Timeline of Computer History


John von Neumann

John von Neumann writes First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC

In a widely circulated paper, mathematician John von Neumann outlines the architecture of a stored-program computer, including electronic storage of programming information and data -- which eliminates the need for more clumsy methods of programming such as plugboards, punched cards and paper. Hungarian-born von Neumann demonstrated prodigious expertise in hydrodynamics, ballistics, meteorology, game theory, statistics, and the use of mechanical devices for computation. After the war, he concentrated on the development of Princeton´s Institute for Advanced Studies computer.


Konrad Zuse

Plankalkül (Plan Calculus)

Konrad Zuse begins work on Plankalkül (Plan Calculus), the first algorithmic programming language, with the goal of creating the theoretical preconditions for the solution of general problems. Seven years earlier, Zuse had developed and built the world´s first binary digital computer, the Z1. He completed the first fully functional program-controlled electromechanical digital computer, the Z3, in 1941. Only the Z4 — the most sophisticated of his creations — survived World War II.


Grace Hopper speaking at The Computer Museum in Boston

“First actual case of bug being found”

The word ‘bug,’ when applied to computers, means some form of error or failure. On September 9th, Grace Hopper records what she jokingly called the first actual computer bug — in this case, a moth stuck between relay contacts of the Harvard Mark II computer.

Hopper helped program the Mark II, and the earlier Harvard Mark I computer, while working for professor Howard Aiken. She worked tirelessly on developing these computers to the fullest through inventive programming. After Harvard, she worked for computer manufacturer Remington-Rand where she developed what is often considered the first compiler, A-0. She also served on the committee to develop COBOL, a standard and widely adopted programming language that transformed the way software was developed for business applications. COBOL is still in use today. Hopper was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum in 1987.


Microfilm screens on top of Memex desk

“Memex” concept

With side-by-side screens, the imaginary Memex desk is meant to let a user compare and create links between microfilm documents, somewhat like today’s clickable Web links and bookmarks. The idea is that people will continually build on each other's associative trails through the world's knowledge, helping tackle the growing problem of information overload. The Memex is the brainchild of top U.S. scientist Vannevar Bush, an analog computing pioneer who had helped oversee development of the atomic bomb. The basic mechanism he suggests is a microfilm automatic selector similar to those built by optics pioneer Emmanuel Goldberg in the early 1930s. Bush publicizes the Memex concept in 1945 articles in The Atlantic Monthly and Life.