Last updated: Monday 19th September 2011, 12:46 PT by AD



The History of Computers

(and your instructor's introduction to them)


1780   Benjamin Franklin –American statesman, inventor and scientist - discovers the existence of electricity

1822     Charles Babbage – English mathematician and inventor – built a mechanical computer which he called ‘The Analytical Engine’.  His friend and colleague, Ada Augusta (Countess of Lovelace) wrote many articles about the engine, and is often described as the first computer programmer

1831 Michael Faraday – English physicist and chemist – discovers how to generate electricity using  magnets

1854 George Boole – English mathematician publishes his book on switching theory based on mathematical logic

1872 Christopher Latham Scholes creates a mechanical machine called the Type-Writer

1878 Remington is contracted to produce 1000 Type-Writers

1890   The first electronic vacuum tube (valve) switch was created

1899   Underwood produces a new improved typewriter

1903   Nicola Tesla – American scientist patented electronic switches

1910   Over 2 million typewriters sold in the U.S.

1912   Alan Turing born.

1915   Typewriter manufacturers exceed 100

1920 magnetic tape recording  invented

1933   IBM introduces the electric typewriter

1940 Computers built from mechanical switches – could perform 100 operations (adding numbers) per second

1946 The ENIAC computer with 18,000 vacuum tube (valve) switches was constructed.  ENIAC is an acronym meaning: Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer.  5000 additions per second.  The  80 ton ENIAC needed a large building with power supply, air conditioning to house it.  It was unreliable – broke down every few hours.  It was so expensive, only governments could afford to buy one.   To program the ENIAC to do its additions it was necessary to connect hundreds of wires and arrange thousands of switches in a certain way.

1946 Dr John von Neuman of Princeton University proposed the concept of a stored program computer where the instruction would be stored in computer memory rather than in wires and switches.

1946 The term bit – short for binary digit was used for the first time

1947 William Shockley of Bell Telephone Laboratories of Murray Hill, N.J., announces the development of the transistor switch – small, fast and reliable – needed less power and generated less heat than the valve switches

1948   magnetic drum data storage invented

1950 Transistors replaced valves in computers. Computers became smaller, cheaper, faster and more reliable. 50,000 additions per second.  Companies such as Univac, Honeywell, IBM, RCA, Burroughs, Digital Equipment, Control Data began to manufacture computers.  The computers were still large, costing millions of dollars, but could now be afforded by government departments, large corporations and universities.  These large computers were called mainframes.

1953 Magnetic cores used as internal memory (data storage) for the first time

1954 I (AD) was born. Alan Turing died aged 41.

1954 IBM documents the ‘Specifications for the IBM Mathematical FORmula TRANslating System, FORTRAN’ which formed the basis of the FORTRAN programming Language

1956 IBM introduces 5 megabyte disk file storage device

1957 FORTRAN language system released for IBM 704 computer

1959 Jack Kilby files patent for the first Integrated Circuit  – using photographic reduction techniques, several transistors were etched onto a tiny slice of silicon crystal (approx. one quarter inch square).  The chip was born.

1960 Algol 60 programming language used in universities and defense departments

1962   sixteen transistor switches combined onto one IC chip – transistors are smaller, cheaper, faster

1963   ASCII code introduced

1963   The first ‘mouse’ invented by Doug Englebart

1967   A RAM chip containing  1024 transistor switches (bits) introduced – the one kilobit chips.

1971 A company called INTEL produced their INTEL 4004 microprocessor chip, and this resulted in the manufacture of hand-held pocket calculators – originally costing several hundred dollars - with approx. 2000 switches

1971   IBM produce floppy disks (8") for data storage

1971 The Pascal programming language was developed by Professor Nicklaus Wirth of Zurich, Switzerland – the primary aim of this language was for teaching programming.

1972   INTEL develops the 8008 microprocessor with 4,500 switches

1972 I (AD) start a science degree course at university in England, and start to use the FORTRAN programming language.  I use the university’s mainframe computer, having to write programs using punched cards. 

1973   IBM Winchester disk drives built

1974   INTEL develops the 8080 microprocessor with 6,000 switches

1975 In the January 1975 issue of the magazine ‘Popular Electronics’  a computer known as the ‘Altair’ was featured on the cover page.  Based on the INTEL 8080 microprocessor chip, it was available in kit form at a price of $400.  It was referred to as a microcomputer. Computers smaller than mainframes, but larger than microcomputers were known as minicomputers.

1975 I (AD) start a PhD degree at university and start to use a microcomputer for the first time.  The computer arrived with a Startrek game.

1975 A young man called Bill Gates, with friend Paul Allen developed a programming language (BASIC) interpreter program for the Altair. The Microsoft company was born. (I wish I bought shares!)

1976 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak start the APPLE Computer Corporation

1976 Shugart 5 and 1/4 " floppy drives cost $400

1977 The Apple I computer was first built based on Motorola’s 6502 microprocessor

1977   The Apple II was built

1978 INTEL develops the 8086 microprocessor with approximately 30,000 switches – 1 megabyte of data storage memory

1979 VisiCalc (statistical analysis) computer program written for the Apple II assures the success of the computer

1979   Englishman Clive Sinclair develops an affordable computer ‘ZX80’: $250

1980   Apple goes public and sells 4.6 million shares in minutes

1980   I (AD) buy my first computer Sinclair ‘ZX80’ .  It runs the BASIC language.

1980   Seagate produce the 5 megabyte hard drive for microcomputers

1981 IBM starts up its microcomputer division, produces microcomputers using the INTEL 8086 chip, Tandon disk drives, SCI circuit boards and an Epson printer.  The software used to control the hardware was written by Microsoft and was called MSDOS – Microsoft Disk Operating System.

1981   The much improved Sinclair ‘ZX81’ arrives at $100.  My BASIC skills get better.

1981   I (AD) am awarded my PhD in chemistry

1982   I (AD) start to learn the Pascal and C languages

1982   INTEL develops the 80286 microprocessor with 135,000 switches.

Within 6 years of its release, an estimated 15 million 286-based IBM PCs (Personal Computers)

were installed around the world. These machines were aimed initially at business users.


1983   Microsoft announces its own mouse

1983   IBM produce the 10 megabyte hard drive

1984   North America has over 1 million hard drives in operation

1984   I (AD) start a teacher training course specializing in teaching computer programming to adults

1985 INTEL develops the 80386 microprocessor with 275,000 switches

1988 I (AD) completed an M.Sc. course in Computer Science specializing in  C, Ada, and database management systems (DBMS), Intelligent Knowledge Based Systems and Artificial Intelligence.

1989   INTEL develops the 80486 microprocessor with 1,000,000 switches

1991   I (AD) buy my first decent computer – a Dell 386SX. 

1991   IBM  1 Gigabyte (1,000,000,000 bytes) hard disk drive

1993   INTEL develops the 80586 (Pentium) microprocessor with 3,000,000 switches

1995   INTEL develops the Pentium Pro microprocessor with 5,500,000 switches

1995   I (AD) arrive in Canada from England and am introduced to the Java programming language

at a Sun Microsystems seminar in Vancouver.


1996   I (AD) buy my laptop (notebook) computer: Pentium II MMX running W95: $4500

1996   2 gigabyte hard drives are standard

1997   INTEL develops the 80686 Pentium II microprocessor with 7,500,000 switches

1999   INTEL  develops the Pentium III microprocessor with 9.5 million transistors (switches)

1999   4 gigabyte and larger drives available

1999   September 1999 : my laptop computer is now only worth $2000

2000   June 2000, buy a Dell Pentium III, 700 MHz, 128MB RAM, W98, 20GB hard drive, no monitor, $2400

2000   The Pentium IIII is developed with more than 42 million transistors.

2004   September 2004; my laptop is now a bookend, sentimental value only :-)

2005   January 2005, take delivery of a new Dell Dimension 8400:

P4, 3.31 GHz, 1GB RAM, 160GB hard drive,

Flat Panel monitor, CD R/W, DVD R/W, 256MB  nVidia card,

$2300 (inclusive of tax and delivery).

Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition version 5.1.2600



2006   February 2006, take delivery of a new Dell Dimension 3100:

P4, 2.8 GHz, 512MB RAM, 160GB hard drive,      

Flat Panel monitor, CD R/W, Integrated Intel Graphics,

$740 (inclusive of tax and delivery).

Oiginal Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition

Current Operating System: Linux - Fedora Core 5


2006   My home network: the two Dell machines above, plus two Dell 386 machines,

one loaded with Windows XP, the other with Linux - Fedora Core 3.


2006   Core processor developed with 300 million transistors


2006   Multicore chip processors developed with 800 million transistors


2007/8            Home network: the two Dell machines above,

   one loaded with Windows XP, the other with Ubuntu Linux Apache



2009   add a Linux Dell laptop and a Windows 7 Toshiba netbook


2009   Intel 22nm Tri-Gate Circuits developed with over 2.9 billion transistors


2011   Home network: the two Dell machines above,

   one (still) loaded with Windows XP, the other with Ubuntu 11:04 Server,

   Windows 7 Toshiba netbook NB200 loaded with Ubuntu 11:04,

   Dell 1420 Laptop loaded with Ubuntu 11:04.


2012-   how many transistors?



Intel's Microprocessor Quick Reference Guide


Intel online exhibits  (see how chips are made, how transistors and microprocessors work, and more...)


Intel Education




Copyright    Anne Dawson    2012  -  All Rights Reserved