#TechExchange: When Was The First Computer Invented? The Phenomenal Journey

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When was the first computer invented? There is no easy answer to this question due to the many different classifications of computers. The first mechanical computer, created by Charles Babbage in 1822, doesn’t really resemble what most would consider a computer today.

This analysis chronicles the details of each of the computer firsts, starting from biblical times ,the Difference Engine leading up to the first digital computer.

By Cisco Eng. Shingie Lev Muringi 

Did you know that the computer revolution started in the Before Christ (BC) times during Babylonian rule in Mesopotamia where elites spearheaded science and innovation as believed by theological historians . The computer itself is a testimony of continuous review and cutting edge innovation with specs improving over time.  

Note: Early inventions which helped lead up to the computer, such as the abacus,calculator, and tablet machines, are not accounted for in this review.

The word “computer” was first used

The word “computer” was first recorded as being used in 1613 and originally was used to describe a human who performed calculations or computations. The definition of a computer remained the same until the end of the 19th century, when the industrial revolution gave rise to machines whose primary purpose was calculating.

First mechanical computer or automatic computing engine concept

Babbage received some help with development of the Difference Engine from Ada Lovelace, considered by many to be the first computer programmer for her work and notes on the Difference Engine. Unfortunately,due to funding challenges, Babbage was never able to complete a full-scale functional version of this machine. In June of 1991, the London Science Museum completed the Difference Engine No 2 for the bicentennial year of Babbage’s birth and later completed the printing mechanism in 2000.

Analytical Engine

In 1837, Charles Babbage proposed the first general mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine. The Analytical Engine contained an Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU), basic flow control, and integrated memory and is the first general-purpose computer concept. Unfortunately, because of lack of funding, this computer was also never built when Charles Babbage was alive. By chance in 1910, Henry Babbage, Charles Babbage’s youngest son, partially completed this machine and was able to perform basic calculations.

First programmable computer

The Z1 was created by German Konrad Zuse in his parents’ living room between 1936 and 1938. It is considered to be the first electro-mechanical binary programmable computer, and the first really functional modern computer.

Z1 computer

First concepts of what we consider a modern computer

The Turing machine was first proposed by Alan Turing in 1936 and became the foundation for theories about computing and computers. The machine was a device that printed symbols on paper tape in a manner that emulated a person following a series of logical instructions. Without these fundamentals, we wouldn’t have the computers we use today.

The first electric programmable computer

Colossus Mark 2

The Colossus was the first electric programmable computer, developed by Tommy Flowers, and first demonstrated in December 1943. The Colossus was created to help the British code breakers read encrypted German messages.

The first digital computer

The  Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) was developed by Professor John Vincent Atanasoff and graduate student Cliff Berry in 1937. Its development continued until 1942 at the Iowa State College (now Iowa State University).

The ABC was an electrical computer that used vacuum tubes for digital computation, including binary math and Boolean logic and had no CPU. On October 19, 1973, the US Federal Judge Earl R. Larson signed his decision that the ENIAC patent by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly was invalid and named Atanasoff the inventor of the electronic digital computer.

The ENIAC was invented by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly at the University of Pennsylvania and began construction in 1943 and was not completed until 1946. It occupied about 1,800 square feet and used about 18,000 vacuum tubes, weighing almost 50 tons. Although the Judge ruled that the ABC computer was the first digital computer, many still consider the ENIAC to be the first digital computer because it was fully functional.

ENIAC

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