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Obviously one of the great inventions of our time has been the computer. Today, billions use computers in their daily life. While the first computers were extremely large and took up entire rooms, today, computers are extremely small and can not only fit on your desktop, but in your phone and on chips the size of grains of rice. Throughout the years, the computer has evolved from an extremely expensive, cumbersome and slow device to today’s extremely smart and quick machines with incredible processing power.

Here is the history of computers.

The First Computer

While there was no single person that is widely credited with inventing the computer, many view Konrad Zuse and his Z1 machine as the first in a long line of innovations that have given us the computer of today. Konrad Zuse was a German whose claim to fame is the creation of the first freely programmable mechanical computing device in 1936. Many would see Zuse’s Z1 as the first of a long line of calculators. Zuse found that one of the most difficult aspects of completing large calculations on the calculation devices of the day (a slide rule or mechanical adding machine) was the ability to keep track of the many results that would then have to be recomputed to give a final answer. Zuse’s Z1 was created with a focus on 3 basic elements that are still necessary in today’s calculators- it is necessary to have a control, it is necessary to have a memory to store results of each step and it is necessary to perform calculations.

In later additions of his Zuse computer, Konrad Zuse created the Z2 and Z3. The innovations to his computers were quite important. The Z2 was the first fully functioning electro- magnetic computer and the Z3 was the first fully electronic and digital computer that included the ability to be programmed. The Z3 was programmed with a binary floating point number and switching system. It even included storage which used tape in the form of old movie reels. In those days most business machines used punched paper, however in Germany at the time, paper was extremely expensive.

The Harvard Mark I Computer

With World War II blazing on, the US government realized that it needed to be more innovative than ever in order to gain the upper hand. At major universities across America, many scientists and mathematicians worked hard on innovating new ways to keep up with the technology that was quickly advancing. Much of the focus was on making rockets and ballistics more precise- which required complex calculations. At Harvard, the first of the MARK series computers were being built. The MARK I began in 1944. This computer was absolutely huge and filled a room that was 55 feet long by 8 feet high. It contained an amazing array of components. In fact, in all it had over 760,000 parts. It was loud and clicked and clanged like a huge factory. However, the MARK 1 turned out to be a success. It was utilized by the US Navy for calculations of ballistics. It performed well for the next 15 years, being in service till 1959.

The MARK I used pre punched paper tape, it could perform a wide variety of calculations including addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and it was able to hold and reference a previous result used in its calculations. It even had the capability to compute numbers with up to 23 decimal places. As for the vastness of this machine, it was not only loud and had hundreds of thousands of parts, but included 500 miles of wire. While the computer itself was high tech for its time, the output was not digital, the MARK 1 used a simple electric typewriter to display results. Speed was also lacking with a typical multiplication computation taking from 3 to 5 seconds.

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