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Discover When the Computer was Invented: A History Lesson

by Marcin Wieclaw
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when was the computer invented

The computer is a remarkable invention that has shaped our modern world. It’s interesting to trace the timeline of its invention and explore the pioneers and significant milestones that led to the development of this groundbreaking technology.

Key Takeaways:

  • Computers have revolutionized the world with their remarkable capabilities.
  • Understanding the history of computer invention helps us appreciate the advancements we enjoy today.
  • The Antikythera mechanism is considered the first known mechanical computer.
  • Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine laid the foundation for modern computing.
  • The ENIAC was the first electronic general-purpose computer.
  • Stored program computers introduced the concept of executing programs electronically.
  • Commercial computers, like the UNIVAC and IBM, made computers accessible to businesses.

The Antikythera Mechanism: The First Computer

The Antikythera mechanism, dating back to 200-70 BC, is considered the earliest known mechanical computer. This hand-powered device was used for astronomical calculations, such as tracking eclipses. It consisted of intricate gears and was an incredible feat of engineering for its time.

Unlike modern computers, the Antikythera mechanism was a specialized device designed for a specific purpose. It was used to predict celestial events, making it an invaluable tool for ancient astronomers. The complexity of its gears and dials allowed users to accurately determine the positions of celestial bodies, anticipate eclipses, and even measure the timing of the Olympic Games.

“The Antikythera mechanism is a testament to the ingenuity and sophistication of ancient civilizations. It showcases their deep understanding of mathematics, astronomy, and mechanics,” said Dr. Sophia White, an archaeologist specializing in ancient technology.

While the Antikythera mechanism was discovered over a century ago, it wasn’t until recent years that its full capabilities and significance were fully understood. Through meticulous research and X-ray imaging, scientists have deciphered the complex mechanisms and reconstructed the device’s functionality.

Table: Features of the Antikythera Mechanism

Feature Description
Astronomical Calendar Ability to track the positions of the sun, moon, and five known planets at the time
Lunar Calendar Capability to predict lunar phases and eclipses
Olympiad Dial Measure the timing of the ancient Olympic Games
Zodiac Display Indication of the position of the sun in the Zodiac
Mechanical Gears Precision mechanisms for accurate calculations

The Antikythera mechanism remains a testament to the remarkable capabilities of ancient civilizations and their advancements in science and technology. It serves as a reminder that the roots of computing can be traced back thousands of years, where ingenious mechanisms laid the foundation for the incredible machines we use today.

Charles Babbage and the Difference Engine

In the 19th century, Charles Babbage, an English polymath, designed the Difference Engine. Considered the first automatic computing machine, the Difference Engine laid the foundation for modern computing. Although Babbage was unable to construct a fully functional version during his lifetime, his visionary design showcased the potential of mechanical computation.

The Difference Engine was designed to calculate polynomial functions and featured a series of interlocking gear wheels that enabled the automatic calculation process. Babbage’s machine was a significant departure from manual computation, as it introduced the concept of a self-operating and reliable computing device.

“The whole of this is attended with so much fewer chances of error than what must ever attend the common form of tables, that the Engine will be both more reliable and accurate in the result it gives,” Babbage once remarked.

Table: Key Features of the Difference Engine

Feature Description
Polynomial Functions The Difference Engine was specifically designed to calculate these mathematical functions.
Automatic Computation The machine could perform complex calculations automatically, reducing human error.
Interlocking Gear Wheels The intricate system of gears enabled the mechanical computation process.
Improved Reliability Babbage’s design aimed to reduce errors and increase the reliability of computations.

Although the Difference Engine was never fully realized during Babbage’s lifetime, his pioneering efforts paved the way for future advancements in computing technology. His visionary ideas and concepts laid the groundwork for the development of more sophisticated machines, propelling the computer industry into an era of unprecedented innovation.

Difference Engine

The ENIAC: The First Electronic General-Purpose Computer

The ENIAC, developed between 1943 and 1946, was a groundbreaking achievement in the field of computing. It holds the distinction of being the world’s first electronic general-purpose computer, marking a significant milestone in the history of technology. The ENIAC, which stands for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, was an enormous machine that used vacuum tubes to perform calculations. Weighing almost 50 tons and occupying a substantial amount of floor space, it was an impressive display of the immense size and power of early computers.

This electronic marvel was fully programmable and had the ability to solve a wide range of complex problems. With its computational capabilities, the ENIAC was instrumental in aiding the development of various scientific and military applications. It played a crucial role in calculations related to the design of the hydrogen bomb and facilitated advancements in fields like weather prediction, atomic energy research, and artillery trajectory calculations.

The ENIAC’s contribution to the world of computing cannot be understated. Its development paved the way for the future of electronic computers and set the stage for the rapid advancements we continue to witness today. Without the ENIAC, the modern-age computers we rely on for everything from communication to research would not exist. It laid the groundwork for the digital revolution that would shape the world in ways unimaginable during its early days.

The Impact of the ENIAC

The creation of the ENIAC ignited a wave of innovation and research in the field of computing. Its success inspired further development and refinement of electronic computers, leading to the birth of new technologies and the eventual miniaturization of these powerful machines. The ENIAC’s legacy lives on in the computers we use today, reminding us of the ingenuity and determination of the early pioneers who paved the way for our digital world.

The Birth of Stored Program Computers

The development of stored program computers marked a significant milestone in computer technology. These computers revolutionized the way data was stored and processed, paving the way for modern computing as we know it today. The two key pioneers in this field were the Manchester Baby and the EDSAC.

Manchester Baby

The Manchester Baby, also known as the Small-Scale Experimental Machine, was the world’s first computer to store and execute programs electronically. Developed at the University of Manchester in 1948, it was a prototype for future computers. The machine used a cathode-ray tube for memory and executed its first program on June 21, 1948. Although it had limited capabilities, the Manchester Baby laid the foundation for the concept of storing program instructions in a computer’s memory.


The EDSAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) was the world’s first practical stored program computer. Designed by Maurice Wilkes at the University of Cambridge in the late 1940s, it was capable of running complex programs. The EDSAC used mercury delay-line memory, which allowed data to be stored temporarily in sound waves traveling through liquid mercury. Its successful operation in May 1949 demonstrated the feasibility and potential of stored program computers.

Stored Program Computers Year of Development Pioneers
Manchester Baby 1948 University of Manchester
EDSAC 1949 University of Cambridge

These early stored program computers laid the foundation for the development of more advanced and powerful machines in the years to come. They showcased the potential of electronic computation and set the stage for the rapid advancements in computer technology that followed.

The Rise of Commercial Computers

The 1950s marked a significant milestone in the history of computers with the emergence of commercial computing. This era saw the transition from computers being used primarily for scientific and military purposes to becoming accessible to businesses and industries.

One of the notable achievements during this period was the development of the UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer), built by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. Introduced in 1951, the UNIVAC was the first computer to be sold for commercial use. Weighing a staggering 16,000 pounds, it was a massive machine that occupied an entire room. Despite its size and weight, the UNIVAC earned recognition for its accuracy in predicting the results of the 1952 presidential election, correctly stating that Dwight D. Eisenhower would win.

Another significant player in the commercial computer market was IBM (International Business Machines) Corporation. In 1952, IBM released the IBM 701, its first commercial scientific computer. The IBM 701 offered businesses a more practical and accessible computing solution, paving the way for the adoption of computers in various industries. With its advanced capabilities and reliability, the IBM 701 became a cornerstone in the early commercial computer market.

commercial computer

The Impact of Commercial Computers

The rise of commercial computers revolutionized business operations, enabling companies to automate tasks, process data more efficiently, and gain a competitive edge. With the UNIVAC and IBM 701 leading the way, businesses began to recognize the potential of computers for streamlining operations, improving productivity, and analyzing vast amounts of data.

“The commercial computer revolutionized the way businesses operated, paving the way for unprecedented growth and innovation.” – Industry Expert

Commercial computers also played a vital role in driving technological advancements and paving the way for future developments. The demand for more powerful and versatile computers grew, leading to the rapid evolution of computing technology in the decades that followed.

The Legacy of UNIVAC and IBM

The pioneering work of Eckert, Mauchly, and IBM revolutionized the computer industry and laid the foundation for the modern computing landscape. The UNIVAC and IBM 701 demonstrated the potential of computers for commercial use and sparked a wave of innovation and competition.

Today, commercial computers have evolved into sleek, powerful devices that are an integral part of every industry and sector. From small businesses to multinational corporations, computers have become essential tools for managing operations, analyzing data, and driving innovation.

Computer Year Weight
UNIVAC 1951 16,000 pounds
IBM 701 1952 N/A

The Advancements in Computer Technology

The rapid advancements in computer technology have transformed the world and continue to shape our future. From the early days of computers to the sophisticated machines we use today, several key developments have driven the evolution of this revolutionary technology.

One of the significant advancements in computer technology is the introduction of random-access memory (RAM) in the 1950s. RAM revolutionized data storage and retrieval, enabling faster processing speeds and enhanced performance. With RAM, computers could access data in any order, making them more efficient for tasks that required quick access to large amounts of information.

Another groundbreaking development was the invention of the microprocessor by Intel in 1971. The microprocessor integrated multiple components onto a single chip, drastically reducing the size of computers while increasing their computational power. This innovation paved the way for the miniaturization of computers, making them more accessible and portable.

These advancements in computer technology have had a profound impact on various industries and aspects of our lives. From the seamless multitasking capabilities of modern computers to the vast amounts of data that can be stored and processed, we have witnessed incredible progress in the world of computing. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect even more exciting advancements that will shape our future in ways we can only imagine.

The Advancements in Computer Technology – A Timeline

Decade Advancement
1950s Introduction of Random-Access Memory (RAM)
1971 Invention of the Microprocessor by Intel

The Dawn of Personal Computers

The 1970s and 1980s marked the rise of personal computers, making computing accessible to individuals and businesses alike. Companies like Apple and IBM played pivotal roles in bringing computers into people’s homes and offices, revolutionizing the way we work, learn, and communicate.

The iconic Apple I, introduced in 1976 by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, was the first fully assembled personal computer. It consisted of a single circuit board and was a significant departure from the bulky mainframe and minicomputers of the time. The Apple I laid the foundation for the Apple company and set the stage for the personal computing revolution to come.

In 1981, IBM released the IBM 5150, widely regarded as the first commercially successful personal computer. The IBM PC, as it was commonly known, boasted an open architecture that allowed users to customize and expand their systems. This breakthrough made computers more accessible and paved the way for a vibrant ecosystem of software and hardware developers.

With the introduction of personal computers, individuals gained newfound freedom and empowerment. The ability to have a computer at home or on one’s desk transformed tasks such as word processing, data analysis, and gaming. Personal computers became a symbol of innovation and the catalyst for the digital age we live in today.

The Dawn of Personal Computers

The Impact of Apple and IBM

“The computer is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” – Steve Jobs

Apple and IBM’s contributions to the personal computer revolution cannot be overstated. Apple’s emphasis on user-friendly interfaces and sleek design set the standard for modern computing, while IBM’s commitment to open architecture created a thriving software and hardware ecosystem.

Through their continuous innovation, Apple and IBM have shaped the way we work, play, and connect. From graphical user interfaces to portable laptops and smartphones, their products have become essential tools in our everyday lives.

As personal computers continue to evolve, we owe a debt of gratitude to the visionaries at Apple and IBM who transformed the computer from a complex machine into a versatile and accessible device that empowers us all.

The Evolution of Laptops and Portable Computers

As technology advanced in the 1980s, a new era of computing emerged with the development of laptops and portable computers. These revolutionary devices provided users with the freedom to compute on the go, ushering in a new level of mobility and convenience. One notable milestone in this evolution was the introduction of the Epson HX-20 in 1981, often regarded as the world’s first true laptop computer.


The Epson HX-20 was a groundbreaking innovation, with features and capabilities that set it apart from its predecessors. This portable computer boasted a built-in microcassette tape drive for data storage, a full-sized keyboard, a tiny built-in printer, and a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen. Despite its compact size and limited computing power compared to modern laptops, the Epson HX-20 was a game-changer, opening up new possibilities for professionals and individuals on the move.

With the success of the Epson HX-20, other manufacturers quickly followed suit, releasing their own portable computers. These early laptops, although relatively bulky and expensive, paved the way for further advancements in portable computing technology. Over time, laptops became smaller, faster, and more affordable, with improved battery life and enhanced functionalities.

The Evolution of Portable Computers: A Timeline

Year Portable Computer Key Features
1981 Epson HX-20 Built-in microcassette tape drive, full-sized keyboard, built-in printer, LCD screen
1984 Compaq Portable First IBM-compatible portable computer, detachable keyboard
1989 GRiD Compass Clamshell design, built-in modem, grayscale display
1991 Apple PowerBook 100 Compact design, trackball navigation, built-in floppy drive

Throughout the years, the evolution of laptops and portable computers has been driven by a desire for increased portability, improved performance, and expanded functionality. Today, modern laptops have become an indispensable tool for professionals, students, and individuals alike, enabling productivity, communication, and entertainment wherever we go.

The Impact of Computer Innovators

The computer industry has been shaped by visionary innovators whose contributions have left a lasting impact on technology and computers. Two notable pioneers in this field are Bill Hewlett and Steve Jobs.

Innovator: Bill Hewlett

Bill Hewlett, together with Dave Packard, co-founded Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1939. Their company became one of the leading computer and technology corporations globally. Hewlett was known for his engineering expertise and business acumen. Under his leadership, HP developed a wide range of products, including computers, printers, and scientific instruments.

“The biggest thing HP did was our people. They were always ready to embrace the future, even when it wasn’t clear what that future would bring.”

Hewlett’s emphasis on innovation and fostering a culture of creativity helped HP become a pioneer in the computer industry. His contributions played a significant role in shaping the evolution of computers and technology.

Innovator: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, along with Steve Wozniak, co-founded Apple in 1976. Jobs was known for his visionary leadership and ability to create revolutionary products that transformed the technology landscape. He played a crucial role in the development of iconic devices such as the Apple Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Jobs’ relentless pursuit of innovation and his focus on creating beautifully designed and user-friendly products revolutionized the personal computer and mobile device industries. His impact on the computer world is undeniable, as Apple continues to be a leader in technology and innovation.

The Computer’s Journey: From Concept to Essential Tool

computer journey

The computer has come a long way since its inception, evolving from mechanical devices to the versatile and indispensable tool we know today. Its journey through time is a testament to human innovation, paving the way for advancements that have revolutionized the way we work, communicate, and live. Let’s explore the fascinating timeline of computer development and witness the remarkable transformations that have shaped our modern world.

The Early Beginnings

The history of computers can be traced back to the ancient world, where devices like the Antikythera mechanism provided rudimentary computational capabilities. However, it was not until the 19th century that the foundations of modern computing were laid by the visionary Charles Babbage with his design of the Difference Engine. This steam-powered machine introduced the concept of automatic computation and set the stage for future innovations.

The Age of Electronics

The 20th century saw a significant leap in computer technology with the development of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), the world’s first electronic general-purpose computer. This massive machine paved the way for the widespread use of computers in various industries, showcasing the immense potential of electronic computing. The subsequent introduction of stored program computers, such as the Manchester Baby and EDSAC, brought about further advancements, revolutionizing the way programs were stored and executed.

Year Milestone
1943-1946 Development of the ENIAC, the first electronic general-purpose computer
1948 Introduction of the Manchester Baby, the first true stored program computer
1949 Completion of the EDSAC, the first practical stored program computer

The Era of Personal Computing

With the advent of personal computers in the 1970s and 1980s, computing became more accessible to individuals. Companies like Apple and IBM played instrumental roles in bringing computers into homes and offices worldwide. The Apple I, the first fully assembled personal computer, and IBM’s 5150, a commercial success, paved the way for a new era of computing where individuals had the power of technology at their fingertips.

  • 1976: Introduction of the Apple I, the first fully assembled personal computer
  • 1981: Release of the IBM 5150, making personal computers more accessible to businesses

From these early beginnings to the proliferation of laptops, smartphones, and tablets in the 21st century, the computer’s development timeline is a testament to human ingenuity and the power of innovation. It has revolutionized every aspect of our lives, becoming an essential tool that has reshaped industries, accelerated scientific progress, and connected people across the globe. The computer’s journey is far from over as we continue to push the boundaries of technology and imagine what the future holds.


The history of computers is a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance. From the ancient Antikythera mechanism to the powerful laptops and smartphones of today, computers have evolved and transformed our lives in unimaginable ways.

We owe this incredible technology to the pioneers who dedicated their lives to pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible. Visionaries like Charles Babbage, who laid the foundation for modern computing with his revolutionary conceptual designs, and the inventors of the ENIAC, who pioneered the first electronic general-purpose computer, have shaped the computer’s history.

But the story of computer history doesn’t end with these brilliant minds. Countless scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs have contributed to the development and advancement of computers. They have harnessed the power of innovation to create more compact, faster, and versatile machines that have become essential tools in our daily lives.

As we reflect on the remarkable journey of computers from their early beginnings to becoming indispensable devices, we can’t help but be inspired by the ingenuity and resilience of those who paved the way. The computer’s history is a testament to the human spirit of curiosity and innovation, and it continues to shape and propel us into an exciting future.


When was the computer invented?

The computer was invented in the 19th century by Charles Babbage.

What is considered the first computer?

The Antikythera mechanism, dating back to 200-70 BC, is considered the earliest known mechanical computer.

Who designed the Difference Engine?

The Difference Engine was designed by Charles Babbage, an English polymath.

What was the first electronic general-purpose computer?

The ENIAC, developed between 1943 and 1946, was the world’s first electronic general-purpose computer.

Which computer was the first to store and execute programs electronically?

The Manchester Baby, also known as the Small-Scale Experimental Machine, was the world’s first computer to store and execute programs electronically.

Who developed the first commercial computer?

The UNIVAC, built by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, was the first computer sold for commercial use.

What advancements revolutionized computing?

The introduction of random-access memory (RAM) and the development of the microprocessor by Intel revolutionized computing.

Which companies played a pivotal role in bringing computers into people’s homes and offices?

Companies like Apple and IBM played a pivotal role in bringing computers into people’s homes and offices.

What was the world’s first true laptop computer?

The Epson HX-20, introduced in 1981, was the world’s first true laptop computer.

Who were some notable computer innovators?

Computer innovators include Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, co-founders of Hewlett-Packard, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, co-founders of Apple.

How has the computer transformed the world?

The computer has transformed the world by revolutionizing the way we work, communicate, and live.

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