Before computers existed, people relied on abacuses and slide rules for calculations. Calculators would spend hours adding and subtracting numbers in tables that they then published in books so others could use for tasks such as accurately launching artillery shells or calculating taxes.
Charles Babbage first developed the idea for a general mechanical computer in 1837 – which he called “Analytical Engine.” Although never completed, this revolutionary invention represents modern computing concepts at their origination point.
Beginning in 1937 at Iowa State University (now University of Iowa), Iowa physics and mathematics professor John Vincent Atanasoff and graduate student Clifford Berry began work on what would later become the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC). Although not resembling modern day computers in appearance (it employed rotary drums for memory instead of microprocessors), ABC could perform simple calculations with ease and made several advances that remain important today: including binary number representation, separate storage functions from computational functions, clock-controlled control of electronic operations, modular design as well as using electronic amplifiers as on/off switches.
Soon thereafter, German inventor Konrad Zuse created the Z1 machine, considered to be the first electromechanical binary programmable computer. Unfortunately, however, due to unforeseen bombing raids on Berlin during World War II it became unreliable in running programs, and eventually was destroyed completely during an air raid on Berlin during this conflict. Following World War II ended and commercial success with UNIVAC 1 brought success for ABC at U.S. Census Bureau purchase.
World War II saw an exponential surge in computer development. Computers were used for everything from artillery calculations to code breaking – two notable machines being created were ENIAC created by US Army physicists J Presper Eckert and John Mauchly and Colossus which was developed for Britain’s government.
IBM engineers continued their efforts postwar, designing commercial electronic digital computers. Their first commercial product was 1956’s RAMAC 305 with hard disk drive and memory capability; shortly afterwards they produced UNIVAC 1 which became widely known for predicting Dwight D. Eisenhower’s electoral victory with accurate prediction of his electoral win landslide victory in 1957.
Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs launched a joint company to develop personal computers in the late 1960s, known as Apple Inc. Their first product, known as the Apple I, was introduced for sale on April Fool’s Day 1976 featuring a single circuit board equipped with Read Only Memory (ROM).
Apple I’s success led to other home computers, paving the way for modern computing as we know it today. Ralph Baer released Magnavox Odyssey as the first video game console in 1972; then in 1977 Nolan Bushnell and Alcorn from Atari launched Pong as its inaugural commercially successful home video game. By late 80s/early 90s advances in transistor count/power/cost reduction meant computers became affordable to home users.