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The Industrial Era

1950 - 1951

The next generation of computers announced itself. Programming them became a lot easier.

  • Z4 first commercial computer
  • Ferrite core memory invented
  • First attempt to formalize software development

pre history | antiquity | pre industrial era | industrial era

1947 1949 1950 1952 1955 1958 1961 1963 1965 1969 1970 1972 1974
1976 1978 1980 1981 1982 1984 1986 1989 1991 1993 1994 1996 2000
2002 2005                      


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pre history
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Industrial era




De MARK III (1951?) based on a design for only vacuum tubes was finished. This computer got its data via a magnetic tape. The machine weighed 35 metric tons and had 700.000 separate parts - e.g. 3000 bearings. An addition took 0.3 seconds and a multiplication 6 seconds.

Maurice V. Wilkes at Cambridge university uses assembler (symbolic assembly language) on the EDSAC. Assembler is developed by David Wheeler under Wilkes' management in 1949




Zuse sold Z4, world's first commercial computer.(7)


August 17, tThe Standards Werstern Automatic Computer (SWAC), built under Harry Huskey's management, is switched on at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles USA).

The first entirely commercial special purpose designed computer is made in the USA: ERA1101. This one uses a magnetic drum as memory and can store 1 million bits. The machine was designed to read bank checks printed with special magnetic ink.

Moe Abramson and Stanislaus F. Danko develop the "Auto-Sembly" process, in which component leads are inserted into a copper foil interconnection pattern and dip soldered. With the development of board lamination and etching techniques, this concept evolves into the standard printed circuit board fabrication process in use today.(21) In 1956 the patent will be awarded by the American Patent Buro (see picture below)

picture courtesy Smithsonian
digitally enhanced by THOCF

May 10, the Pilot ACE is completed at England's National Physical Laboratory and runs its first program.

Remington Rand buys the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation.


One of these famous citations "He couldn't be wrong more"


Howard Aiken, chief designer of the Mark I, during a conversation to John Curtiss, of the National Council of Investigation of the U.S.A. in reference to the situation of the investigation and development of the UNIVAC.

"We will never have enough problems to have enough work for one or two computers working on it


Shannon proposes the idea of a chess program.

Turing Test proposed (Turing's "Computing Machinery and Intelligence")



The company Wang Labs, funded by Wang's family, is founded by An Wang. Their first invention is the ferrite core memory. core memoryA core memory is a system of copper wires mounted on a frame. At cross points a ferrite core is mounted. When a cross point becomes conductive (electrical current is running through the wires) the ferrite core becomes magnetic.
By detecting which core is magnetic and which not one could "determinate" certain values. With these values can be made calculations. The core memories were made by hand, therefor very expensive. But they were more solid and reliable than vacuum tubes

F.W. Viehe independently of Wang Labs also invented the ferrite core memory.

Coronado Corporation changed its name into Texas Instruments Incorporated.

The largest vacuum tube computers ever build were those for the SAGE project an USA airforce project build by IBM consisting of 50 computers. It was also the very first air defense system and the first one with real time computer human interfaces.


The Whirlwind computer is designed by Jay Forrester and Ken Olsen of MIT (Boston, USA). The speed of Whirlwind made it possible to show the results of calculations almost at once on the computer screen. Forrester used an invention he made in 1949: "iron cores" to meet the speed required for the Whirlwind, the patent will be awarded in 1956. The Whirlwind was also the first real time computer.

Dr. W. B. Shockley, R.L. Wallace and Morgan Sparks show the worlds first reliable Junction Transistor, invented a year befor. A kind of three layered Germanium sandwich built into a metal housing of some 12 mm's high.



Readhow does a transistor workon transistors.


David A. Huffman (1926 - 1999) (USA) developed  the Huffman Code. This code that will be used to compress data to be transmitted over networks and modems, programming for video recorders and high definition television. The algorithm Huffman designed made it possible to compress data over 25%, depending on the type of data. That saved a lot of time and money if you know that transmissions were done by 110 bits per second(13)

Professor Robert M. Fano (MIT, Boston USA) put Huffman to a choice: either an assignment to graduate or a final exam. Huffman choose the assignment.

The assignment was:

"Design with the help of binary code (0 en 1) the most efficient method to represent characters, figures and symbols."

Such a code could send information over the network or be saved in a computer's memory

The assignment sounded simple but after some months of studying and trying this appeared not the case to Huffman, on the verge to give up he got suddenly the insight of a solution. He thought of using the so called binary tree technique.

The binary tree

The principle of the code is as follows:

Assign to the most frequently used characters the shortest binary code, as at the other hand the less used symbols gets the longest binary code. This process is done by a kind of coding tree. The probability that the symbol occurs is represented as a leaf on a tree. The two lowest probabilities will be added to form a new probability. The combinations of these probabilities will go via the branches of the tree until the last to numbers are 1 and 0. Thus forming the root of the tree

Each probability is a leaf, each branch get a 1 or 0. Code words are formed via branches from the root till the top of the tree. In that way the binary code is formed

When characters are formed, an E for example - having a probability of approximately 0.13 - could be represented as short living.(4) and thus a short binary code.


Example of huffman's binary tree


Singer introduced the first electronic sewing machine. This was a prime example what electronics could do. It meant that 350 expensive fine mechanical precision parts were replaced by logic in a cheap special purpose processor.

Magnetic data tape always tore up when the tape was suddenly stopped or started and that formed a problem. IBM solved this with the vacuum column. By pulling vacuum in a column the tape always stayed down in a half loop. Because there is no resistance from the air any more that curled up the tape(15), the tape stayed down. That again could be used to reach higher speeds and thus higher data transfer speeds. This technique would be used throughout the industry.(5)

In this year three famous computers came on line:

The Ferranti Mark 1, the first commercially available computer, is delivered to Thomas Kilburn and Frederic Williams at Manchester University in England. Nine more are sold in the next six years.

Heinz Nixdorf developed a "small size" calculator for the Rheinisch-Westfälische Elektrizitätswerke. It was unique for its kind because up till now computers took up at least more than one room.

Lyons Electric Office

In the United Kingdom (GB) the first for generic business purposes designed computer was delivered: LEO. (Lyons Electric Office) This one will be primarily used for calculations of wages and process control(6)(18)

Maurice Wilkes realized soon after the completion of the work on EDSAC at Cambridge University that "a good part of the remainder of [his] life was going to be spent in finding errors in ... programs." With Stanley Gill and David Wheeler he developed the concept of subroutines in programs to create reusable modules; together they produced the first textbook on "The Preparation of Programs for an Electronic Digital Computer".
The formalized concept of software development (not named so for another decade) had its beginning. (19)

In Australia a computer initially known as the CSIR Mk1, (later as CSIRAC) is one of the world’s earliest storedprogram electronic digital computers. Coincidentally, it is also the first computer to play music. Geoff Hill, a mathematician and Australia’s first real software engineer, programs the CSIR Mk1 to play popular musical melodies through its loudspeaker. At least the date of august 1951 is sure as it is demonstrated at the Australian Computer Conference in this year.(22)

shockley explaining the junction transistor

William Shockley invents the junction transistor.



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Footnotes & References