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Creating the Computer Industry

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129932D
Original Publication Date: 1996-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 17 page(s) / 68K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

EMERSON W. PUGH: AUTHOR [+3]

Abstract

THIS paper discusses the major underlying factors that shaped the computer industry as it emerged, beginning in the 1940s. Rather than viewing the process as a series of discrete events, inventions, or firsts, the authors describe a continuum of activities and driving forces that brought about the evolution from electromechanical punched-card equipment to the modern computer. In telling this story, we give as much attention to customers and suppliers as we do to technology, arguing that the interaction of these three elements was decisive. Because the term computer is critical to our presentation, we begin with a discussion of the origins of the term and its still- evolving meaning.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1996 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Creating the Computer Industry

EMERSON W. PUGH

WILLIAM ASPRAY

The major underlying factors that shaped the computer industry as it emerged, beginning in the mid-1940s, are the focus of this paper. Unlike many accounts that primarily discuss technological developments, this paper examines the interaction of three equally important elements: technology, customers, and suppliers. The evolution of the computer industry is shown to have been driven initially by national-security customers, and later by cost-sensitive commercial customers. Technological advances made in response to these two customer types are identified, and the successes and failures of suppliers are analyzed in terms of changing customer requirements.

Introduction

THIS paper discusses the major underlying factors that shaped the computer industry as it emerged, beginning in the 1940s. Rather than viewing the process as a series of discrete events, inventions, or firsts, the authors describe a continuum of activities and driving forces that brought about the evolution from electromechanical punched-card equipment to the modern computer. In telling this story, we give as much attention to customers and suppliers as we do to technology, arguing that the interaction of these three elements was decisive. Because the term computer is critical to our presentation, we begin with a discussion of the origins of the term and its still- evolving meaning.

The Computer

The year 1996 has been proclaimed the year of the computer to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania. The ENIAC was called a computer by its developers in order to ascribe to it the intellectual (and perhaps temperamental) capabilities of professionally trained people then known as computers. During World War II, human computers had carried out complex computations in support of the war effort, using nothing more sophisticated than electromechanical desktop calculating machines.

Although the ENIAC was able to do the work of hundreds of human computers, it was architecturally more closely related to the contemporary punched-card equipment than it was to modern computers. Data was fed into ENIAC by punched-cards, and the final results were punched into cards. Arithmetic computations were, however, performed by electronic circuits with lightning speed. To achieve the desired overall speed, it was necessary to have sufficient electronic circuits to perform many long sequences of arithmetic operations (and to store intermediate results) between the relatively slow input and output of data. Thus, 18,000 vacuum tubes and many miles of wire were used in ENIAC's circuits.

Each type of computation used a different wiring pattern, and shifting from one calculation to another required a m...