Computers History Timeline

created by Justin Looper


Hewlett-Packard is founded


David Packard and Bill Hewlett found Hewlett-Packard in a Palo Alto, California garage. Their first product was the HP 200A Audio Oscillator, which rapidly becomes a popular piece of test equipment for engineers. Walt Disney Pictures ordered eight of the 200B model to use as sound effects generators for the 1940 movie “Fantasia.”

The Complex Number Calculator (CNC) is completed.


In 1939, Bell Telephone Laboratories completed this calculator, designed by researcher George Stibitz. In 1940, Stibitz demonstrated the CNC at an American Mathematical Society conference held at Dartmouth College. Stibitz stunned the group by performing calculations remotely on the CNC (located in New York City) using a Teletype connected via special telephone lines. This is considered to be the first demonstration of remote access computing.

Konrad Zuse finishes the Z3 computer.


The Z3 was an early computer built by German engineer Konrad Zuse working in complete isolation from developments elsewhere. Using 2,300 relays, the Z3 used floating point binary arithmetic and had a 22-bit word length. The original Z3 was destroyed in a bombing raid of Berlin in late 1943. However, Zuse later supervised a reconstruction of the Z3 in the 1960s which is currently on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

The first Bombe is completed.


Based partly on the design of the Polish “Bomba,” a mechanical means of decrypting Nazi military communications during WWII, the British Bombe design was greatly influenced by the work of computer pioneer Alan Turing and others. Many bombes were built. Together they dramatically improved the intelligence gathering and processing capabilities of Allied forces. [Computers]

The Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) is completed.


After successfully demonstrating a proof-of-concept prototype in 1939, Atanasoff received funds to build the full-scale machine. Built at Iowa State College (now University), the ABC was designed and built by Professor John Vincent Atanasoff and graduate student Cliff Berry between 1939 and 1942. The ABC was at the center of a patent dispute relating to the invention of the computer, which was resolved in 1973 when it was shown that ENIAC co-designer John Mauchly had come to examine the ABC shortly after it became functional.

The legal result was a landmark: Atanasoff was declared the originator of several basic computer ideas, but the computer as a concept was declared un-patentable and thus was freely open to all. This result has been referred to as the "dis-invention of the computer." A full-scale reconstruction of the ABC was completed in 1997 and proved that the ABC machine functioned as Atanasoff had claimed.

Project Whirlwind begins.


During World War II, the U.S. Navy approached the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) about building a flight simulator to train bomber crews. The team first built a large analog computer, but found it inaccurate and inflexible. After designers saw a demonstration of the ENIAC computer, they decided on building a digital computer. By the time the Whirlwind was completed in 1951, the Navy had lost interest in the project, though the U.S. Air Force would eventually support the project which would influence the design of the SAGE program.

The Relay Interpolator is completed.


The U.S. Army asked Bell Labs to design a machine to assist in testing its M-9 Gun Director. Bell Labs mathematician George Stibitz recommended using a relay-based calculator for the project. The result was the Relay Interpolator, later called the Bell Labs Model II. The Relay Interpolator used 440 relays and since it was programmable by paper tape, it was used for other applications following the war.

Harvard Mark-1 is completed.


Conceived by Harvard professor Howard Aiken, and designed and built by IBM, the Harvard Mark-1 was a room-sized, relay-based calculator. The machine had a fifty-foot long camshaft that synchronized the machine’s thousands of component parts. The Mark-1 was used to produce mathematical tables but was soon superseded by stored program computers.

The first Colossus is operational at Bletchley Park.


Designed by British engineer Tommy Flowers, the Colossus was designed to break the complex Lorenz ciphers used by the Nazis during WWII. A total of ten Colossi were delivered to Bletchley, each using 1,500 vacuum tubes and a series of pulleys transported continuous rolls of punched paper tape containing possible solutions to a particular code. Colossus reduced the time to break Lorenz messages from weeks to hours. The machine’s existence was not made public until the 1970s.

John von Neumann wrote "First Draft of Report on the EDVAC".


Electronic storage of programming information and data eliminated the need for the more clumsy methods of programming, such as punched paper tape — a concept that has characterized mainstream computer development since 1945. Hungarian-born von Neumann demonstrated prodigious expertise in hydrodynamics, ballistics, meteorology, game theory, statistics, and the use of mechanical devices for computation. After the war, he concentrated on the development of Princeton´s Institute for Advanced Studies computer and its copies around the world.

Konrad Zuse began work on Plankalkul (Plan Calculus)


The first algorithmic programming language, with an aim of creating the theoretical preconditions for the formulation of problems of a general nature. Seven years earlier, Zuse had developed and built the world´s first binary digital computer, the Z1. He completed the first fully functional program-controlled electromechanical digital computer, the Z3, in 1941. Only the Z4 — the most sophisticated of his creations — survived World War II.

On September 9th, Grace Hopper recorded the first actual computer "bug"


— a moth stuck between the relays and logged at 15:45 hours on the Harvard Mark II. Hopper, a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, enjoyed successful careers in academia, business, and the military while making history in the computer field. She helped program the Harvard Mark I and II and developed the first compiler, A-0. Her subsequent work on programming languages led to COBOL, a language specified to operate on machines of different manufacturers.

In February, the public got its first glimpse of the "ENIAC".


A machine built by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert that improved by 1,000 times on the speed of its contemporaries.
Start of project: 1943
Completed: 1946
Programmed: plug board and switches
Speed: 5,000 operations per second
Input/output: cards, lights, switches, plugs
Floor space: 1,000 square feet
Project leaders: John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert.

University of Pennsylvania´s Moore School of Electrical Engineering.


This free, public set of lectures inspired the EDSAC, BINAC, and, later, IAS machine clones like the AVIDAC. Here, Warren Kelleher completes the wiring of the arithmetic unit components of the AVIDAC at Argonne National Laboratory. Robert Dennis installs the inter-unit wiring as James Woody Jr. adjusts the deflection control circuits of the memory unit.

The Williams tube won the race for a practical random-access memory.


Sir Frederick Williams of Manchester University modified a cathode-ray tube to paint dots and dashes of phosphorescent electrical charge on the screen, representing binary ones and zeros. Vacuum tube machines, such as the IBM 701, used the Williams tube as primary memory.