The History of Computers in the Workplace


Computers, in one form or another, have undoubtedly made workers and offices more efficient. From the basic adding machines invented in the 1930s, to today’s high-speed computers, smartphones and the reason you’re able to read this – the internet – here’s a brief rundown of computers through the years.

1937 – The Model K Adder

In November of 1937, George Stibitz designed and created the Model K adding machine, the K standing for “kitchen table”, which is where he put it together. He used telephone company relays to perform simple calculations. This led to the development of Bell Labs’ Complex Number Computer, which could perform more complex calculations. Stibitz astounded conference attendees in 1940 by performing calculations on the CNC in New York, from a university in Dartmouth using a teletype machine. This is likely the first example of remote computer access.

1946 – The ENIAC is Completed

The world’s first electronic general-purpose computer, the ENIAC weighed 27 tonnes and took up 167 square meters of space. In the 10 years it was operational, this first generation computer is estimated to have done more calculations than all of humanity up to that point.

1949 – The Modem

MODEM, standing for MODulation and DEModulation, allowed computers to talk over regular voice telephone lines. Developed at the Air Force Cambridge Research Centre, the system converts data into digital sounds, sending them over the telephone line, and converts received sounds back into data.

1950 – The First Commercial Computer

Sold to and used by the US Navy, the ERA 1101 stored a million bits on its magnetic drum, one of the earliest magnetic storage technologies. Intended for high-speed computing, it was designed by ERA and built by Remington-Rand.

1956 – Direct Keyboard Input and 2nd Generation Computers

After the development of A-0 in 1952, which made it possible to use words, rather than numbers to give computers instructions, development of the method was fairly gradual, still requiring users to input data using punch cards. In 1956 Doug Ross advocated for direct input, leading to MIT connecting a Flexowriter – an electronically controlled typewriter – to a computer, functioning as a keyboard input device.

In the same year, transistorized computers were introduced, effectively eliminating the need for vacuum tubes – these were the second generation computers.

1964 – 3rd Generation Computers

Superseding the short-lived transistorized computers, third generation computers were solid state, using integrated circuits rather than transistors. 1964 was when they became more widespread.

1971 – 4th Generation

We still use fourth generation computers today, though technology has come a long way since the first microprocessor, the 4044, was invented in 1971. An improved version, the 8088, was used in IBM’s first PCs, which came onto the market in 1981.

Apple introduced their first Mac in 1984, Dell a year later. Today there are hundreds of computer manufacturers and thousands of support companies. With IT companies in Ottawa, Frankfurt, and Johannesburg – just about anywhere with running water – and most of us carrying one in our pocket, computers are worldwide.

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