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Commercial Applications of the Digital Computer in American Corporations, 1945-1995

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129933D
Original Publication Date: 1996-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 19 page(s) / 82K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

JAMES W. CORTADA: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the digital computer, it is difficult to imagine a time when such computers did not exist, when paychecks were produced on other types of office machines or were handwritten, when invoices were often typed, and accounting records were historical, produced often six to 12 weeks after the events they documented. Yet we have gone from no commercial uses of computers in the mid1940s to a situation where, in the mid- 199Os, companies were spending over $600 billion each year on computers and software [1], functioning within an economy in which between 70 and 85 percent of all workers rely on such technology directly or indirectly to get their work done [2]. We went from a handful of experimental machines in the 1940s to the annual sale of tens of millions of digital computers (mostly PCs) in the mid-1990s. By any measure, the story of the digital computer is profoundly important not only for the history of technology, but even more so for the history of late twentieth century national economies and businesses.

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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.

Commercial Applications of the Digital Computer in American Corporations, 1945-1995

JAMES W. CORTADA

This paper describes the commercial applications of the digital computer in the United States over the past 50 years. It suggests that as technology improved, new uses for computers appeared. Looking at major types of applications common to all industries and then at industry- specific uses, the author identifies several historically important phases in the adoption of applications. He suggests that future research should focus on the history of applications and, more specifically, by industry.

Introduction

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the digital computer, it is difficult to imagine a time when such computers did not exist, when paychecks were produced on other types of office machines or were handwritten, when invoices were often typed, and accounting records were historical, produced often six to 12 weeks after the events they documented. Yet we have gone from no commercial uses of computers in the mid1940s to a situation where, in the mid- 199Os, companies were spending over $600 billion each year on computers and software [1], functioning within an economy in which between 70 and 85 percent of all workers rely on such technology directly or indirectly to get their work done [2]. We went from a handful of experimental machines in the 1940s to the annual sale of tens of millions of digital computers (mostly PCs) in the mid-1990s. By any measure, the story of the digital computer is profoundly important not only for the history of technology, but even more so for the history of late twentieth century national economies and businesses.

Commercial enterprises became the biggest users of digital computers. While the earliest users were universities and government agencies, by the end of the 1950s that situation became decreasingly the case as businesses installed machines in quantity. By the end of the next decade, the largest segment of the user community was comprised of businesses, and it has remained so to the present [3]. Internal IBM marketing studies throughout the period documented the rate of penetration, suggesting that by the end of the 1980s, well over 70 percent of all commercial enterprises with 50 or more employees in the United States relied on digital computing in house while in Western Europe the figure surpassed 40 percent [4].

There are three lines of historical development which account for the acceptance of digital computing.

-- First, there is the story of the invention and continuous improvement of the reliability, function, and economics of digital computing -- the topic which has most interested historians of computing [5]. -- Second, there were the activities of companies which either existed...