Timeline of Computer History

APT ashtray

Automatically Programmed Tools (APT)

MIT´s Servomechanisms Laboratory demonstrates computer assisted manufacturing (CAM). The school´s Automatically Programmed Tools project created a language, APT, used to control milling machine operations. At the demonstration, an air force general claimed that the new technology would enable the United States to “build a war machine that nobody would want to tackle.” The machine produced a commemorative ashtray for each attendee.


Bryant Chucking Grinder Company magnetic disk drive

Bryant Chucking Grinder Company magnetic disk drive

Bryant Chucking Grinder Company, a computer drum manufacturer, explores new storage ideas. They began developing a disk drive in 1959—made up of a horizontal shaft with eight or more 39-inch magnesium disks. Few sold.


Ted Nelson

Computerizing a “World Brain”

In the 1950s several visionaries including Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart independently suggest computerizing the concept of cross-references, creating the clickable link we use on the Web. Nelson calls it a “hyperlink,” and the computerized text “hypertext.” Along with graphics pioneer Andries van Dam they develop many core computing functions such as word processing, online collaboration, and hypertext links. J.C.R. Licklider’s 1960 book Libraries of the Future outlines a related vision, which adds mild artificial intelligence to the mix.


ERMA, the first machine to use Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR)

SRI designs ERMA

SRI International designs ERMA (Electronic Recording Machine, Accounting), for Bank of America. At the time, accounts were posted manually, a method that would quickly be outstripped by the growth in check writing after World War II. The ERMA project digitized checking by creating a computer-readable font. A special scanner read account numbers preprinted on checks using magnetic ink character recognition. In just one hour, ERMA could process the number of accounts that would have taken a well-trained banker nearly 17 workdays to complete.


The Difference Engine #2 at the Science Museum, London

Babbage's Difference Engine #2 is completed

Manchester Mark I Williams-Kilburn tube

Manchester Mark I Williams-Kilburn tube