The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

From the abacus to the IBM personal computer, calculating devices have come a long way. Let's take a look through the history of these machines and the remarkable progress that came with the 20th century.

A picture above was taken at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio, 1951.

The Chinese Abacus 'Suan Pan' and the Roman Abacus

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via History-Computer and David R. Tribble)

The Antikythera mechanism, designed to calculate astronomical positions (early 1st century BCE)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Marsyas [fragment] and Mogi Vincentini [2007 copy])

The Pascaline or Pascal's Calculator, by Blaise Pascal. It could add, subtract, multiply and divide two numbers (1642)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via David Monniaux)

The Stepped Reckoner, invented by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, completed in 1694. Two prototypes were built, only one survived.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Kolossos)

The Arithmométre, the first mass-produced mechanical calculator, by Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar, based on Leibniz's work, around 1820, but manufactured until 1915

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Ezrdr)

The punched card system, developed by 1801 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard. Used in music machines, mechanical organs, calculators, mechanical counters, looms, and other automatons and early computers.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Mechanical Organs and Stefan Kühn)

The Difference engines, the first mechanical computers, by Charles Babbage in the early 1800s

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

Here you can see the Difference Engine No. 2 in a gigantic, zoomable gigapixel image.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Jitze Couperus and xrez)

The hand-cranked calculator Curta, invented by Curt Herzstark in 1948. Type II was introduced in 1954 and produced until 1972.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Werner Kratz)

The Water Integrator, that could solve (partial) differential equations, built by Vladimir Lukyanov, 1936

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The water levels in the chambers represented stored numbers, and the rate of flow between them represented the mathematical operations.

(via Gizmodo)

The Mallock Machine, built by Rawlyn Richard Manconchy Mallock of Cambridge University to solve simultaneous linear differential equations (1933)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via University of Cambridge)

The MONIAC or the Philips Hydraulic Computer, developed by Bill Philips to model the economic processes of the UK (1949)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

Each transparent tank represented an aspect of the UK national economy and the flowing colored water symbolized the flow of money.

(via Kaihsu Tai)

Differential analyzers of the 1930s and 1940s

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

Cambridge, 1938

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

Cambridge, c. 1937

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

Magnetic Drum Digital Differential Analyzer at the Navy Electronics Laboratory

(via University of Cambridge, Dr. Maurice Wilkes and NASA)

Model K, the first electric digital computer by George Robert Stibitz at Bell Laboratories (1937)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

Stibitz made this machine from scrapped relays on his kitchen table at home. It could add two binary digits.

(via Gizmodo)

The Z1, the first freely programmable computer, which used Boolean logic and binary floating point numbers, built by Konrad Use between 1936 and 1938

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

It never worked flawlessly due to problems with the precision of its parts. The Z1 was destroyed by the Allied air raids in 1943, but Zuse rebuilt it in the mid-1980s.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The engineer's later machine, the Z3 (1941) was the first working program-controlled digital computer, used to perform statistical analyses of wing flutter.

(via ComputerGeek and Teslaton)

Colossus, the British codebreaker computer of WWII, developed by Tommy Flowers (Type I: 1943, Type II: 1944)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The 10 units were smashed to pieces and blueprints were burnt after WWII, but a working replica has been built between 1994 and 2006, and is on display at The National Museum of Computing.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Wikimedia Commons)

ENIAC – Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, the first electronic general-purpose computer, designed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, announced in 1946

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

At first the computer worked until November 9, 1946, and after a memory upgrade and a refurbishment the ENIAC was turned on again for eight more years.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Wikimedia Commons)

The world's first stored-program computer, the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) or Baby, built at the Victoria University of Manchester by Frederic C. Williams, Geoff Tootill and Tom Kilburn (1946)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Roger Davies and Resurrection, The Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society)

Ferranti Pegasus 1 (1956) and Pegasus 2 (1959) by the British Ferranti Ltd.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

Twenty-six were sold of the vacuum tube computer Pegasus 1 and twelve of the Pegasus 2. A Pegasus 1 was used to calculate 7480 digits of pi, a record of its time.

(via The Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society and LeoNerd)

The first computer to play digital music, the CSIRAC, by an Australian team led by Trevor Pearcey and Maston Beard (1949)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via jjron)

The commercial computer UNIVAC I, designed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, the inventors of ENIAC (1951)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Daderot and Playing in the World Game)

The IBM's answer to the UNIVAC: the IBM 702, the first computer to use magnetic tapes, announced in 1953

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Playing in the World Game and RTC)

The first mass-produced computer ever, the IBM 650 (1953-1969)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

More than 2000 were built.

(via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Kent)

SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Enviroment), designed for the Air Force to track radar data in real time (1954)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

Built by the IBM to the US Air Force to analyze radar signals in North American airspace in response to the threat from Soviets.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Gizmodo and Department of Computer Science)

NEAC 2203, by the Nippon Electric Company (1960)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Chroniclebooks)

IBM System/360 (1964)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The first computer mainframe that could complete a range of applications from scientific to commercial. 360s were used by the NASA during the Apollo missions and some airports used these as air traffic control computers.

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Bundesarchiv, Dave Ross and Toresbe)

Cray-1, the best known supercomputer ever, deisgned by Cray Research, led by Seymour Cray and Lester Davis (1976)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Sjgooch and Clemens Pfeiffer)

Apple I by Steve Wozniak (1976)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

(via Ed Uthman)

IBM Personal Computer or Model 5150, created by a team of engineers and designers led by Don Estridge (1981)

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981

The system that made computers mainstream.

(via Engelbert Reineke/German Federal Archives)