Computers: Invention of the Century

The History of Computers Only once in a lifetime will a new invention come about to touch every aspect of our lives. Such devices changed the way we manage, work, and live. A machine that has done all this and more now exists in nearly every business in the United States. This incredible invention is the computer. The electronic computer has been around for over a half-century, but its ancestors have been around for 2000 years. However, only in the last 40 years has the computer changed American management to it's greatest extent. From the first wooden abacus to the latest high-speed microprocessor, the computer has changed nearly every aspect of management, and our lives for the better. The very earliest existence of the modern day computer's ancestor is the abacus. These date back to almost 2000 years ago (Dolotta, 1985). It is simply a wooden rack holding parallel wires on which beads are strung. When these beads are moved along the wire according to programming rules that the user must memorize. All ordinary arithmetic operations can be performed on the abacus. This was one of the first management tools used. The next innovation in computers took place in 1694 when Blaise Pascal invented the first digital calculating machine. It could only add numbers and they had to be entered by turning dials. It was designed to help Pascal's father, who was a tax collector, manage the town's taxes (Beer, 1966). In the early 1800s, a mathematics professor named Charles Babbage designed an automatic calculation machine (Dolotta, 1985). It was steam powered and could store up to 1000 50-digit numbers. Built in to his machine were operations that included everything a modern general-purpose computer would need. It was programmed by and stored data on cards with holes punched in them, appropriately called punch cards. This machine was extremely useful to managers that delt with large volumes of good. With Babbage's machine, managers could more easily calculate the large numbers accumulated by inventories. The only problem was that there was only one of these machines built, thus making it difficult for all managers to use (Beer, 1966). After Babbage, people began to lose interest in computers. However, between 1850 and 1900 there were great advances in mathematics and physics that began to rekindle the interest. Many of these new advances involved complex calculations and formulas that were very time consuming for human calculation. The first major use for a computer in the U.S. was during the 1890 census. Two men, Herman Hollerith and James Powers, developed a new punched-card system that could automatically read information on cards without human (Dolotta, 1985). Since the population of the U.S. was increasing so fast, the computer was an essential tool for managers in tabulating the totals (Hazewindus,1988). These advantages were noted by commercial industries and soon led to the development of improved punch-card business-machine systems by International Business Machines, Remington-Rand, Burroughs, and other corporations (Chposky, 1988). By modern standards the punched-card machines were slow, typically processing from 50 to 250 cards per minute, with each card holding up to 80 digits. At the time, however, punched cards were an enormous step forward; they provided a means of input, output, and memory storage on a massive scale. For more than 50 years following their first use, punched-card machines did the bulk of the world's business computing (Jacobs, 1975). By the late 1930s punched-card machine techniques had become so well established and reliable that Howard Hathaway Aiken, in collaboration with engineers at IBM, undertook construction of a large automatic digital computer based on standard IBM electromechanical parts (Chposky, 1988). Aiken's machine, called the Harvard Mark I, handled 23-digit numbers and could perform all four arithmetic operations (Dolotta, 1985). Also, it had special built-in programs to handled logarithms and trigonometric functions. The Mark I was controlled from prepunched paper tape. Output was by card punch and electric typewriter. It was slow, requiring 3 to 5 seconds for a multiplication, but it was fully automatic and could complete long computations without human intervention. The outbreak of World War II produced a desperate need for computing capability, especially for the military (Dolotta, 1985). New weapons systems were produced which needed trajectory tables and other essential data. In 1942, John P. Eckert, John W. Mauchley, and their associates at the University of Pennsylvania decided to build a