Development of Computers
Although the development of digital computers is rooted in the abacus and early mechanical calculating devices, Charles Babbage is credited with the design of the first modern computer, the "analytical engine," during the 1830s. American scientist Vannevar Bush built a mechanically operated device, called a differential analyzer, in 1930; it was the first general-purpose analog computer. John Atanasoff constructed the first semielectronic digital computing device in 1939.
The first fully automatic calculator was the Mark I, or Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, begun in 1939 at Harvard by Howard Aiken, while the first all-purpose electronic digital computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Calculator), which used thousands of vacuum tubes, was completed in 1946 at the Univ. of Pennsylvania. UNIVAC (UNIVersal Automatic Computer) became (1951) the first computer to handle both numeric and alphabetic data with equal facility; this was the first commercially available computer.
First-generation computers were supplanted by the transistorized computers (see transistor) of the late 1950s and early 60s, second-generation machines that were smaller, used less power, and could perform a million operations per second. They, in turn, were replaced by the third-generation integrated-circuit machines of the mid-1960s and 1970s that were even smaller and were far more reliable. The 1980s and 90s were characterized by the development of the microprocessor and the evolution of increasingly smaller but powerful computers, such as the personal computer and personal digital assistant, which ushered in a period of rapid growth in the computer industry.
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