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History Of Computers In America Essay

2950 words - 12 pages

Only once in a lifetime will a new invention come about to touch every aspect of our lives. Such a device that changes the way we work, live, and play is a special one, indeed. A machine that has done all this and more now exists in nearly every business in the U.S. and one out of every two households (Hall, 156). This incredible invention is the computer. The electronic computer has been around for over a half-century, but its ancestors have been around for 2000 years. However, only in the last 40 years has it changed the American society. From the first wooden abacus to the latest high-speed microprocessor, the computer has changed nearly every aspect of peoples lives for the better.The ...view middle of the document...

However, between 1850 and 1900 there were great advances in mathematics and physics that began to rekindle the interest (Osborne, 45). Many of these new advances involved complex calculations and formulas that were very time consuming for human calculation. The first major use for a computer in the U.S. was during the 1890 census. Two men, Herman Hollerith and James Powers, developed a new punched-card system that could automatically read information on cards without human intervention (Gulliver, 82). Since the population of the U.S. was increasing so fast, the computer was an essential tool in tabulating the totals.These advantages were noted by commercial industries and soon led to the development of improved punch-card business-machine systems by International Business Machines (IBM), Remington-Rand, Burroughs, and other corporations. By modern standards the punched-card machines were slow, typically processing from 50 to 250 cards per minute, with each card holding up to 80 digits. At the time, however, punched cards was an enormous step forwards; they provided a means of input, output, and memory storage on a massive scale. For more than 50 years following their first use, punched-card machines did the bulk of the world's business computing and a good portion of the computing work in science (Chposky, 73).By the late 1930's punched-card machine techniques had become sowell established and reliable that Howard Hathaway Aiken, incollaboration with engineers at IBM, undertook construction of a large automatic digital computer based on standard IBM electromechanical parts. Aiken's machine, called the Harvard Mark I, handled 23-digit numbers and could perform all four arithmetic operations. Also, it hadspecial built-in programs to handle logarithms and trigonometric functions. The Mark I was controlled from prepunched paper tape. Output was by card punch and electric typewriter. It was slow, requiring 3 to 5 seconds for a multiplication, but it was fully automatic and could complete long computations without human intervention (Chposky, 103).The outbreak of World War II produced a desperate need for computing capability, especially for the military. New weapons' systems were produced which needed trajectory tables and other essential data. In 1942, John P. Eckert, John W. Mauchley, and their associates at the University of Pennsylvania decided to build a high-speed electronic computer to do the job. This machine became known as ENIAC, for 'Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator'. It could multiply two numbers at the rate of 300 products per second, by finding the value ofeach product from a multiplication table stored in its memory. ENIAC was thus about 1,000 times faster than the previous generation of computers (Dolotta, 47).ENIAC used 18,000 standard vacuum tubes, occupied 1800 square feet of floor space, and used about 180,000 watts of electricity. It used punched-card input and output. The ENIAC was very difficult to program because...

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