Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are both names that are synonymous with computers. Well, at least they are with modern computers but they were just building on an idea that came along in the 1800’s and continued to grow throughout time. What used to be huge machines that took up all sorts of room and did only rudimentary (to our standards) work, we now hold in our hands and of course technology is only advancing further all the time.
So, we go back in time, to an Englishman named Charles Babbage who, most say was born just too early for his ideas. He originated the concept of a programmable computer and because of this is known as the father of the technology. He invented the first mechanical computer back in 1833 which was an analytical engine. The input of data and programs was to be provided to the machine through punched cards. The output had a printer, a curve plotter and a bell and it could punch numbers on cards that could be read at a later date. His idea even had an arithmetic logic unit, control flow and integrated memory, which would have been, had it been made, the first ever design for general use.
All of the parts for Babbage’s machine had to be made by hand and unfortunately his idea never reached fruition as the government cut his grants and he ran out of money. His son, Henry Babbage did make a simplified version of his dad’s idea though, in 1888 and he successfully demonstrated that it worked in 1906.
All of these ideas made way for the analog computers which used direct mechanical or electrical models of a problem as the basis for the computation. But, they were not programmable, they weren’t accurate and they weren’t very versatile. Something had to change.
The first programmable electronic computer was ENIAC which was fast and flexible and was completed in 1946. The program was designed by the states of its patch cables and switches. Someone would write a program and then mechanically set it into the machine with a manual reset of the patch cables and wires. It was a far cry from what we have today in the way of computers as it took up 1,800 square feet and weighed a hefty 50 tons. Imagine hauling that around in your pocket!