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The Pre Industrial Era


The first logic built into calculating machines.

IBM founded as well as numerous other computer companies. Some merged into large firms others disappeared without a trace.

Calculators got more and more business oriented and were no longer for scientists only but business people as well.

Computers were put to work for war purposes for the first time.


pre history | antiquity | pre industrial era | industrial era
1886 - 1900 - 1927 - 1938 - 1940 - 1944




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Leonardo Torres y Quevedo built two electro mechanical chess machines that could play the endgame of king and tower against a tower. But he saw no future in it because, like Babbage, he felt restricted by the mechanical constraints and tolerances that could not be met at the time.

Herman Hollerith introduced an automatic punch card feeder that processed the census of 1900 a lot faster.



The first calculator that solved a problem faster than it could be done by hand, was Jevons' Logical Piano.

Jevon's logical piano

The elements for logical automata already existed - for example the self-regulating machines using "feedback". These machines could be programmed by punched cards and tape.

Writers were venturing into the future. Samuel Butler began his novel, Erewhon, with an essay entitled "Darwin Among the Machines."

Allan Marquand, a Princeton professor, developed a machine that solved very simple logic problems. Below is the picture of its "output screen"


In his correspondence the philosopher, Charles S. Pierce, showed a deep insight into what machines could be.
In commenting on Marquand's machine, Pierce suggested that a system of batteries and switches could be hooked up to solve very difficult problems in formal logic. This would include most of the theorems of algebra and geometry. This was almost like the basic idea to the modern computer: "All arithmetic operations have electrical counterparts".


Max Planck described the quantum effect. This theory will become very important in later developments of micro processors. The development of quantum computers would have been unthinkable without this theory.



Marconi organized the first Trans Atlantic radio broadcast from Newfoundland

locke slide calculatore 1901
Locke's slide calculator (23)

 Clarence E. Locke of Kensett, Iowa, received a patent in 1901 for his multi-slide calculator, the main features of which were that users would not have to change the machine's position to find the results and that the slides were lockable and easily distinguished. (24)

"The advertisement that appeared in McClure's in 1901 read as follows:

'Why don't you use the Locke Adder? It's the modern office appliance that is practically adapted to the needs of a growing business. The Locke Adder takes care of the computation of business details. No office systematically equipped without it. It's the fastest, simplest, handiest, most practical, durable, low priced calculating machine. Adds, Subtracts, Multiplies, Divides. Easily learned-lasts a lifetime. "It's more rapid
than you and always accurate." Quickly pays for itself. Ensures accuracy, releases from mental strain. Adds all columns simultaneously. Capacity 999,999,999. It is a valuable aid to the busy accountant, and as this useful machine, can be had for only $5.00, one should be in every business office.'

C.E. Locke Mfg. Company 21 Walnut Street, Kensett, Iowa." 


The Dalton, introduced in 1902, was the first adding machine to use a ten-key keyboard.

The layout, however, differed somewhat from today's standard as the digits 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 were in the top row, and 1, 3, 0, 6, 8 in the bottom row. The same keyboard layout was used in the Facit calculators.(21)

A young electrical engineer called Frank Pearne is approached by Mr. Joy Morton, the president of the Morton Salt Company.

Pearne has been experimenting with printing telegraphs and needed a sponsor. Morton discuss the situation with his friend and mechanical engineer Charles L. Krum, and they decide in favor of this project.
After a year of unsuccessful experiments, Pearne looses interest and wanders off into the sunset to become a teacher. Krum will continue to investigate the telegraph mechanism and is joined by his son Howard in 1906. In 1910 they will deliver a working telegraph system.

Yazy Ryoichi "Arithmometer" 1902

The first calculators starting to appear in Japan this one is from Yazu Ryoichi (22)





First Flight

Willbur en Orvile Wright  construct the first mechanical airplane. Man becomes airborne.



flemming_ambrosevacuum_tube_diode.jpg (10079 bytes)

John Ambrose Fleming files a patent for the first vacuum tube: a diode.(17)

golden gem A very succesful handheld calculator the Golden Gem is manufactured.

golden gemgolden gem
picture courtesy vintagecalculators & research.microsoft.com

This one is special since it is a chain adding machine. Not seen very often in this period. Can perform addition only, and made by the Automatic Adding Machine Co., New York, U.S.A.



Einstein described his theory of relativity, a new way of thinking started in the scientific community.

A turning point in thinking! Spurting scientists towards further development in mathematics, physics and astronomy. Following from this developments it leads to the atomic bomb, possibility of space flights is no longer a Jules Verne's phantasy, and the theory of probability further prospered. Just to name a few.


Adix's pocket calculator

The first use of aluminum in calculators was in the Adix company's "pocket" calculator.

The bars inside the case were of aluminum that kept the weight down. The case is lined with blue velvet.



Lee DeForest (USA) introduces a third electrode called "the grid" into the vacuum tube and he calls it: "Triode".

Lee de Forest's Triode or Audion (25)

This triode, also known unde the name of Audion Tube (from the words audio and ionize), is mainly used as a component for amplifiers in radio's but serves as an electronic switch as well and quickly replaces the electro mechanical relays which revolutionized computing. Lee deForest files for a patent the next year. (12) Without this invention it would be impossible to design digital electronic computers. (15)

The desk calculator by Brunsviga (approximately 1906) is introduced.

The calculating mechanism is based on the principle of the stepped cylinder designed by Odhner. This device will be the father of all office desk calculators.

brunswiga.jpeg (3684 bytes)

Henry Babbage, Charles Babbage's son, with support from R. W. Munro's firm, completed the mill of his father's Analytical Engine, just to show that it would have worked, and it did!

The complete machine however will never be produced.(15) The London Science Museum will start to reconstruct this analytical engine in the late 20th century.



L. Torres developed a formal language to describe machines.

This will be used later by Claude Shannon in his Information Theorem.

The Austrian physicist Robert von Lieben filed patents for an electronic tube in 1907 and 1910(11); one of the original tubes can be seen at the Technisches Museum Wien

Lee de Forest also filed a patent for vacuum tubes,(12) an invention he made a year earlier.

Again a fine example for the need of something to be invented. And this invention happened in two separate places by two different inventors.
By the time the judicial system in the USA was in place to protect ones inventions many court cases were fought out over who invented what. An example of this is Atanasoff versus Mauchly on who invented the Electronic Binary computer, Atanasoff won after a legal battle of over 15 years.



First C-T-R Tabulating Machine was produced(13)

Alan Archibald Campbell Swinton proposes an electronic system of photography, it will take about 25 years to make a practical system.(19)

In this way he describes an electronic scanning method and foreshadows the use of the cathode-ray tube for television.


audion tube



Henry Prevost, the youngest son of Charles Babbage, completed a calculator that was based on his father's analytical engine.

He worked on this intermittently from his father's death in 1871. This manually operated machine could do the four basic calculations of adding, subtracting, division and multiplication and also print the results. He published after completion of his machine a table of multiples of the number pi with a 28 digit precision. A remarkable result in this time.

The mechanical and electrical talents of Krum Senior and Junior complemented each other.

And after solving the problem of synchronizing the transmitter and receiver, they will see their first installation on postal lines between New York City and Boston in the summer of 1910.(14) The telegraph will be a fact and it will be one of the major developments that will speed up economic growth.
This technology will prove to be crucial in the development of the telephone and thus (remote) communication between computers.



Heinke Kamerlingh Onnes (Leiden, the Netherlands), together with Mr. Dorsman and Mr. Holst, reports to the Royal Academy of Sciences (Koninklijke Academie van Wetenschappen) on the 27th of  May, that they have discovered the properties of Super conductivity of Hydrogenium at a temperature of 4.3K (0 Kelvin = -273 Celsius). No theoretical thesis is developed at that time, and no one knows what to do with it yet.

Superconductivity, will be discovered later, is a phenomenon that occurs in certain metals when they are cooled down close to absolute zero (minus 273.7° C or 459.7° F.). In that state, they lose all resistance to the flow of electric current.

It will be explained by Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer with their "BCS theory" (their initials) in 1957. At extremely low temperatures, they will say, electrons are coupled with one another (in so-called Cooper pairs), cease their random collisions and flow unhindered. Superconductivity may lead to more efficient transmission of electrical power(26). Superconductivity will be adapted in the High Performance Computing industry.

Hollerith's company  - Tabulating Machine Company - merged with two other companies to Computing Tabulating Recording Company. Below the logo of that company.

Eventually this will become IBM - International Business Machine Corporation in 1924. De new firm produced not only calculators but also weighing machines and time clocks.



Bertrand Russel and Alfred North Whitehead published their three-volume Principia Mathematica an influential work on the foundations of mathematics that provided a new methodology for all mathematics.(17)

Tokuji Hayakawa founded a steel factory in Tokyo. From the mechanical pencil in 1915 - always sharp- the name of the Sharp company is derived


A. Meisner invented the vacuum tube radio transmitter(17)

Charles P. R. Macaulay constructs a logical machine to solve logical problems.(20)



Thomas Watson Sr. (1874-1956) joins the Tabulating Machine Co and reinvents it as IBM.

He converted the financially run under manufacturing business into the international giant IBM.

picture courtesy IBM



Albert Einstein completed his theory of gravitation known as the general theory of relativity

Physicist Manson Benedicks discovers that AC can be converted to DC using the germanium crystal, setting the stage for the later development of microchips.



omega pointThe remaining series of faster and faster additional revolutions should culminate in an "Omega point" (Teilhard de Chardin, 1916) expected around 2030-2040.



The word ROBOT is used for the first time in the context of mechanical people in a play called R.U.R (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Czech dramatist Karel Capek.

These are intelligent machines meant to serve their human makers. But the play ends dramatic as robots take over the world and destroy humanity. The Frankenstein syndrome invented before he was even there!

Karel Capek (Czech) calls these powerful beings "robota" meaning forced and slavishly work. He distinguishes the robot from man by the absence of emotion.(2)

The 1923 English translation retained the original word: Robot



The Enigma machine is used for the first time by the German army to code messages



W. H. Eccles and F.W. Jordan discover that two triode valves could be connected to form a circuit possessing two stable states - the basis for the so-called flip-flop.

This construction is capable of storing binary information (14) (15) providing the fundaments for digital computing.


The proton discovered, the proton makes up the atomic nucleus together with the neutron and is the positive part of the nucleus.

Norton Hinckley and Dave Tandy put their money, earned in a leather factory in Dallas, into the founding of the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company.

Later this will be the Tandy Corporation manufacturing affordable computers for consumers.

The Dutchman Hugo Koch invented a machine capable of encrypting messages.

The input was done via a keyboard, the machine then produced encoded text at the output side. The difference between this and other coding machines was that the same letter would not necessarily encode into the same character every time. For example, suppose you typed the letter 'a', and 'g' came out at the other side. The next time you typed 'a', an 'u' might come out, rather than the 'g' that you expected. This made enciphered text very difficult to decrypt, since frequency analysis solved nothing. But Koch found little interest in his machine, and so he sold it to a German engineer named Dr. Arthur Scherbius. The latter improved the machine, and began to seek out interested parties. He renamed the machine to "Enigma", and was able to sell it to the German government. At first the German military were reluctant to put the Enigma into use(1) but soon the possibilities were recognized.



The first cash register that prints numbers is introduced on the market by C-T-R (later IBM).

Leonardo Torres y Quevedo built a calculator that used a type writer for the in- and output.(18)

 Jan Lukasiewicz develops the Reverse Polish Notation (RPN) as a way to write a mathematical expression without using parentheses and brackets.

By writing operators in front of their operands, instead of between them, brackets were made unnecessary. The RPN proved to be very practical in computerprogramming. The first "calculator" to use RPN was the HP9100A, which was introduced in 1968, although this machine is now regarded by many as the first desktop computer. The


In Boston a radio station RadioShack was set-up. In 1940 this firm will publish its first mail order catalog





Vladimir Kosma Zworkin holds the first demonstration of an electronic television camera tube.




Mar 5, International Business Machines (IBM corporation) is formed after more mergers involving the Computing - Tabulating - Recording Company - see 1911.

By 1990 IBM will have an income of around $69 Billion (and 373,816 employees). The 1992 recession will cause a cut in stock dividends (for the first time in the company's history) and the sacking of 40,000 employees. (15)

In different countries and by different manufacturers simular calculators with the four basic functions (+-/*) are manufactured.

One of these types is shown above: the Brunsviga. Other makes are a.o. Odhner, Giessler, and Gauss; all build on the same principle: stepped gear. The machines are much more sophisticated then the original Odhner from 1904



The first television receiver based on the principle of the Braun's tube was demonstrated in Germany.

Until the beginning of the 21st century this will be the main technology to view data directly from the computer. It will be called CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) or Computer Screen.



Mathematicians have been fascinated by primes for centuries. Prime numbers are unusual numbers that can only be divided by one or themselves. The numbers 1,3,5,7,11,13,17,19, ... etc. are such prime numbers.

v-grab Mathematicians in the future looking to solve complicated problems in number theory just crank up a computer.

But that wasn't an option during this period. At the University of California's Derek Lehmer did his computing on a mechanical computer designed by him from bicycle chains and sprockets. Derek Lehmer -- whose interest was finding prime numbers and solving equations -- built mechanical aids to help him do the number crunching.

v-grab Left the bicycle chains and electric motor helped Professor Lehmer to track down prime numbers.

v-grab The bicycle chain contraption used a concept called the "number sieve," which was first laid out by the Greek thinker Eratosthenes in 200 BC.

Lehmer went on to build other number sieves. One of them used 16 millimeter film strips, and another used metal gears. The machines were capable of performing 300,000 mathematical tests a minute. Today's computers do that in fractions of a second.

v-grab Before Lehmer put those chains to work, his father had painstakingly punched holes in sheets of paper -- using the patterns to search for prime numbers. It wasn't glamorous work. You would wonder what they were thinking while they were doing this because they had to wait so long to get the answer, and think about how easy it would be to make a mistake.

v-grab Derek Lehmer went on to deliver many lectures describing his low-tech number crunchers. The machines have now become museum pieces. And, today, people marvel at what they could do long before computers changed the world of mathematics.

There's been a close connection between the world of computers and prime numbers. Mathematicians still log countless hours on supercomputers searching for primes since prime numbers are the basis for super-secure codes that protect digital data.(7)

Lilienfeld patents the first semiconductor as a device for amplification.(8)


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