Timeline of Computer History

Participants in COBOL's 25th Anniversary Celebration at The Computer Museum on May 16, 1985, surround the COBOL Tombstone, a gift in 1960 from Howard Bromberg (far right) to the COBOL Committee.”

COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language)

A team drawn from several computer manufacturers and the Pentagon develop COBOL—an acronym for Common Business-Oriented Language. Many of its specifications borrow heavily from the earlier FLOW-MATIC language. Designed for business use, early COBOL efforts aimed for easy readability of computer programs and as much machine independence as possible. Designers hoped a COBOL program would run on any computer for which a compiler existed with only minimal modifications.

Howard Bromberg, an impatient member of the committee in charge of creating COBOL, had this tombstone made out of fear that the language had no future. However, COBOL survives to this day. A study in 1997 estimated that over 200 billion lines of COBOL code was still in existence, accounting for 80% of all business software code.

Ed Fredkin at DEC PDP-1

DEC PDP-1 introduced

The typical PDP-1 computer system, which sells for about $120,000, includes a cathode ray tube graphic display, paper tape input/output, needs no air conditioning and requires only one operator; all of which become standards for minicomputers. Its large scope intrigued early hackers at MIT, who wrote the first computerized video game, SpaceWar!, as well as programs to play music. More than 50 PDP-1s were sold.

First LISP programming manual

LISP programming language

The LISP programming language is described in a paper titled Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, Part I, by professor John McCarthy of MIT. McCarthy created LISP as a language for expressing mathematical notations to a computer. A key feature is that data and programs are simply lists in parentheses, allowing a program to treat another program – or itself – as data. LISP would go on to become the “lingua franca” of the artificial intelligence research community.

NEAC 2203 transistorized computer

NEAC 2203 goes online

An early transistorized computer, the NEAC (Nippon Electric Automatic Computer) includes a CPU, console, paper tape reader and punch, printer and magnetic tape units. It was sold exclusively in Japan, but could process alphabetic and Japanese kana characters. Only about thirty NEACs were sold. It managed Japan's first on-line, real-time reservation system for Kinki Nippon Railways in 1960. The last one was decommissioned in 1979.

Quicksort developer Tony Hoare

Quicksort algorithm

While studying machine translation of languages in Moscow, C. A. R. Hoare develops Quicksort, an algorithm that would become one of the most used sorting methods in the world. Quicksort used a series of elements called “pivots” that allowed for fast sorting. Later, Hoare went to work for the British computer company Elliott Brothers, where he designed the first commercial Algol 60 compiler. Queen Elizabeth II knighted C.A.R. Hoare in 2000.

Fairchild bipolar memory unit for the ILLIAC IV

ILLIAC IV supercomputer

Sequoia supercomputer installation

IBM Sequoia is delivered to Lawrence Livermore Labs

Early Atari 400/800 advertisement

Atari introduces its Model 400 and 800 computers

Intel Touchstone Delta supercomputer

Intel's Touchstone Delta supercomputer system comes online

Sony Vaio laptop

Sony Vaio series is begun