time with a grid of twice the Eniac-grids density, will be about 1/2 hour, so that one has reason to hope that RICHARDSON'S dream (1922) of advancing the computation faster than the weather may soon be realized, at least for a two-dimensional model. Actually we estimate on the basis of the experiences acquired in the course of the Eniac calculations, that if a renewed systematic effort with the Eniac were to be made, and with a thorough routinization of the operations, a 24-hour prediction could be made on the Eniac in as little as 12 hours." (pp. 274-75).

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"High-Speed Computing Devices," the First Textbook on How to Build an Electronic Computer 1950

In 1950 Engineering Research Associates of St. Paul, Minnesota, published High-Speed Computing Devices, the first textbook on how to build an electronic digital computer. Written in the form of a “cookbook,” the book described available computer components and how they worked. It included extensive bibliographies of the American computing literature and some of the English. 

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Compiling a Bibliography by Electric Punched Card Tabulating 1950

In 1950 the Library of Congress announced plans to compile the Union List of Serials using electric punched card tabulating.

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The IBM NORC, the First Supercomputer 1950 – 1954

Between 1950 and 1954 IBM developed and built at Columbia University's Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory, 612 West 115th Street location, the Naval Ordnance Research Computer (NORC)—for the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance. The NORC was the "first supercomputer," and "the most powerful computer on earth from 1954 to about 1963." The NORC’s multiplication unit remains the fastest ever built with vacuum tube technology.

IBM introduced the input-output channel as a feature on the NORC. This innovation synchronized the flow of data into and out of the computer while computation was in progress, relieving the central processor of that task.

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Simon, the First Personal Computer May – November 1950

Edmund Berkeley's "Simon," which has been called the first personal computer, developed out of his book, Giant Brains, or Machines That Think, published in November 1949, in which he wrote,

 “We shall now consider how we can design a very simple machine that will think.. Let us call it Simon, because of its predecessor, Simple Simon... Simon is so simple and so small in fact that it could be built to fill up less space than a grocery-store box; about four cubic feet. . . . It may seem that a simple model of a mechanical brain like Simon is of no great practical use. On the contrary, Simon has the same use in instruction as a set of simple chemical experiments has: to stimulate thinking and understanding, and to produce training and skill. A training course on mechanical brains could very well include the construction of a simple model mechanical brain, as an exercise."

One year later in an article published in Scientific American about “Simon,” in November 1950 Berkeley predicted that “some day we may even have small computers in our homes, drawing energy from electric power lines like refrigerators or radios.”

"Who built "Simon"? The machine represents the combined efforts of a skilled mechanic, William A. Porter, of West Medford, Mass., and two Columbia University graduate students of electrical engineering, Robert A. Jensen . . . and Andrew Vall . . . . Porter did the basic construction, while Jensen and Vall took the machine when it was still not in working order and engineered it so that it functioned. Specifically, they designed a switching system that made possible the follow-through of a given problem; set up an automatic synchronizing system; installed a system for indicated errors due to loss of synchronization; re-designed completely the power supply of themachine" (Fact Sheet on "Simon." Public Information Office, Columbia University, May 18, 1950).

"The Simon's architecture was based on relays. The programs were run from a standard paper tape with five rows of holes for data. The registers and ALU could store only 2 bit. The data entry was made through the punched paper or by five keys on the front panel of the machine. The output was provided by five lamps. The punched tape served not only for data entry, but also as a memory for the machine. The instructions were carried out in sequence, as they were read from the tape. The machine was able to perform four operations: addition, negation, greater than, and selection" (Wikipedia article on Simon (computer) accessed 10-10-2011).

In his 1956 article, "Small Robots-Report," Berkeley stated that he had spent $4000 developing Simon. The single machine that was constructed is preserved at the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California. Berkeley also marketed engineering plans for Simon, of which 400 copies were sold.

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MESM, the First Russian Stored-Program Computer November 6, 1950 – 1951

In 1951 Russian mathematician and computer scientist Sergei Lebedev had MESM, the first Russian stored-program computer, operational in Feofaniya (Ukrainian: Феофанія), Theophania, a suburb of Kiev.

"Work on MESM got going properly at the end of 1948 and, considering the challenges, the rate of progress was remarkable. Ukraine was still struggling to recover from the devastation of its occupation during WWII, and many of Kyiv’s buildings lay in ruins. The monastery in Feofania was among the buildings destroyed during the war, so the MESM team had to build their working quarters from scratch—the laboratory, metalworking shop, even the power station that would provide electricity. Although small—just 20 people—the team was extraordinarily committed. They worked in shifts 24 hours a day, and many lived in rooms above the laboratory. (You can listen to a lively account of this time in programme 3 of the BBC’s ”Electronic brains” series.) 

"MESM ran its first program on November 6, 1950, and went into full-time operation in 1951. In 1952, MESM was used for top-secret calculations relating to rocketry and nuclear bombs, and continued to aid the Institute’s research right up to 1957. By then, Lebedev had moved to Moscow to lead the construction of the next generation of Soviet supercomputers, cementing his place as a giant of European computing. As for MESM, it met a more prosaic fate—broken into parts and studied by engineering students in the labs at Kyiv’s Polytechnic Institute" (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/12/remembering-remarkable-soviet-computing.html, accessed 12-25-2011)

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The First Public Demonstration of Machine Translation Occurs 1951 – January 7, 1954

On January 7, 1954 the first public demonstration of a Russian-English machine translation system occurred in New York—a collaboration between IBM and Georgetown University. Brief statements about politics, law, mathematics, chemistry, metallurgy, communications and military affairs were submitted in Russian by Léon Dostert and linguists of the Georgetown University Institute of Languages and Linguistics, and within a within a few seconds a computer translated the sentences into English. This project, which began in 1951, was also probably the first non-numerical application of a digital computer. Programming and the demonstration was done on an IBM 701, the first stored program digital computer that IBM put into production. IBM began producing the machine in December 1952. 

Although the demonstration was only a small-scale experiment of just 250 words and six grammar rules, it raised expectations, that later proved quite unrealistic, of automatic systems capable of high quality translation in the near future. The day after the demonstration the front pages of The New York Times and other major American newspapers carried reports of the first public demonstration of a computer for translating languages. Reports were syndicated in many provincial newspapers, and in the following months articles about it appeared in popular magazines. Some of the participants in the project claimed that within three of five years machine translation would be a solved problem. This encouraged governments to invest in computational linguistics.  

John Hutchins, "The first public demonstration of machine translation:
the Georgetown-IBM system, 7th January 1954" (2006).

In December 2013 IBM's January 8, 1954 press release concerning the demonstration was available from IBM's archive at this link.

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The First OCR System: "GISMO" 1951

In 1951 American inventor David Hammond Shepard, a cryptanalyst at AFSA, the forerunner of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), built "Gismo" in his spare time.

Gismo was a machine to convert printed messages into machine language for processing by computer— the first optical character recognition (OCR) system.

"IBM licensed the [OCR] machine, but never put it into production. Shepard designed the Farrington B numeric font now used on most credit cards. Recognition was more reliable on a simple and open font, to avoid the effects of smearing at gasoline station pumps. Reading credit cards was the first major industry use of OCR, although today the information is read magnetically from the back of the cards.

"In 1962 Shepard founded Cognitronics Corporation. In 1964 his patented 'Conversation Machine' was the first to provide telephone Interactive voice response access to computer stored data using speech recognition. The first words recognized were 'yes' and 'no' " (Wikipedia article on David H. Shepard, accessed 02-29-2012).

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The First Electronic Computer in Canada September 8 – September 10, 1952

On September 8, 1952 the ACM held a special meeting in Toronto in honor of the installation of the first electronic digital computer in Canada, installed at the University of Toronto. It was a Ferranti Mark I, known as the FERUT computer

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The First Journal on Electronic Computing October 1952

In October 1952 Edmund Berkeley began publication of Computing Machinery Field, the first journal on electronic computing, and the ancestor of all commercially published periodical publications on computing. The first three quarterly issues were mimeographed. By the March 1953 issue the title was changed to Computers and Automation.

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IBM Installs its First Stored Program Electronic Computer, the 701, but They Don't Call it a Computer March 27, 1953

"The 701 has at least 25 times the over-all speed but is less than one-quarter the size of IBM's Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator, which was dismantled to make room for its speedier successor."

"During its five-year reign as one of the world's best-known "electronic brains," the SSEC solved a wide variety of scientific and engineering problems, some involving many millions of sequential calculations. Such other projects as computing the positions of the moon for several hundred years and plotting the courses of the five outer planets -- with resulting corrections in astronomical tables which had been considered standard for many years -- won such popular acclaim for the SSEC that it stimulated the imaginations of pseudo-scientific fiction writers and served as an authentic setting for such motion pictures as "Walk East on Beacon," a spy-thriller with an FBI background.

"Though the 701 occupies the same quarters as the SSEC, which it rendered obsolete, it is not "built in" to the room as was its predecessor. Instead, it is smartly housed between serrated walls of soft-finished aluminum. A balconied conference room, overlooking the calculator and, separated from it by sloping plate glass, provides a vantage point for observing operations and discussing computations. Ample space is provided for writing the complex and abstract equations that are the stock in trade of engineers and scientists in an age of atomic energy and supersonic flight.

"The 701 uses all three of the most advanced electronic storage, or "memory" devices -- cathode ray tubes, magnetic drums and magnetic tapes. The computing unit uses small versions of the familiar electronic tubes, which are able to count at millions of pulses a second. In addition, several thousand germanium diodes are used in place of vacuum tubes, with resultant savings in space and power requirements.

"The 701 was designed for scientific and research purposes, and similar components are adaptable to the requirements of accounting and record-keeping. Research on commercial, data processing machines is under way.

"The 701 is capable of performing more than 16,000 addition or subtraction operations a second, and more than 2,000 multiplication or division operations a second. In solving a typical problem, the 701 performs an average of 14,000 mathematical operations a second."

(quotations from IBM's original May 27, 1953 press release from the IBM Archives website).

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The First Report on the Application of Electronic Computers to Business June 1953

In June 1953 Richard W. Appel and other students at Harvard Business school issued Electronic Business Mchines: A New Tool for Management.

This was the first report on the application of electronic computers to business. The report was issued before any electronic computer was delivered to an American corporation. (See Reading 10.4.)

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IBM 702 September 1953

In September 1953 IBM announced the development of the 702, a version of the 701 designed for business rather than scientific applications.

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The Deuce Computer (After the Pilot ACE, of Course) 1954

In 1954 English Electric constructed a commercial version of Alan Turing’s Pilot ACE called DEUCE.

Thirty-three of the DEUCE machines were sold, the last in 1962.

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Early Library Information Retrieval System 1954

In 1954 Harley Tillet built the perhaps the first operating library information retrieval system on a general purpose computer (IBM 701) at the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) at Inyokern, California, later called China Lake.

"Searching started with a file of about 15,000 bibliographic records, indexed only by the Uniterms, and search output was limited to report accession numbers. The task was made even more difficult by the fact that the IBM 701, a scientific calculator, did not have any built-in character representation" (Bourne).

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First Computer to Incorporate Indexing & Floating Point Arithmetic 1954

In 1954 IBM announced the 704. It was the first commercially available computer to incorporate indexing and floating point arithmetic as standard features. The 704 also featured a magnetic core memory, far more reliable than its predecessors’ cathode ray tube memories. A commercial success, IBM produced one hundred twenty-three 704s between 1955 and 1960.

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The First Routine Real-Time Numerical Weather Forecasting December 1954

Starting in December 1954, the Royal Swedish Air Force Weather Service in Stockholm made weather forecasts for the North Atlantic region three times a week using the Swedish BESK computer running a barotropic model developed by the Institute of Meteorology at the University of Stockholm, associated with the eminent meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby. These were the first routine real-time numerical weather forecasts.

Staff Members, Institute of Meterology, University of Stockholm. "Results of Forecasting with the Barotropic Model on an Electronic Computer (BESK)," Tellus 6 (1954): 139-149.

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The Beginning of Computerization of Banking September 1955

Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California, began the computerization of the banking industry by demonstrating a prototype electronic accounting machine using its ERMA (Electronic Recording Method of Accounting) system.

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The First Full-Scale Programmable Japanese Computer October 1955

ETL-Mark-2, the first full-scale programmable computer in Japan, was produced by the Electrotechnical Laboratory in Roppongi, Tokyo. It was built from 21,000 relays, and did not store a program.

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Proving the Feasibility of Weather Prediction by Numerical Process 1956

In 1956 theoretical meterologist Norman A. Phillips of the National Weather Service, National Meteorological Center, Silver Spring, Maryland, published "The General Circulation of the Atmosphere: A Numerical Experiment," Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 82, no. 352 (1956) 123-164.  By 1955 Phillips completed a 2-layer, hemispheric, quasi-geostrophic computer model. "Despite its primitive nature, Phillips's model is now often regarded as the first AGCM" (P. N. Edwards, Atmospheric General Circulation Modeling: A Participatory History, accessed 06-20-2009)

"Norman Phillips was the first to show, with a simple General Circulation model, that weather prediction with numerical models was even feasible. The advent of numerical weather predictions in the 1950s also signaled the transformation of weather forecasting from a highly individualistic effort to one in which teams of experts developed complex computer programs, eventually for high-speed computers" (Franklin Institute, Franklin Laureate database, accessed 06-20-2009).

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The First Demonstration of Magnetic Ink Character Reading July 1956

In July 1956 MICR (Magnetic Ink Character Reading) was demonstrated to the Bank Management Committee of the American Bankers’ Association.

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First Computer Conference in Italy October 17 – October 18, 1956

On October 18 and 18, 1956 the first Italian computer conference was held in Rome.

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First Japanese Conference on Electronic Computers November 1956

I November 1956 the first Japanese conference on electronic computers was held at Waseda University, Shinjuku, Tokyo.  

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SAGE: Physically the Largest Computers Ever Built 1957

In 1957 the first SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment)  AN/FSQ-7 (DC-01) computer was operational on a limited basis for the SAGE Air Defense System at McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, New Jersey.  Twenty AN/FSQ-7s would eventually be built. The AN/FSQ-7 computer contained 55,000 vacuum tubes, occupied 0.5 acres (2,000 m2) of of floor space, weighed 275 tons, and used up to three megawatts of power. Performance was about 75,000 instructions per second. From the standpoint of physical dimensions, the fifty-two AN/FSQ-7s remain the largest computers ever built.  

"Although the machines used a large number of vacuum tubes, the failure rate of an individual tube was low due to efforts in quality control and a novel quality assurance system called marginal checking that discovered tubes that were growing weak, before they failed. Each SAGE site included two computers for redundancy, with one processor on "hot standby" at all times. In spite of the poor reliability of the tubes, this dual-processor design made for remarkably high overall system uptime. 99% availability was not unusual."

The system allowed online access, in graphical form, to data transmitted to and processed by its computers. Fully deployed by 1963, the IBM-built early warning system remained operational until 1984. With 23 direction centers situated on the northern, eastern, and western boundaries of the United States, SAGE pioneered the use of computer control over large, geographically distributed systems.

"Both MIT and IBM supported the project as contractors. IBM's role in SAGE (the design and manufacture of the AN/FSQ-7 computer, a vacuum tube computer with ferrite core memory based on the never-built Whirlwind II) was an important factor leading to IBM's domination of the computer industry, accounting for more than a half billion dollars in revenue, nearly 10% of IBM's income in the late 1950s" (Wikipedia article on Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, accessed 03-03-2012).

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J. W. Ellison Issues the First Computerized Concordance of the Bible 1957

In Italy Roberto Busa began his experimentation with computerized indexing of the text of Thomas Aquinas using IBM punch-card tabulators in 1949-51. The first significant product of computerized indexing in the humanities in the United States, and one of the earliest large examples of humanities computing or digital humanities anywhere, was the first computerized concordance of the Bible: Nelson's Complete Concordance to the Revised Standard Version Bible edited by J. W. Ellison and published in New York and Nashville, Tennessee in 1957. The book consists of 2157 large quarto pages printed in two columns in small type. 

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible was completed in 1952, when the Univac was little-known. UNIVAC 1, serial one, was not actually delivered tihe U.S. Census Bureau until 1953, and the first UNIVAC delivered to a commercial customer was serial 8 in 1954. Using the UNIVAC to compile a concordance was highly innovative, and, of course, it substantially reduced compilation time, as Ellison wrote in his preface dated 1956. Though Ellison offered to make the program available he did not provide data concerning the actual time spent in inputting the data on punched cards and running the program: 

"An exhaustive concordance of the Bible, such as that of James Strong, takes about a quarter of a century of careful, tedious work to guarantee accuracy. Few students would want to wait a generation for a CONCORDANCE of the REVISED STANDARD VERSION of the HOLY BIBLE. To distribute the work among a group of scholars would be to run the risk of fluctuating standards of accuracy and completeness. The use of mechanical or electronic assistance was feasible and at hand. The Univac I computer at the offices of Remington Rand, Inc. was selected for the task. Every means possible, both human and mechanical, was used to guarantee accuracy in the work.

"The use of a computer imposed certain limitations upon the Concordance. Although it could be 'exhaustive,' it could not be 'analytical'; the context and location of each and every word could be listed, but not the Hebrew and Greek words from which they were translated. For students requiring that information, the concordance of the Holy Bible in its original tongues or the analytical concordances of the King James Version must be consulted. . . .

"The problem of length of context was arbitrarily solved. A computer, at least in the present stage of engineering, can perform only the operations specified for it, but it will precisely and almost unerringly perform them. In previous concordances, each context was made up on the basis of a human judgment which took in untold familiarity with the text and almost unconscious decisions in g rouping words into familiar phrases. This kind of human judgement could not be performed by the computer; it required a set of definite invariable rules for its operation. The details of the program are available for those whose interest prompts them to ask for them."

The March 1956 issue of Publishers' Weekly, pp. 1274-78, in an article entitled "Editing at the Speed of Light," reported that Ellison's concordance deliberately omited 132 frequent words- articles, most conjuctions, adverbs, prepositions and common verbs.

"From an account in the periodical Systems it appears that the text of the Bible was transferred direct to magnetic tape, using a keyboard device called the Unityper (McCulley 1956). This work took nine months (800,000 words). The accuracy of the tapes was checked by punching the text a second time, on punched cards, then transferring this material to magenetic tape using a card-to-tape converter. The two sets of tapes were then compared for divergences by the computer and discrepancies eliminated. The computer putput medium was also magnetic tape and this operated a Uniprinter which produced the manuscrpt sheets ready for typesetting" (Hymes ed., The Use of Computers in Anthropology [1965] 225).

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The First Operational Satellite Navigation System October 4, 1957 – 1960

On October 4, 1957 the U.S. Navy launched NAVSAT, also known as TRANSIT. NAVSAT was the first operational satellite navigation system. 

"The TRANSIT satellite system was developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) of Johns Hopkins University for the U.S. Navy. Just days after the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1, the first man-made earth-orbiting satellite on October 4, 1957, two physicists at APL, William Guier and George Weiffenbach, found themselves in discussion about the microwave signals that would likely be emanating from the satellite. They were able to determine Sputnik's orbit by analyzing the Doppler shift of its radio signals during a single pass. Frank McClure, the chairman of APL's Research Center, suggested that if the satellite's position were known and predictable, the Doppler shift could be used to locate a receiver on Earth.

"Development of the TRANSIT system began in 1958, and a prototype satellite, Transit 1A, was launched in September 1959. That satellite failed to reach orbit. A second satellite, Transit 1B, was successfully launched April 13, 1960, by a Thor-Ablestar rocket. The first successful tests of the system were made in 1960, and the system entered Naval service in 1964" (Wikipedia article on Transit (satellite), accessed 12-26-2012).

Using a constellation of five satellites, NAVSAT was primarily employed to obtain accurate location information by ballistic missile submarines, and was also used as a general navigation system by the Navy, and in hydrographic and geodetic surveying. 

"Since no computer small enough to fit through a submarine's hatch existed (in 1958), a new computer was designed, named the AN/UYK-1. It was built with rounded corners to fit through the hatch and was about five feet tall and sealed to be water-proof. The principal design engineer was then-UCLA-faculty-member Lowell Amdahl, brother of Gene Amdahl. The AN/UYK-1 was built by the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation (later TRW) for the Lafayette class SSBNs. It was equipped with 8,192 words of 15-bit core memory plus parity bit, threaded by hand at their Canoga Park factory. Cycle time was about one microsecond.

"The AN/UYK-1 was a "micro-programmed" machine with a 15-bit word length that lacked hardware commands to subtract, multiply or divide, but could add, shift, form one's complement, and test the carry bit. Instructions to perform standard fixed and floating point operations were software subroutines and programs were lists of links and operators to those subroutines. For example, the "subtract" subroutine had to form the one's complement of the subtrahend and add it. Multiplication required successive shifting and conditional adding.

"The most interesting feature of the AN/UYK-1 instruction set was that the machine-language instructions had two operators that could simultaneously manipulate the arithmetic registers, for example complementing the contents of one register while loading or storing another. It also may have been the first computer that implemented a single-cycle indirect addressing ability.

"During a satellite pass, a GE receiver would receive the orbital parameters and encrypted messages from the satellite, as well as measure the Doppler shifted frequency at intervals and provide this data to the AN/UYK-1 computer. The computer would also receive from the ship's inertial navigation system (SINS), a reading of latitude and longitude. Using this information the AN/UYK-1 ran the least squares algorithm and provided a location reading in about fifteen minutes" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit_(satellite)#The_AN.2FUYK-1_Computer, accessed 12-01-2013).

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The IBM 1401, a Relatively Inexpensive Computer 1958

In 1958 IBM announced their 1401, a relatively inexpensive computer that proved very popular with businesses, and began to compete seriously with existing punched-card tabulating equipment.

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Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) 1958

In 1958 MITRE Corporation was founded to manage the development and production of SAGE (Semi Automatic Ground Environment) "an automated control system for collecting, tracking and intercepting enemy bomber aircraft."

SAGE was used by NORAD into the 1980s.

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The Burroughs Atlas Guidance Computer July 19, 1958

On July 19, 1958 the BurroughsAtlas Guidance” computer was used at Cape Canaveral to control the launch of the Atlas missile. It was one of the first computers to use transistors rather than vacuum tubes.

". . .the first machine was installed at the Cape Canaveral missile range in June 1957. Although Atlas missile launches started in September 1957, test patterns were transmitted to the missile in place of actual guidance commands for the first four flights. The first computer-controlled launch was on July 19, 1958. The computer had separate memory areas for instructions (2048 18-bit words) and data (256 24-bit words). The instruction area was increased to 2816 words, beginning with the Model III version, which was first delivered in December 1958. The Atlas guidance computer had no facilities for developing programs, so they were written on the UDEC II, the Datatron, and the 220, using simulator software. Burroughs was still doing Atlas programming on the 220 in 1964. In all, 18 Atlas guidance computers were built at a total project cost of $37 million. The computer was very reliable, and no Atlas launch was ever aborted due to computer failure." 

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BankAmericard is Launched September 1958

BankAmerica card.

In September 1958 Bank of America, then headquartered in San Francisco, created the BankAmericard, the first credit card issued by a conventional bank. Together with its overseas affiliates, this product eventually evolved into the Visa system.

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Keyword in Context (KWIC) Indexing November 1958

In November 1958 computer scientist Hans Peter Luhn of IBM published Bibliography and index: Literature on information retrieval and machine translation.  This contained titles indexed by the Key Words in Context system, or KWIC. The concept of Keyword in Context indexing had been first proposed and implemented manually by librarian Andrea Crestadoro in 1856-1864.

"The International Conference on Scientific Information (ICSI), Washington, DC, in November 1958, where Luhn introduced his new equipment and illustrated the practical results by producing the KWIC indexes for the conference program. Two new Luhn inventions, the 9900 Index Analyzer and the Universal Card Scanner, and the new Luhn Keyword-in-Context (KWIC) indexing technique were introduced. Following the conference, newspapers all over the country carried stories about the auto-abstracting and auto-indexing." (http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~ssoy/organizing/l391d2c.htm, accessed 04-26-2009).

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ERMA and MICR 1959

Based on technology originally developed at the Stanford Research Institute, in 1959 General Electric delivered the first 32 ERMA (Electronic Recording Method of Accounting) computing systems to the Bank of America. The system used MICR (Magnetic Ink Character Reading.) ERMA served as the BofA's accounting computer and check handling system until 1970.

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The Nautical Almanac is Finally Produced by an Electronic Computer 1959

Having been computed by human computers since 1767, in 1959 the Nautical Almanac was finally produced by an electronic computer.

"The computation of the data for the almanacs involved a considerable amount of effort. As late as the mid-20th century, HMNAO employed a small army of human computers to carry out this work. They used the latest technology available at the time: logarithm tables, mechanical calculating machines and electro-mechanical calculating machines. In 1959 the Office obtained its own electronic computer, making it the first part of the RGO to use this emerging technology."

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The U.S. Banking Industry Adopts Magnetic Ink Character Recognition 1959 – 1960

Between 1959 and 1960 the United States banking industry adopted MICR, (Magnetic Ink Character Recognition), which allowed computers to read the data printed on checks.

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Auto-Encoding of Documents for Information Retrieval 1959

In 1959 computer scientist Hans Peter Luhn published "Auto-Encoding of Documents for Information Retrieval Systems,  M. Boaz (ed) Modern Trends in Documentation (1959) 45-58.

"Luhn believed that the growing rate of information and document production necessitated the invention of methods allowing data to be retrieved from stores of documents without expensive human intervention. This paper discusses auto-encoding based on statistical procedures performed by a machine on the original text of a document already in machine-readable form. The prevalent machine-readable form of that time was primarily punched cards or paper tape and less frequently magnetic tape. The auto-encoding method used word frequency rates, a special thesaurus, and the development of multi-dimensional patterns based on word proximity. At the time, application of the method was limited to articles of 500 to 5000 words, but Luhn was confident that the logical capabilities of electronic machines, statistical methods, and "further research into the characteristics of human behavior as manifested in writing" would lead to better information dissemination and retrieval. Earlier articles by this author discuss the automatic creation of abstracts and the development of thesauri" (http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~ssoy/organizing/l391d2b.htm, accessed 04-26-2009).

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Merle Curti's "The Making of an American Community": the First "Large Scale" Application of Humanities Computing in the U. S. 1959

The first "large scale" use of machine methods in humanities computing in the United States was Merle Curti's study of Trempealeau County, WisconsinThe making of an American Community: A Case Study of Democracy in a Frontier County (1959).

"Confronted with census material for the years 1850 through 1880–actually several censuses covering population, agriculture, and manufacturing–together with a population of over 17,000 persons by the latter date, Curti turned to punched cards and unit record equipment for the collection and analysis of his data. By this means a total of 38 separate items of information on each individual were recorded for subsequent manifpulation. Quite obviously, the comprehensive nature of this study was due in part to the employment of data processing techniques" (Bowles [ed.] Computers in Humanistic Research (1967) 57-58).

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Highlights of the Digital Equipment Corporation PDP Series of Minicomputers December 1959 – 1975

In December 1959, at the Eastern Joint Computer Conference in Boston, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) of Maynard, Massachusetts, demonstrated the prototype of its first computer, the PDP-1 (Programmed Data Processor-1), designed by a team headed by Ben Gurley.

"The launch of the PDP-1 (Programmed Data Processor-1) computer in 1959 marked a radical shift in the philosophy of computer design: it was the first commercial computer that focused on interaction with the user rather than the efficient use of computer cycles" (http://www.computerhistory.org/collections/decpdp-1/, accessed 06-25-2009).

Selling for $120,000, the PDP-1 was a commercialization of the TX-O and TX-2 computers designed at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. On advice from the venture-capital firm that financed the company, DEC did not call it a “computer,” but instead called the machine a “programmed data processor.” The PDP-1 was credited as being the most important in the creation of hacker culture. 

In 1963 DEC introduced the PDP-5, it's first 12-bit computer. The PDP-5 was later called “the world’s first commercially produced minicomputer.” However, the PDP-8 introduced in 1965 was also given this designation.

Two years later, in 1965 DEC introduced the PDP-8, the first “production model minicomputer.” “Small in physical size, selling in minimum configuration for under $20,000.”

In 1970 DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) of Maynard, Massachusetts, introduced the PDP-11minicomputer, which popularized the notion of a “bus” (i.e.“Unibus”) onto which a variety of additional circuit boards or peripheral products could be placed. DEC sold 20,000 PDP-11s by 1975.

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1960 – 1970

John Horty Pioneers Computer-Assisted Legal Research 1960

In 1960 John Horty at the Health Law Center, University of Pittsburgh, pioneered computer-assisted legal research by having the texts of relevant statutes keyed into punched cards and then transferred to computer tapes where they could be searched and retrieved by “key words in combination” (KWIC).

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The QUOTRON Computerized Stock-Quotation System Is Introduced 1961

In 1961 QUOTRON, a computerized stock-quotation system using a Control Data Corporation computer, was introduced.

Quotron became popular with stockbrokers, signaling the end of traditional ticker tape.

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Compugraphic Develops a Special-Purpose Typesetting Computer 1961

In 1961 engineers at Compugraphic in Brookline, Massachusetts recognized that a computer could be programmed to handle repetitious typesetter coding automatically. The firm developed a prototype model of the Directory Tape Processor (DTP) which eliminated all operator decisions, and produced a fully coded tape used for typesetting.

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George Forsythe Coins the Term "Computer Science" 1961

In 1961 mathematician and founder of Stanford University's Computer Science department George E. Forsythe coined the term "computer science" in his paper "Engineering Students Must Learn both Computing and Mathematics", J. Eng. Educ. 52 (1961) 177-188, quotation from p. 177.

Of this Donald Knuth wrote, "In 1961 we find him using the term 'computer science' for the first time in his writing:

[Computers] are developing so rapidly that even computer scientists cannot keep up with them. It must be bewildering to most mathematicians and engineers...In spite of the diversity of the applications, the methods of attacking the difficult problems with computers show a great unity, and the name of Computer Sciences is being attached to the discipline as it emerges. It must be understood, however, that this is still a young field whose structure is still nebulous. The student will find a great many more problems than answers. 

"He [Forsythe] identified the "computer sciences" as the theory of programming, numerical analysis, data processing, and the design of computer systems, and observed that the latter three were better understood than the theory of programming, and more available in courses" (Knuth, "George Forsythe and the Development of Computer Science," Communications of the ACM, 15 (1972) 722).

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Wesley Clark Builds the LINC, Perhaps the First Mini-Computer May 1961 – 1962

In May 1961 Wesley A. Clark, a computer scientist at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, started building the LINC (Laboratory INstrument Computer). This machine, which some later called both the first mini-computer and a forerunner of  the personal computer, was first used in 1962. It was small table-top size, “low cost” ($43,000), had keyboard and display, file system and an interactive operating system. It's design was placed in the public domain. Eventually fifty of the machines were sold by Digital Equipment Corporation.

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Texas Instruments Delivers the First Integrated Circuit Computer: An Achievement in Miniaturization October 19, 1961

On October 19, 1961 Texas Instruments delivered the first integrated circuit computer to the U.S. Air Force.

“The advanced experimental equipment has a total volume of only 6.3 cubic inches and weighs only 10 ounces. It provides the identical electrical functions of a computer using conventional components which is 150 times its size and 48 times its weight and which also was demonstrated for purposes of comparison. It uses 587 digital circuits (Solid Circuit™ semiconductor net works) each formed within a minute bar of silicon material. The larger computer uses 8500 conventional components and has a volume of 1000 cubic inches and weight of 480 ounces.”

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Computers Drive Linotype Hot Metal Typesetters 1962

In 1962 the Los Angeles Times newspaper drove Linotype hot metal typesetters with perforated tape created from RCA computers, greatly speeding up typesetting.

The key to this advance was development of a dictionary and a method to automate hyphenation and justification of text in columns. These tasks had taken 40 percent of a manual Linotype operator's time.

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Touch-Tone Dialing is Introduced November 1963

In November 1963 touch-tone telephone dialing, developed at Bell Labs, was introduced, enabling calls to be switched digitally. The research leading to the design of the touch-tone keyboard was conducted by industrial psychologist John E. Karlin, head of Bell Labs’ Human Factors Engineering department, the first department of its kind at any American company.

"The rectangular design of the keypad, the shape of its buttons and the position of the numbers — with 1-2-3' on the top row instead of the bottom, as on a calculator — all sprang from empirical research conducted or overseen by Mr. Karlin.  

"The legacy of that research now extends far beyond the telephone: the keypad design Mr. Karlin shepherded into being has become the international standard on objects as diverse as A.T.M.’s, gas pumps, door locks, vending machines and medical equipment" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/09/business/john-e-karlin-who-led-the-way-to-all-digit-dialing-dies-at-94.html, accessed 02-10-2013).

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The First Online Reservation System 1964

SABRE (Semi-Automatic Business-Related Environment), an online airline reservation system developed by American Airlines and IBM, and based on two IBM mainframes in Briarcliff Manor, New York, became operational in 1964. SABRE worked over telephone lines in “real time” to handle seat inventory and passenger records from terminals in more than 50 cities.

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Social Security Numbers as Identifiers 1964

In 1964 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began using social security numbers as tax ID numbers.

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Tom Van Vleck & Noel Morris Write One of the First Email Programs 1965

Though its exact history is murky, email (e-mail) began as a way for users on time-sharing mainframe computers to communicate. Among the first systems to have an email facility were System Development Corporation of Santa Monica's programming for the AN/FSQ-32  (Q32) built by IBM for the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC), and MIT's Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS). The authors of the first email program for CTSS were American software engineer Tom Van Vleck and American computer scientist Noel Morris. The two men created the program in the summer of 1965.

"A proposed CTSS MAIL command was described in an undated Programming Staff Note 39 by Louis Pouzin, Glenda Schroeder, and Pat Crisman. Numerical sequence places the note in either Dec 64 or Jan 65. PSN 39 proposed a facility that would allow any CTSS user to send a message to any other. The proposed uses were communication from "the system" to users informing them that files had been backed up, and communication to the authors of commands with criticisms, and communication from command authors to the CTSS manual editor.

"I was a new member of the MIT programming staff in spring 1965. When I read the PSN document about the proposed CTSS MAIL command, I asked "where is it?" and was told there was nobody available to write it. My colleague Noel Morris and I wrote a version of MAIL for CTSS in the summer of 1965. Noel was the one who saw how to use the features of the new CTSS file system to send the messages, and I wrote the actual code that interfaced with the user. The CTSS manual writeup and the source code of MAIL are available online. (We made a few changes from the proposal during the course of implementation: e.g. to read one's mail, users just used the PRINT command instead of a special argument to MAIL.)  

"The idea of sending "letters' using CTSS was resisted by management, as a waste of resources. However, CTSS Operations did need a faclility to inform users when a request to retrieve a file from tape had been completed, and we proposed MAIL as a solution for this need. (Users who had lost a file due to system or user error, or had it deleted for inactivity, had to submit a request form to Operations, who ran the RETRIEVE program to reload them from tape.) Since the blue 7094 installation in Building 26 had no CTSS terminal available for the operators, one proposal for sending such messages was to invoke MAIL from the 7094 console switches, inputting a code followed by the problem number and programmer number in BCD. I argued that this was much too complex and error prone, and that a facility that let any user send arbitrary messages to any other would have more general uses, which we would discover after it was implemented" (http://www.multicians.org/thvv/mail-history.html, accessed 06-20-2011).

♦ On June 19, 2011 writer and filmmaker Errol Morris published a series of five illustrated articles in The New York Times concerning the roles of his brother Noel and Tom Van Vleck in the invention of email. The first of these was entitled "Did My Brother Invent E-Mail with Tom Van Vleck? (Part One)". The articles, in an usual dialog form, captured some of the experience of programming time-sharing mainframes, and what it was like to send and receive emails at this early date.

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The U.S. Postal Services Introduces OCR 1965

In 1965 the U. S. Postal Sevice introduced OCR software to sort mail.

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Henriette Avram Develops the MARC Cataloguing Standard 1965 – 1968

From 1965 to 1968 programmer and systems analyst Henriette Avram completed the Library of Congress MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) Pilot Project, creating the foundation for the national and international data standard for bibliographic and holdings information in libraries.

The MARC standards consist of the MARC formats, which are standards for the representation and communication of bibliographic and related information in machine-readable form, and related documentation.... Its data elements make up the foundation of most library catalogs.

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Gordon Moore Promulgates "Moore's Law" April 19, 1965

On April 19, 1965, while Director of the Research and Development Laboratory at Fairchild Semiconductor in Palo Alto, California, physical chemist Gordon Moore published "Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits" in Electronics Magazine. In this article Moore observed that the number of transistors that could be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubled approximately every two years, and predicted that this trend would continue. In 1970, after Moore had left Fairchild Semiconductor to co-found Intel Corporation, the press called this observation “Moore’s Law.”

"The term "Moore's law" was coined around 1970 by the Caltech professor, VLSI pioneer, and entrepreneur Carver Mead. Predictions of similar increases in computer power had existed years prior. Alan Turing in his 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" had predicted that by the turn of the millennium, we would have "computers with a storage capacity of about 10^9", what today we would call "128 megabytes." Moore may have heard Douglas Engelbart, a co-inventor of today's mechanical computer mouse, discuss the projected downscaling of integrated circuit size in a 1960 lecture. A New York Times article published August 31, 2009, credits Engelbart as having made the prediction in 1959. . . .

"Moore slightly altered the formulation of the law over time, in retrospect bolstering the perceived accuracy of his law. Most notably, in 1975, Moore altered his projection to a doubling every two years. Despite popular misconception, he is adamant that he did not predict a doubling "every 18 months". However, David House, an Intel colleague, had factored in the increasing performance of transistors to conclude that integrated circuits would double in performance every 18 months." (Wikipedia article on Moore' Law, accessed 11-19-2011).

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The NY Stock Exchange Completes Automation of Trading 1966

In 1966 The New York Stock Exchange completed automation of its basic trading functions.

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The IRS Completes Computerization of Income-Tax Processing 1966

In 1966 the IRS completed computerization of income-tax processing, with a central facility in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and satellite locations around the United States.

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Robert H. Dennard of IBM Invents DRAM 1966

In 1966 American electrical engineer and inventor Robert H. Dennard of IBM invented Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) cells— one-transistor memory cells that stored each single bit of information as an electrical charge in an electronic circuit. DRAM technology permitted major increases in memory density.

"The idea for DRAM came to Dennard in 1966, in an epiphany on his living room couch in Westchester County, New York, as he enjoyed the waning daylight over the Croton River Gorge. That morning, he had attended an all-day meeting of IBM researchers, where they shared projects with one another in an attempt to stir ideas and foster collaboration. At the time, Dennard was working on metal-oxide semiconductor (MOS) transistor memories for computers. Earlier in the day, he had listened to the group trying to improve magnetic core memory. Something about his own work and what he saw at the review troubled Dennard. The magnetic memory being developed by his competing researchers had drawbacks, but it was extremely simple. His MOS project had promise, on the other hand, but it was quite complicated, using six transistors for each bit of information.

“ 'I thought, ‘What could I do that would be really simple,’' Dennard recalled. There on his couch, he thought through the characteristics of MOS technology—it was capable of building capacitors, and storing a charge or no charge on the capacitor could represent the 1 and 0 of a bit of information. A transistor could control writing the charge to the capacitor. The more Dennard thought, the more he knew he could make a simple memory out of this.

“ 'I called my boss that night around 10 p.m.,' Dennard said. 'It’s a rare event that I’d call him. He listened to me, then suggested we talk about it tomorrow. I joke that he basically told me to take two aspirin and call him in the morning.' 

Dennard still had to work on the six-transistor memory, so he worked on his new idea in his spare time, eventually figuring out the subtleties of writing a charge to the capacitor by way of an access transistor, and then reading it back through the same transistor. In 1967, Dennard and IBM filed a patent application for his single-transistor dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, and the patent was issued in 1968.

"In 1970, Intel ® built a very successful 1-kilobit DRAM chip using a three-transistor cell design, while several manufacturers produced 4-kilobit chips using Dennard’s single-transistor cell by the mid-1970s. Wave after wave of innovation followed, driven by Moore’s Law and scaling principles pioneered by Dennard and coworkers at IBM in the early 1970s. This progress continued through the years, resulting in the DRAM chips of today with capacities of up to 4,000,000,000 bits. Dennard said he could not foresee how important DRAM would become when he invented it: 'I knew it was going to be a big thing, but I didn’t know it would grow to have the wide impact it has today' " (http://www-943.ibm.com/ibm100/us/en/icons/dram/, accessed 07-021-2011).

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Data Corporation Develops a Computer-Assisted Full-Text Inventory System 1966

In 1966 Richard Gering's Data Corporation of Beavercreek, Ohio, contracted with the U.S. Air Force to develop a computer-assisted, full-text system to keep track of procurement contracts and equipment inventory.

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Jack Kilby and Texas Instruments Invent the First Hand-Held Electronic Calculator 1967 – June 25, 1974

In 1967 Texas Instruments filed the patent for the first hand-held electronic calculator, invented by Jack S. Kilby, Jerry Merryman, and Jim Van Tassel. The patent (Number 3,819,921) was awarded on June 25, 1974. This miniature calculator employed a large-scale integrated semiconductor array containing the equivalent of thousands of discrete semiconductor devices.

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Wesley Clark Suggests the Use of Interface Message Processors on ARPANET April 1967

At the ARPANET Design Session held by Lawrence G. Roberts at the ARPA IPTO PI meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan in April 1967 Wesley Clark suggested the use of mini-computers for network packet switches instead of using the main frame computers on the Arpanet for switching. These machines were called Interface Message Processors.

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The HP 9100A, the First Marketed, Mass-Produced Programmable Calculator, or Personal Computer 1968

In 1968 Hewlett Packard, Palo Alto, California, introduced the programmable desk calculator, the HP 9100A.

"HP called it a desktop calculator, because, as Bill Hewlett said, 'If we had called it a computer, it would have been rejected by our customers' computer gurus because it didn't look like an IBM. We therefore decided to call it a calculator, and all such nonsense disappeared.' An engineering triumph at the time, the logic circuit was produced without any integrated circuits; the assembly of the CPU having been entirely executed in discrete components. With CRT display, magnetic-card storage, and printer, the price was around $5000. The machine's keyboard was a cross between that of a scientific calculator and an adding machine. There was no alphabetic keyboard" (Wikipedia article on Hewlett-Packard, accessed 03-10-2010).

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Helmut Gröttrup & Jürgen Dethloff Invent the "Smart Card" 1968 – 1984

In 1968 German electrical engineers Helmut Gröttrup of Stuttgart and Jürgen Dethloff, of Hamburg, invented the smart card (chip card, or integrated circuit card [ICC]) and applied for the patent. The patent for the smart card was finally granted to both inventors in 1982. The first wide use of the cards was for payment in French pay phones—France Telecom Télécarte—starting in 1983-84.

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The First U.S. Conference on Museum Computing Occurs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art April 1968

In April 1968 the Museum Computer Network and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with funding from IBM, organized the first U.S. conference on museum computing.

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A Problem with the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer Nearly Prevents the First Moon Walk July 21, 1969

On July 21, 1969 Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, lunar module pilot, became the first human beings to walk on the moon. A Saturn V rocket launched the Command Module, Service Module ("Columbia") and Lunar Module ("Eagle") from the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 in Merritt Island, Florida.

The moon landing was almost canceled in the final seconds because of an overload of the Apollo Guidance Computer’s memory, but on advice from Earth, Armstrong and Aldren ignored the warnings and landed safely. The Apollo Guidance Computer was the first recognizably modern embedded system used in real-time by astronaut pilots.

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1970 – 1980

IBM Performs the First Test of Magnetic Stripe Transaction Card Technology January 1970 – May 1973

The first test of magnetic stripe transaction card technology developed by IBM occurred in January 1970 at the American Airlines terminal at Chicago's O'Hare Airport with the Automatic Ticket Vendor.

Reference: Computer History Museum, Jerome Svigals donation, "Automatic Ticket Vendor Press Kit", October 30, 1969. X3951.2007.

Though the test at O'Hare Airport was successful, the airline did not implement the technology because of a recession. IBM patented the technology, but did not announce its availability until 1973.

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IBM Introduces Speech Recognition Technology 1971

IBM’s first operational application of speech recognition enabled customer engineers servicing equipment to “talk” to and receive “spoken” answers from a computer that could recognize about 5,000 words.

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IBM Introduces the Floppy Disk 1971

in 1971 IBM introduced the first flexible magnetic storage diskette, or "floppy disk."

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George Laurer of IBM Develops the Universal Product Code 1971

The Universal Product Code (UPC)—the familiar barcode—was accepted by a grocer’s trade association. It was developed by George J. Laurer of IBM.

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The Xerox Alto: Conceptually, the First Personal Computer System 1973

In 1973 the Alto computer system was operational at Xerox PARC. Conceptually the first personal computer system, the Alto eventually featured the first WYSYWG (What You See is What You Get) editor, a graphic user interface (GUI), networking through Ethernet, and a mouse. The system was priced $32,000.

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Publication of Roberto Busa's Index Thomisticus: Forty Years of Data Processing 1974 – 1980

In 1974 Italian Jesuit priest Roberto Busa of Gallarate and Milan, Italy, published the first volume of his Index Thomisticus, a massive index verborum or concordance of the writings of Thomas Aquinas. The work was complete in 56 printed volumes in 1980. This concordance, which Busa began to conceptualize in 1946, and started developing in 1949, was the pioneering large scale humanities computing, or digital humanities project, though it began before electronic computers were available. Writing in 1951, Busa believed that electric punched card tabulating technology, the technology then available, would enable completion in four years of a work which would otherwise have taken "half a century." In spite of this optimism, the project required further computing advances and 40 years till completion.

"A purely mechanical concordance program, where words are alphabetized according to their graphic forms (sequences of letters), could have produced a result in much less time, but Busa would not be satisfied with this. He wanted to produce a "lemmatized" concordance where words are listed under their dictionary headings, not under their simple forms. His team attempted to write some computer software to deal with this and, eventually, the lemmatization of all 11 million words was completed in a semiautomatic way with human beings dealing with word forms that the program could not handle. Busa set very high standards for his work. His volumes are elegantly typeset and he would not compromise on any levels of scholarship in order to get the work done faster. He has continued to have a profound influence on humanities computing, with a vision and imagination that reach beyond the horizons of many of the current generation of practitioners who have been brought up with the Internet. A CD-ROM of the Aquinas material appeared in 1992 that incorporated some hypertextual features ("cum hypertextibus") and was accompanied by a user guide in Latin, English, and Italian. Father Busa himself was the first recipient of the Busa award in recognition of outstanding achievements in the application of information technology to humanistic research, and in his award lecture in Debrecen, Hungary, in 1998 he reflected on the potential of the World Wide Web to deliver multimedia scholarly material accompanied by sophisticated analysis tools" (Hockey, "The History of Humanities Computing," A Companion to Digital Humanities, Shreibman, Siemens, and Unsworth[eds.] [2004] 4).

In 2005 a web-based version of the Index Thomisticus made its debut, designed and programmed by E. Alarcón and E. Bernot, in collaboration with Busa. In 2006 the Index Thomisticus Treebank project (directed by Marco Passarotti) started the syntactic annotation of the entire corpus.

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IBM's First "Portable" Computer: $19,975 September 1975

In September 1975 IBM introduced the 5100 Portable Computer for corporate users. More luggable than portable, or perhaps portable only with a hand-cart, the machine weighed 50 pounds. The price, fully configured, was $19,975.

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The First Commercially Available Laser Printer 1976

In 1976 IBM introduced the IBM 3800, the first commercially available laser printer for use with its mainframes. This "room-sized" machine was the first printer to combine laser technology and electrophotography. The technology speeded the printing of bank statements, premium notices, and other high-volume documents. Supplied only as a peripheral for IBM machines, the machine was not available separately.

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Foundation of Apple Computer and the Origin of the Name April 1, 1976 – December 13, 2011

On April 1, 1976 Steve JobsSteve "The Woz" Wozniak and Ronald G. Wayne signed the contract founding Apple Computer, then designated as Apple Computer Company.

Wayne relinquished his 10% stake in the company for $800, only 12 days later, on April 12, 1976.

In an interview done in the mid-1980s Steve Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs recalled how they named their upstart computer company some 35 years ago.

" 'I remember driving down Highway 85,' Wozniak says. 'We're on the freeway, and Steve mentions, 'I've got a name: Apple Computer.' We kept thinking of other alternatives to that name, and we couldn't think of anything better.'

"Adds Jobs: 'And also remember that I worked at Atari, and it got us ahead of Atari in the phonebook.' " (http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=52707, accessed 12-30-2011).

In November 1997 Stanford University acquired the historical archives for the early history of Apple Computer.

♦ On December 13, 2011 Sotheby's sold as lot 244 in their Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in New York Wayne's copy of the original contract document for $1,594,500, including buyer's premium, to Cisneros Corporation CEO Eduardo Cisneros. This was the highest price paid to date for anything related to the history of computing.

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dBase II, the First Best-Selling Database Program for the PC 1978 – 1980

In 1978 C. Wayne Ratliff, working as a contractor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, wrote a database program he called "Vulcan" (after Mr. Spock of Star Trek) to help him win the office football pool.

Written for his kit-built IMSAI 8080 microcomputer running PTDOS, Ratliff based the program on JPLDIS (Jet Propulsion Laboratory Display Information System), a mainframe (Univac 1108) database product. 

In early 1980, Ratliff and George Tate entered into a marketing agreement.

"Ratliff had given up trying to sell copies of the software for $50 each. Tate thought the product would sell better at $695, so they made a deal and dBASE II was the result. The program was renamed dBASE II because of a belief that a product called "version one" wouldn't sell. The software originally ran on a CP/M computer and then was ported to the IBM PC. In mid-1983 Ashton-Tate purchased the dBASE II technology and copyright from Ratliff, and he joined Ashton-Tate as vice president of new technology."

dBase II became the first best-selling database program for the PC.

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1980 – 1990

IBM Introduces the IBM 5150- The IBM PC August 12, 1981

On August 12, 1981 IBM introduced their open architecture personal computer (PC) based on the Intel 8088 processor. The IBM PC  ran PC-DOS, the IBM-branded version of the 16-bit operating system, MS-DOS, provided by Microsoft. The machine was originally designated as the IBM 5150, putting it in the "5100" series, though its architecture was not directly descended from the IBM 5100.

On August 1, 1981 a review of the IBM PC appeared on USENET (accessed 10-16-2009).

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Lotus Development Corporation is Founded 1982

In 1982 Mitchell Kapor, previously head of development at Visicorp, and Jonathan Sachs, with backing from Ben Rosen, founded Lotus Development Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kapor, who had been a teacher of Transcendental Meditation, named the company after 'The Lotus Position' or "Padmasana.''

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The First "Clamshell" Laptop? 1982

The GRiD Compass 1100, introduced by Grid Systems Corporation in 1982, was probably the first commercial computer created in a "clamshell" laptop format, and one of the first truly portable machines.

The 1100 included a magnesium clamshell case with a screen that folded flat over the keyboard, a switching power supply, electro-luminescent display, non-volatile bubble memory, and a built-in modem.

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The First "Killer App" for the PC January 1983

In January 1983 Mitch Kapor's Lotus Development Corporation of Cambridge, Massachusetts released Lotus 1-2-3. An integrated spreadsheet, graphics package, and database manager, it became the first "killer app" for the PC. In 1983 sales of 1-2-3 reached $54,000,000, making Lotus the largest independent software vendor in the world.

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The First Desktop Publishing Program 1984

In 1984 American scientist and inventor Bob Doyle, his wife Holly, and son Rob introduced the first Desktop Publishing program, MacPublisher, for the Macintosh.  

"MacPublisher introduced WYSIWYG layout for multi-column text and graphics, but it would not have been possible without graphics primitives like QuickDraw that Bill Atkinson had originally developed for the Apple Lisa computer. QuickDraw was incorporated in the PASCAL toolbox for the new Macintosh and was the basis for MacPaint." (Wikipedia article on MacPublisher).

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The Greatest PC Keyboard of All Time? 1984 – 2008

In 1984 IBM introduced the model M keyboard, considered by PC World in July 2008 to be the "greatest keyboard of all time." The PC World article contained a remarkable series of images showing how the keyboard was engineered with captions describing its many virtues.

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NSFNET Connects Five Supercomputer Centers 1986

In 1986 the National Science Foundation Network connected five new supercomputer centers and allowed access to these centers at no cost. The centers, which the NSF funded in 1985, were: the John von Neumann Center at Princeton, the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at UIUC, the Cornell Theory Center at Cornell, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

NSFNET used a TCP/IP-based protocol compatible with ARPANET, as a backbone to which regional and academic networks would connect. It experienced exponential growth in its network traffic.  As a result of a November 1987 NSF award to a consortium of universities in Michigan, the original 56- kbit/s links was upgraded to 1.5 Mbit/s by July 1988 and again to 45 Mbit/s in 1991.

"The NSFNET was the principal Internet backbone starting in approximately 1988, bridging between the rather restrictive US DoD creation of the Internet, and its broad commercialization in the mid-1990s. Basically, the NSFNET opened up the Internet to the world. Some critical Internet technologies, such as the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) are a direct result of that period in Internet history. BGP was specifically created to allow the NSFNET backbone to differentiate routes learned via multiple paths from originally the Arpanet, but also from the regional networks. This then turned the Internet into a meshed infrastructure, backing away from the single-core architecture which the Arpanet had been using before."

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1990 – 2000

The Unicode Standard 1.0 is Published October 1991

The first volume of the Unicode standard 1.0 was published by the Unicode Consortium, Mountain View, California in October 1991.

"Unicode is a computing industry standard allowing computers to consistently represent and manipulate text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. Developed in tandem with the Universal Character Set standard and published in book form as The Unicode Standard, the latest version [5.2, 2009] of Unicode consists of a repertoire of more than 107,000 characters covering 90 scripts [including Egyptian hieroglyphs] a set of code charts for visual reference, an encoding methodology and set of standard character encodings, an enumeration of character properties such as upper and lower case, a set of reference data computer files, and a number of related items, such as character properties, rules for normalization, decomposition, collation, rendering, and bidirectional display order (for the correct display of text containing both right-to-left scripts, such as Arabic or Hebrew, and left-to-right scripts) " (Wikipedia article on Unicode, accessed 01-29-2010).

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The Spread of Data-Driven Research From 1993 to 2013 1993 – 2013

On p. 16 of the printed edition of California Magazine 124, Winter 2013, there was an unsigned sidebar headlined "Data U." It contained a chart showing the spread of computing, or data-driven research, during the twenty years from 1993 to 2013, from a limited number of academic disciplines in 1993 to nearly every facet of university research.

According to the sidebar, in 1993 data-driven research was part of the following fields:

Artificial Intelligence: machine learning, natural language processing, vision, mathematical models of cognition and learning

Chemistry: chemical or biomolecular engineering

Computational Science: computational fluid mechanics, computational materials sciences

Earth and Planetary Science: climate modeling, seismology, geographic information systems

Marketing: online advertising, comsumer behavior

Physical Sciences: astronomy, particle physics, geophysics, space sciences

Signal Processing: compressed sensing, inverse imagining


By the end of 2013 data-driven research was pervasive not only in the fields listed above, but also in the following fields:

Biology: genomics, proteomics, econinformatics, computational cell biology

Economics: macroeconomic policy, taxation, labor economics, microeconomics, finance, real estate

Engineering: sensor networks (traffic control, energy-efficient buildings, brain-machine interface)

Environomental Sciences: deforestation, climate change, impacts of pollution

Humanities: digital humanities, archaeology, land use, cultural geography, cultural heritage

Law: privacy, security, forensics, drug/human/CBRNe trafficking, criminal justice, incarceration, judicial decision making, corporate law

Linguistics: historical linguistics, corpus linguistics, psycholinguistics, language and cognition

Media: social media, mobile apps, human behavior

Medicine and Public Health: imaging, medical records, epidemiology, environmental conditions, health

Neuroscience: fMRI, multi-electrode recordings, theoretical neuroscience

Politcal Science & Public Policy: voter turn-out, elections, political behavior social welfare, poverty, youth policy, educational outcomes

Psychology: social psychology

Sociology & Demography: social change, stratification, social networks, population health, aging immigration, family

Urban Planning: transportation studies, urban environments

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Supercomputer ASCI Blue-Pacific SST October 28, 1998

On October 28, 12998 supercomputer ASCI Blue-Pacific SST, jointly developed by the U.S. Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and IBM, could perform 3.9 trillion calculations per second (15,000 times faster than the average desktop computer) and had over 2.6 trillion bytes of memory (80,000 times more than the average PC).

IBM commented that it would take a person using a calculator 63,000 years to perform as many calculations as this computer could perform in a single second.

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IBM's Blue Gene Project Begins December 1999

In December 1999 IBM announced the start of a five-year effort to build a massively parallel computer, Blue Gene, the study of bio-molecular phenomena such as protein folding. When the project began Blue Gene was 500 times more powerful than the world’s fastest computers. 

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2000 – 2005

IBM and the Holocaust 2001

Edwin Black

In 2001 Edwin Black issued IBM and the Holocaust.

This book documented:

"how IBM's New York headquarters and CEO Thomas J. Watson acted through its overseas subsidiaries to provide the Third Reich with punch card machines that could help the Nazis to track down the European Jewry (especially in newly conquered territory). The book quotes extensively from numerous IBM and government memos and letters that describe how IBM in New York, IBM's Geneva office and Dehomag, its German subsidiary, were intimately involved in supporting Nazi oppression. The book also includes IBM's internal reports that admit that these machines made the Nazis much more efficient in their efforts. Several documentaries, including the 2003 film The Corporation Screened, C-SPAN broadcast and The Times, the Village Voice, the JTA and numerous other publications published close-ups of several documents demonstrating IBM's involvement in the Holocaust. These included IBM code sheets for concentration camps taken from the files of the National Archives. For example, IBM's Prisoner Code listed 8 for a Jew and Code 11 for a Gypsy. Camp Code 001 was Auschwitz, Code 002 was Buchenwald. Status Code 5 was executed by order, code 6 was gas chamber. One extensively quoted IBM report written by the company's European manager during WWII declared “in Germany a campaign started for, what has been termed … ‘organization of the second front.’ ” The memo added, “In military literature and in newspapers, the importance and necessity of having in all phases of life, behind the front, an organization which would remain intact and would function with ‘Blitzkrieg’ efficiency … was brought out. What we had been preaching in vain for years all at once began to be realized.”

"The book documents IBM's CEO Thomas J. Watson as being an active Nazi supporter. Watson made numerous statements in numerous venues that the international community ought to give Nazi Germany a break from the economic sanctions. As head of the International Chamber of Commerce, Watson engineered an annual meeting to be held in Berlin, where he was witnessed to publicly give a Nazi salute to Hitler in the infamous "Seig, Heil" fashion. Watson traveled to Germany numerous times after the Nazis took power in 1933, but it was on the Commerce trip that he received an honor medal from Hitler himself. Watson also dined privately with Hitler, and attended lavish dinners with many infamous Nazi officials at the same time that Jews were being officially robbed and driven from their homes.

"There was an IBM customer site, the Hollerith Abteilung, in almost every concentration camp, that either ran machines, sorted cards or prepared documents for IBM processing. The Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number.

"Although IBM actively worked with the Hitler regime from its inception in 1933 to its demise in 1945, IBM has asserted that since their German subsidiary came under temporary receivership by the Nazi authorities from 1941 to 1945, the main company was not responsible for its role in the latter years of the holocaust. Shortly after the war, the company worked aggressively to recover the profits made from the many Hollerith departments in the concentration camps, the printing of millions of punchcards used to keep track of the prisoners, the custom-built punchcard systems, and its servicing of the Extermination through labour program. The company also paid its employees special bonuses based on high sales volume to the Nazis and collaborator regimes. As in many corporate cases, when the US entered the war, the Third Reich left in place the original IBM managers who continued their contacts via Geneva, thus company activities continued without interruption" (Wikipedia article on IBM and the Holocaust, accessed 05-23-2009).

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Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2 and its Printer are Finally Constructed 2002

Charles Babbage

The Babbage Difference Engine No. 2

The Science Museum, London

In 2002 Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2, designed between 1847 and 1849, but never previously built, was completed and fully operational at the Science Museum, London. Babbage's purpose in designing the machine was to produce mathematical tables more accurate than any available in his day. To this end he designed a machine that could not only compute the tables but could also print them out and prepare stereotype printing plates so that the tables could be printed without the insertion of errors by human typesetters.

Built from Babbage’s engineering drawings roughly 150 years after it was originally designed, the calculating section of the machine weighs 2.6 tons and consists of 4000 machined parts. The automatic printing and stereotyping apparatus weighs an equal amount, with about the same number of parts. The machine is operated by turning hand-cranks.

The calculating section of the machine was completed in November 1991.  After the Science Museum successfully built the computing section Nathan Myhrvold funded the construction of the output section, which performs both printing and stereotyping of calculated results. He also commissioned the construction of a second complete Difference Engine #2 for himself, which has been on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, since May 10, 2008.

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"Origins of Cyberspace" 2002

Jeremy Norman

In 2002 Diana Hook and the author/editor of this database, Jeremy Norman, issued as a limited edition an annotated, descriptive bibliography entitled Origins of Cyberspace: A Library on the History of Computing, Networking, and Telecommunications. This was the first annotated descriptive bibliography on the history of these subjects. The brief timeline on the history of those subjects published in Origins of Cyberspace was the basis on which historyofinformation.com was later constructed. 

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One Way to Determine the Beginning of the Digital Age 2002

According to Martin Hilbert and Priscilla López in their paper "The World's Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information," Science 332 (April 1, 2011) 60-64, the year 2002 could be considered the beginning of the "digital age"— the first year worldwide digital storage capacity overtook total analog capacity.

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Customer Account Data Engine 2003

IRS logo

In 2003 the United States Internal Revenue Service began programming and development of CADE (Customer Account Data Engine), first discussed in the IRS Modernization Plan of 2000.

"The original operational date was set at Nov 1st 2006. Programming and development began in 2003 but actual processing on the system was delayed until 2005. The system initially processed only 1040EZ tax returns, the simplest type of electronic tax returns. In 2006 the capacity was increased for the system to begin processing a limited number of more complex 1040 forms and other support forms. In 2007 the system began to process Schedule C forms and other more complex tax forms.

"Because the system is still unable to handle the full load of IRS tax returns, a hybrid approach is used by the IRS with the overwhelming majority of tax returns still being processed with the old system. Current processing loads and returns done by CADE are used for testing purposes to determine the systems functionality.

"The system, although beset by regular set backs due to funding, is expected to be fully operational by 2012" (Wikipedia article on Customer Account Data Engine, accessed 12-27-2008).

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2005 – 2010

"From Gutenberg to the Internet" 2005

In 2005 the author/editor of this database, Jeremy Norman, issued From Gutenberg to the Internet: A Sourcebook on the History of Information Technology.

This printed book was the first anthology of original publications, reflecting the origins of the various technologies that converged to form the Internet. Each reading is introduced by the editor.

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Statistical Analysis Correctly Forecasts the Election of Obama March 3, 2008

On March 3, 2008 Statistical analyst and "sabermetrician" Nate Silver of Brooklyn, New York, founded fivethirtyeight.com. Roughly eight months before the election, Silver correctly predicted on March 7, 2008, that Barack Obama would be elected President of the United States.

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Toward a World Digital Mathematics Library July 27, 2008

Petr Sojka of the Department of Computer Graphics and Design of Faculty of Informatics, Masaryk University, Czech Republic, organized the first conference entitled DML 2008 Towards a Digital Mathematics Library. Held at the University of Birmingham on July 27, 2008, it was part of the Conferences on Intelligent Computer Mathematics (CICM) and Mathematics Knowledge Management (MKM).

"Mathematicians dream of a digital archive containing all peer-reviewed mathematical literature ever published, properly linked and validated/verified. It is estimated that the entire corpus of mathematical knowledge published over the centuries does not exceed 100,000,000 pages, an amount easily manageable by current information technologies.

"The workshop's objectives are to formulate the strategy and goals of a global mathematical digital library and to summarize the current successes and failures of ongoing technologies and related projects, asking such questions as:

"* What technologies, standards, algorithms and formats should be used and what metadata should be shared?

"* What business models are suitable for publishers of mathematical literature, authors and funders of their projects and institutions?

"* Is there a model of sustainable, interoperable, and extensible mathematical library that mathematicians can use in their everyday work?

* What is the best practice for

"o retrodigitized mathematics (from images via OCR to MathML and/or TeX);

"o retro-born-digital mathematics (from existing electronic copy in DVI, PS or PDF to MathML and/or TeX);

"o born-digital mathematics (how to make needed metadata and file formats available as a side effect of publishing workflow [CEDRAM model])?"

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Wolfram/Alpha is Launched May 16, 2009

On May 16, 2009 Stephen Wolfram and Wolfram Research, Champaign, Illinois, launched Wolfram|Alpha, a computational data engine with a new approach to knowledge extraction, based on natural language processing, a large library of algorithms, and an NKS (New Kind of Science) approach to answering queries.

The Wolfram|Alpha engine differed from traditional search engines in that it did not simply return a list of results based on a query, but instead computed an answer.

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2010 – 2012

"The Data-Driven Life" April 20, 2010

On April 20,, 2010 writer Gary Wolf published "The Data-Driven Life" in The New York Times Magazine:

". . . . Another person I’m friendly with, Mark Carranza — he also makes his living with computers — has been keeping a detailed, searchable archive of all the ideas he has had since he was 21. That was in 1984. I realize that this seems impossible. But I have seen his archive, with its million plus entries, and observed him using it. He navigates smoothly between an interaction with somebody in the present moment and his digital record, bringing in associations to conversations that took place years earlier. Most thoughts are tagged with date, time and location. What for other people is an inchoate flow of mental life is broken up into elements and cross-referenced.  

"These men all know that their behavior is abnormal. They are outliers. Geeks. But why does what they are doing seem so strange? In other contexts, it is normal to seek data. A fetish for numbers is the defining trait of the modern manager. Corporate executives facing down hostile shareholders load their pockets full of numbers. So do politicians on the hustings, doctors counseling patients and fans abusing their local sports franchise on talk radio. Charles Dickens was already making fun of this obsession in 1854, with his sketch of the fact-mad schoolmaster Gradgrind, who blasted his students with memorized trivia. But Dickens’s great caricature only proved the durability of the type. For another century and a half, it got worse.

"Or, by another standard, you could say it got better. We tolerate the pathologies of quantification — a dry, abstract, mechanical type of knowledge — because the results are so powerful. Numbering things allows tests, comparisons, experiments. Numbers make problems less resonant emotionally but more tractable intellectually. In science, in business and in the more reasonable sectors of government, numbers have won fair and square. For a long time, only one area of human activity appeared to be immune. In the cozy confines of personal life, we rarely used the power of numbers. The techniques of analysis that had proved so effective were left behind at the office at the end of the day and picked up again the next morning. The imposition, on oneself or one’s family, of a regime of objective record keeping seemed ridiculous. A journal was respectable. A spreadsheet was creepy.  

"And yet, almost imperceptibly, numbers are infiltrating the last redoubts of the personal. Sleep, exercise, sex, food, mood, location, alertness, productivity, even spiritual well-being are being tracked and measured, shared and displayed. On MedHelp, one of the largest Internet forums for health information, more than 30,000 new personal tracking projects are started by users every month. Foursquare, a geo-tracking application with about one million users, keeps a running tally of how many times players “check in” at every locale, automatically building a detailed diary of movements and habits; many users publish these data widely. Nintendo’s Wii Fit, a device that allows players to stand on a platform, play physical games, measure their body weight and compare their stats, has sold more than 28 million units.  

"Two years ago, as I noticed that the daily habits of millions of people were starting to edge uncannily close to the experiments of the most extreme experimenters, I started a Web site called the Quantified Self with my colleague Kevin Kelly. We began holding regular meetings for people running interesting personal data projects. I had recently written a long article about a trend among Silicon Valley types who time their days in increments as small as two minutes, and I suspected that the self-tracking explosion was simply the logical outcome of this obsession with efficiency. We use numbers when we want to tune up a car, analyze a chemical reaction, predict the outcome of an election. We use numbers to optimize an assembly line. Why not use numbers on ourselves?  

"But I soon realized that an emphasis on efficiency missed something important. Efficiency implies rapid progress toward a known goal. For many self-trackers, the goal is unknown. Although they may take up tracking with a specific question in mind, they continue because they believe their numbers hold secrets that they can’t afford to ignore, including answers to questions they have not yet thought to ask.

"Ubiquitous self-tracking is a dream of engineers. For all their expertise at figuring out how things work, technical people are often painfully aware how much of human behavior is a mystery. People do things for unfathomable reasons. They are opaque even to themselves. A hundred years ago, a bold researcher fascinated by the riddle of human personality might have grabbed onto new psychoanalytic concepts like repression and the unconscious. These ideas were invented by people who loved language. Even as therapeutic concepts of the self spread widely in simplified, easily accessible form, they retained something of the prolix, literary humanism of their inventors. From the languor of the analyst’s couch to the chatty inquisitiveness of a self-help questionnaire, the dominant forms of self-exploration assume that the road to knowledge lies through words. Trackers are exploring an alternate route. Instead of interrogating their inner worlds through talking and writing, they are using numbers. They are constructing a quantified self.  

"UNTIL A FEW YEARS ago it would have been pointless to seek self-knowledge through numbers. Although sociologists could survey us in aggregate, and laboratory psychologists could do clever experiments with volunteer subjects, the real way we ate, played, talked and loved left only the faintest measurable trace. Our only method of tracking ourselves was to notice what we were doing and write it down. But even this written record couldn’t be analyzed objectively without laborious processing and analysis.  "Then four things changed. First, electronic sensors got smaller and better. Second, people started carrying powerful computing devices, typically disguised as mobile phones. Third, social media made it seem normal to share everything. And fourth, we began to get an inkling of the rise of a global superintelligence known as the cloud.

"Millions of us track ourselves all the time. We step on a scale and record our weight. We balance a checkbook. We count calories. But when the familiar pen-and-paper methods of self-analysis are enhanced by sensors that monitor our behavior automatically, the process of self-tracking becomes both more alluring and more meaningful. Automated sensors do more than give us facts; they also remind us that our ordinary behavior contains obscure quantitative signals that can be used to inform our behavior, once we learn to read them."

". . . . Adler’s idea that we can — and should — defend ourselves against the imposed generalities of official knowledge is typical of pioneering self-trackers, and it shows how closely the dream of a quantified self resembles therapeutic ideas of self-actualization, even as its methods are startlingly different. Trackers focused on their health want to ensure that their medical practitioners don’t miss the particulars of their condition; trackers who record their mental states are often trying to find their own way to personal fulfillment amid the seductions of marketing and the errors of common opinion; fitness trackers are trying to tune their training regimes to their own body types and competitive goals, but they are also looking to understand their strengths and weaknesses, to uncover potential they didn’t know they had. Self-tracking, in this way, is not really a tool of optimization but of discovery, and if tracking regimes that we would once have thought bizarre are becoming normal, one of the most interesting effects may be to make us re-evaluate what “normal” means" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/magazine/02self-measurement-t.html?pagewanted=7&ref=magazine, accessed 05-07-2010).

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Cell Phones Are Now Used More for Data than Speech May 13, 2010

According to The New York Times, in May 2010 people were using their cell phones more for text messaging and data-processing than for speech. This should not come as a surprise to anyone with teen-age children.

". . . although almost 90 percent of households in the United States now have a cellphone, the growth in voice minutes used by consumers has stagnated, according to government and industry data.  

"This is true even though more households each year are disconnecting their landlines in favor of cellphones.  

"Instead of talking on their cellphones, people are making use of all the extras that iPhones, BlackBerrys and other smartphones were also designed to do — browse the Web, listen to music, watch television, play games and send e-mail and text messages.  

"The number of text messages sent per user increased by nearly 50 percent nationwide last year, according to the CTIA, the wireless industry association. And for the first time in the United States, the amount of data in text, e-mail messages, streaming video, music and other services on mobile devices in 2009 surpassed the amount of voice data in cellphone calls, industry executives and analysts say. 'Originally, talking was the only cellphone application,' said Dan Hesse, chief executive of Sprint Nextel. 'But now it’s less than half of the traffic on mobile networks.'  

"Of course, talking on the cellphone isn’t disappearing entirely. 'Anytime something is sensitive or is something I don’t want to be forwarded, I pick up the phone rather than put it into a tweet or a text,' said Kristen Kulinowski, a 41-year-old chemistry teacher in Houston. And calling is cheaper than ever because of fierce competition among rival wireless networks.  

"But figures from the CTIA show that over the last two years, the average number of voice minutes per user in the United States has fallen (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/14/technology/personaltech/14talk.html?hp, accessed 05-14-2010).

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Worldwide Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information February 10, 2011

On February 10, 2011 social scientist Martin Hilbert of the University of Southern California (USC) and information scientist Priscilla López of the Open University of Catalonia published "The World's Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information." The report appeared first in Science Express; on April 1, 2011 it was published in Science, 332, 60-64. This was "the first time-series study to quantify humankind's ability to handle information." Notably, the authors did not attempt to address the information processing done by human brains—possibly impossible to quantify at the present time, if ever. 

"We estimated the world’s technological capacity to store, communicate, and compute information, tracking 60 analog and digital technologies during the period from 1986 to 2007. In 2007, humankind was able to store 2.9 × 10 20 optimally compressed bytes, communicate almost 2 × 10 21 bytes, and carry out 6.4 × 10 18 instructions per second on general-purpose computers. General-purpose computing capacity grew at an annual rate of 58%. The world’s capacity for bidirectional telecommunication grew at 28% per year, closely followed by the increase in globally stored information (23%). Humankind’s capacity for unidirectional information diffusion through broadcasting channels has experienced comparatively modest annual growth (6%). Telecommunication has been dominated by digital technologies since 1990 (99.9% in digital format in 2007), and the majority of our technological memory has been in digital format since the early 2000s (94% digital in 2007)" (The authors' summary).

"To put our findings in perspective, the 6.4 × 10 18 instructions per second that humankind can carry out on its general-purpose computers in 2007 are in the same ballpark area as the maximum number of nerve impulses executed by one human brain per second (10 17 ). The 2.4 × 10 21 bits stored by humanity in all of its technological devices in 2007 is approaching an order of magnitude of the roughly 10 23 bits stored in the DNA of a human adult, but it is still minuscule as compared with the 10 90 bits stored in the observable universe. However, in contrast to natural information processing, the world’s technological information processing capacities are quickly growing at clearly exponential rates" (Conclusion of the paper).

"Looking at both digital memory and analog devices, the researchers calculate that humankind is able to store at least 295 exabytes of information. (Yes, that's a number with 20 zeroes in it.)

"Put another way, if a single star is a bit of information, that's a galaxy of information for every person in the world. That's 315 times the number of grains of sand in the world. But it's still less than one percent of the information that is stored in all the DNA molecules of a human being. 2002 could be considered the beginning of the digital age, the first year worldwide digital storage capacity overtook total analog capacity. As of 2007, almost 94 percent of our memory is in digital form.

"In 2007, humankind successfully sent 1.9 zettabytes of information through broadcast technology such as televisions and GPS. That's equivalent to every person in the world reading 174 newspapers every day. On two-way communications technology, such as cell phones, humankind shared 65 exabytes of information through telecommunications in 2007, the equivalent of every person in the world communicating the contents of six newspapers every day.

"In 2007, all the general-purpose computers in the world computed 6.4 x 10^18 instructions per second, in the same general order of magnitude as the number of nerve impulses executed by a single human brain. Doing these instructions by hand would take 2,200 times the period since the Big Bang.

"From 1986 to 2007, the period of time examined in the study, worldwide computing capacity grew 58 percent a year, ten times faster than the United States' GDP. Telecommunications grew 28 percent annually, and storage capacity grew 23 percent a year" (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110210141219.htm)

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"Distant Reading" Versus "Close Reading" June 24, 2011

Journalist Kathryn Schultz began publishing a column called The Mechanic Muse in The New York Times on applications of computing technology to scholarship about literature. Her first column, titled "What is Distant Reading?", concerned work to date by Stanford English and Comparative Literature professor Franco Moretti and team at the Stanford Literary Lab.

"We need distant reading, Moretti argues, because its opposite, close reading, can’t uncover the true scope and nature of literature. Let’s say you pick up a copy of 'Jude the Obscure,' become obsessed with Victorian fiction and somehow manage to make your way through all 200-odd books generally considered part of that canon. Moretti would say: So what? As many as 60,000 other novels were published in 19th-century England — to mention nothing of other times and places. You might know your George Eliot from your George Meredith, but you won’t have learned anything meaningful about literature, because your sample size is absurdly small. Since no feasible amount of reading can fix that, what’s called for is a change not in scale but in strategy. To understand literature, Moretti argues, we must stop reading books.

"The Lit Lab seeks to put this controversial theory into practice (or, more aptly, this practice into practice, since distant reading is less a theory than a method). In its January pamphlet, for instance, the team fed 30 novels identified by genre into two computer programs, which were then asked to recognize the genre of six additional works. Both programs succeeded — one using grammatical and semantic signals, the other using word frequency. At first glance, that’s only medium-interesting, since people can do this, too; computers pass the genre test, but fail the 'So what?' test. It turns out, though, that people and computers identify genres via very different features. People recognize, say, Gothic literature based on castles, revenants, brooding atmospheres, and the greater frequency of words like 'tremble' and 'ruin.' Computers recognize Gothic literature based on the greater frequency of words like . . . 'the. Now, that’s interesting. It suggests that genres 'possess distinctive features at every possible scale of analysis.' More important for the Lit Lab, it suggests that there are formal aspects of literature that people, unaided, cannot detect.  

"The lab’s newest paper seeks to detect these hidden aspects in plots (primarily in Hamlet) by transforming them into networks. To do so, Moretti, the sole author, turns characters into nodes ('vertices' in network theory) and their verbal exchanges into connections ('edges'). A lot goes by the wayside in this transformation, including the content of those exchanges and all of Hamlet’s soliloquies (i.e., all interior experience); the plot, so to speak, thins. But Moretti claims his networks 'make visible specific ‘regions’ within the plot' and enable experimentation. (What happens to Hamlet if you remove Horatio?). . . ." (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/books/review/the-mechanic-muse-what-is-distant-reading.html?pagewanted=2, accessed 06-25-2011).

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IBM Announces Phase-Change Memory June 30, 2011

IBM announced that it produced phase-change memory (PCM) chips that could store two bits of data per cell without data corruption problems over extended periods of time. This significant improvement advanced the development of low-cost, faster and more durable memory applications for consumer devices, including mobile phones and cloud storage, as well as high-performance applications, such as enterprise data storage.

"With a combination of speed, endurance, non-volatility and density, PCM can enable a paradigm shift for enterprise IT and storage systems within the next five years. Scientists have long been searching for a universal, non-volatile memory technology with far superior performance than flash – today’s most ubiquitous non-volatile memory technology. The benefits of such a memory technology would allow computers and servers to boot instantaneously and significantly enhance the overall performance of IT systems. A promising contender is PCM that can write and retrieve data 100 times faster than flash, enable high storage capacities and not lose data when the power is turned off. Unlike flash, PCM is also very durable and can endure at least 10 million write cycles, compared to current enterprise-class flash at 30,000 cycles or consumer-class flash at 3,000 cycles. While 3,000 cycles will out live many consumer devices, 30,000 cycles are orders of magnitude too low to be suitable for enterprise applications" (http://www.zurich.ibm.com/news/11/pcm.html, accessed 07-01-2011).

Like high-density NAND flash memory used in solid state drives (SSDs). phase-change memory is nonvolatile.  However, unlike NAND flash, PCM memory does not require existing data be marked for deletion prior to having new data written to it — a process known to as an erase-write cycle. Erase-write cycles slow NAND flash performance and, over time, wear it out, giving it a lifespan that ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 write cycles in consumer products, and up to 100,000 cycles in enterprise-class products.

"As organizations and consumers increasingly embrace cloud-computing models and services, ever more powerful and efficient, yet affordable storage technologies are needed, according to Haris Pozidis, manager of memory and probe technologies at IBM Research" (http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9218031/IBM_announces_computer_memory_breakthrough?source=CTWNLE_nlt_wktop10_2011-07-01, accessed 07-01-2011).

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The Cost of Sequencing a Human Genome Drops to $10,500 November 30, 2011

"The cost of sequencing a human genome — all three billion bases of DNA in a set of human chromosomes — plunged to $10,500 last July from $8.9 million in July 2007, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute.  

"That is a decline by a factor of more than 800 over four years. By contrast, computing costs would have dropped by perhaps a factor of four in that time span.  

"The lower cost, along with increasing speed, has led to a huge increase in how much sequencing data is being produced. World capacity is now 13 quadrillion DNA bases a year, an amount that would fill a stack of DVDs two miles high, according to Michael Schatz, assistant professor of quantitative biology at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.

"There will probably be 30,000 human genomes sequenced by the end of this year, up from a handful a few years ago, according to the journal Nature. And that number will rise to millions in a few years" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/01/business/dna-sequencing-caught-in-deluge-of-data.html?_r=1&hp, accessed 12-02-2011).

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2012 – 2016

2.5 Quintillion Bytes of Data Each Day October 23, 2012

"Today the data we have available to make predictions has grown almost unimaginably large: it represents 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, Mr. Silver tells us, enough zeros and ones to fill a billion books of 10 million pages each. Our ability to tease the signal from the noise has not grown nearly as fast. As a result, we have plenty of data but lack the ability to extract truth from it and to build models that accurately predict the future that data portends" ("Mining Truth From Data Babel. Nate Silver’s ‘Signal and the Noise’ Examines Predictions"  By Leonard Mlodinow, NYTimes.com 10-23-2012).

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A Max Planck Institute Program for Historicizing Big Data November 2012

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

"Working Group: Historicizing Big Data  

"Elena Aronova, Christine von Oertzen, David Sepkoski  

"Since the late 20th century, huge databases have become a ubiquitous feature of science, and Big Data has become a buzzword for describing an ostensibly new and distinctive mode of knowledge production. Some observers have even suggested that Big Data has introduced a new epistemology of science: one in which data-gathering and knowledge production phases are more explicitly separate than they have been in the past. It is vitally important not only to reconstruct a history of “data” in the longue durée (extending from the early modern period to the present), but also to critically examine historical claims about the distinctiveness of modern data practices and epistemologies.  

"The central themes of this working group—the epistemology, practice, material culture, and political economy of data—are understood as overlapping, interrelated categories. Together they form the basic, necessary components for historicizing the emergence of modern data-driven science, but they are not meant to be explored in isolation. We take for granted, for example, that a history of data depends on an understanding of the material culture—the tools and technologies used to collect, store, and analyze data—that makes data-driven science possible. More than that, data is immanent to the practices and technologies that support it: not only are epistemologies of data embodied in tools and machines, but in a concrete sense data itself cannot exist apart from them. This precise relationship between technologies, practices, and epistemologies is complex. Big Data is often, for example, associated with the era of computer databases, but this association potentially overlooks important continuities with data practices stretching back to the 18th century and earlier. The very notion of size—of 'bigness'—is also contingent on historical factors that need to be contextualized and problematized. We are therefore interested in exploring the material cultures and practices of data in a broad historical context, including the development of information processing technologies (whether paper-based or mechanical), and also in historicizing the relationships between collections of physical objects and collections of data. Additionally, attention must be paid to visualizations and representations of data (graphs, images, printouts, etc.), both as working tools and also as means of communication.  

"In the era following the Second World War, new technologies have emerged that allow new kinds of data analysis and ever larger data production. In addition, a new cultural and political context has shaped and defined the meaning, significance, and politics of data-driven science in the Cold War and beyond. The term “Big Data” invokes the consequences of increasing economies of scale on many different levels. It ostensibly refers to the enormous amount of information collected, stored, and processed in fields as varied as genomics, climate science, paleontology, anthropology, and economics. But it also implicates a Cold War political economy, given that many of the precursors to 21st century data sciences began as national security or military projects in the Big Science era of the 1950s and 1960s. These political and cultural ramifications of data cannot be separated from the broader historical consideration of data-driven science.  

"Historicizing Big Data provides comparative breadth and historical depth to the on-going discussion of the revolutionary potential of data-intensive modes of knowledge production and the challenges the current “data deluge” poses to society." (Accessed 11-26-2012).

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A Natural History of Data November 2012

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin 

"A Natural History of Data

"David Sepkoski

"A Natural History of Data examines the history of practices and rationalities surrounding data in the natural sciences between 1800 and the present. One feature of this transformation is the emergence of the modern digital database as the locus of scientific inquiry and practice, and the consensus that we are now living in an era of “data-driven” science. However, a major component of the project involves critically examining this development in order to historicize our modern fascination with data and databases. I do not take it for granted, for example, that digital databases are discontinuous with more traditional archival practices and technologies, nor do I assume that earlier eras of science were less “data driven” than the present. This project does seek, though, to develop a more nuanced appreciation for how data and databases have come to have such a central place in the modern scientific imagination.

"The central motivation behind this project is to historicize the development of data and database practices in the natural sciences, but it is also defined by a further set of questions, including: What is the relationship between data and the physical objects, phenomena, or experiences that they represent? How have tools and available technologies changed the epistemology and practice of data over the past 200 years? What are the consequences of the increasing economies of scale as ever more massive data collections are assembled? Have new technologies of data changed the very meaning and ontology of data itself? How have changes in scientific representations occurred in conjunction with the evolution of data practices (e.g. diagrams, graphs, photographs, atlases, compendia, etc.)? And, ultimately, is there something fundamentally new about the modern era of science in its relationship to and reliance on data and databases?" (Accessed 11-26-2012).

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The First Master's Degree Offered through Massive Open Online Courses by a Major University August 17, 2013

On August 17, 2013 The New York Times reported that Georgia Tech, which operates one of the country’s top computer science programs, plans to offer in January 2014 a massive open online course (MOOC) master’s degree in computer science for $6,600 — far less than the $45,000 on-campus price.  

"Zvi Galil, the dean of the university’s College of Computing, expects that in the coming years, the program could attract up to 10,000 students annually, many from outside the United States and some who would not complete the full master’s degree. 'Online, there’s no visa problem,' he said.  

"The program rests on an unusual partnership forged by Dr. Galil and Sebastian Thrun, a founder of Udacity, a Silicon Valley provider of the open online courses.  

"Although it is just one degree at one university, the prospect of a prestigious low-cost degree program has generated great interest. Some educators think the leap from individual noncredit courses to full degree programs could signal the next phase in the evolution of MOOCs — and bring real change to higher education."

"From their start two years ago, when a free artificial intelligence course from Stanford enrolled 170,000 students, free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have drawn millions and yielded results like the perfect scores of Battushig, a 15-year-old Mongolian boy, in a tough electronics course offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/education/masters-degree-is-new-frontier-of-study-online.html?hp, accessed 08-18-2013).

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