The Invention of the Computer

Much of the world is completely reliant on computers and technology. We use apps instead of newspapers to stay on top of politics, we use algorithmic dating sites to find the love of our lives, and we entertain ourselves with social media, streaming and online games. You might be asking yourself how all of this started; if so, you’re in luck. Here’s a quick overview of the evolution of the computer, from Babbage and Lovelace in 1822 to the first mainstream computers released by IBM and Hewlett Packard.


Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace

Arguably, the world’s first computer was the abacus, but the modern definition of the word ‘computer’ specifies an electrical device. Charles Babbage was the creator of the world’s first mechanical computer in 1822, to which he gave the name, ‘The Difference Engine’, which sounds very science-fiction-esque today.

The Difference Engine was the first automatic computing machine, capable of crunching with several sets of numbers. From the creation of the world’s computer, the world’s first programmer was also born – Ada Lovelace. She developed the first algorithm to be processed by the Difference Engine.

Despite being recognised as the first computer, the Difference Engine was a far shout from anything we might call a modern computer. Researchers such as Konrad Zuse and Alan Turing would need to further develop the concept before we could even begin to imagine the sleek laptops that we are so used to.

The First Programmable Computer

The Difference Engine was a physical monstrosity compared to the PCs we know and love today, but if the Difference Engine was a monster, then the world’s first programmable computer was Godzilla. Konrad Zuse built the Z1 computer in his parents’ living room between 1936 and 1938. It was the first electro-mechanical binary programmable computer, which is fairly close to the way that modern computers work.

The Turing Machine

At the same time as the Z1, Alan Turing was working on producing a computer of his own. The Turing Machine, also called the a-machine by Turing, printed symbols in a manner that mimicked a human following instruction. Alan Turing’s theories formed the foundations that have made computers so useful today, and some historian’s estimate that without his work on ciphers and computing, World War II may have been prolonged for two years more.

The Colossus

War has a habit of forcing technological advancement, often out of a desperate necessity to find the upper-hand, and it was in this climate that the Colossus was created.

The Colossus was created in Britain at the height of the Second World War in order to decode enemy cyphers. The first colossus was created in 1944, and by the end of the war, there were ten such computers in use.

The name is fitting, as these computers could easily fill a wall – floor to ceiling – with their bulk. They weren’t just large in size, though; the Colossus gave the allies the intelligence they needed to win the war.

Mainstream Computers

Following the war, entrepreneurs and computer scientists alike strove to invent the first commercial computers. This meant making computers smaller, sleeker and more user-friendly, which continues to be high on the list of priorities for current computer manufacturers.

Konrad Zuse continued to develop his Z1 and eventually created the Z4 in 1942 which would serve as the basis for many of the first commercial computers. The computer was still very much a tool used by scientists, however, as IBM introduced the 701 in 1953, which was another huge, floor-to-ceiling operation.

In 1960, the first ‘minicomputer’ was released, called the PDP-1. The PDP-1 filled an entire desk, but it had a screen and was tiny in comparison to the ginormous computers that the world was familiar with up to that point. IBM were close on the heels of the PDP-1 with the IBM 5100, which could be considered the world’s first laptop.

Soon after the release of the PDP-1, the first desktop computer was released, quickly followed by Hewlett Packard’s attempt to target the public with desktop sales.

If you’ve got some out-of-date tech that needs replacing, you should consider getting professional IT asset disposal to keep your business records out of the wrong hands. Some of the computers we’ve mentioned in this blog are closer to calculators than desktops, but if you’ve got a sneaky IBM 5100 hiding away in your office, you could be sitting on £2500 as well as an item of historical importance.