Timeline of Computer History


Joe Thompson at Whirlwind console, ca. 1951

Direct keyboard input to computers

At MIT, researchers begin experimenting with direct keyboard input to computers, a precursor to today´s normal mode of operation. Typically, computer users of the time fed their programs into a computer using punched cards or paper tape. Doug Ross wrote a memo advocating direct access in February. Ross contended that a Flexowriter -- an electrically-controlled typewriter -- connected to an MIT computer could function as a keyboard input device due to its low cost and flexibility. An experiment conducted five months later on the MIT Whirlwind computer confirmed how useful and convenient a keyboard input device could be.


Computer Music featuring the Illiac Suite

Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson complete the Illiac Suite

Created using the Illiac I computer at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the Illiac Suite is one of the earliest pieces of music composed using an electronic computer. The piece consisted of four musical “experiments” for string quartet, each comprised of two parts. Hiller founded the Experimental Music Center at the University of Illinois in 1958.



Librascope LGP-30 introduced

Physicist Stan Frankel, intrigued by small, general-purpose computers, developed the MINAC at Caltech. The Librascope division of defense contractor General Precision buys Frankel’s design, renaming it the LGP-30 in 1956. Used for science and engineering as well as simple data processing, the LGP-30 was a “bargain” at less than $50,000 and an early example of a ‘personal computer,’ that is, a computer made for a single user.


TX-0 at MIT

MIT researchers build the TX-0

The TX-0 (“Transistor eXperimental - 0”) is the first general-purpose programmable computer built with transistors. For easy replacement, designers placed each transistor circuit inside a "bottle," similar to a vacuum tube. Constructed at MIT´s Lincoln Laboratory, the TX-0 moved to the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics, where it hosted some early imaginative tests of programming, including writing a Western movie shown on television, 3-D tic-tac-toe, and a maze in which a mouse found martinis and became increasingly inebriated.


RAMAC 305 disks and head assembly


The era of magnetic disk storage dawns with IBM´s shipment of a RAMAC 305 computer system to Zellerbach Paper in San Francisco. The computer was based on the new technology of the hard disk drive — the world’s first. The RAMAC disk drive consisted of 50 magnetically coated metal platters capable of storing about 5 million characters of data. RAMAC allowed real-time random access to large amounts of data, unlike magnetic tape or punched cards. A working RAMAC hard disk assembly is demonstrated regularly at the Computer History Museum.


Robby the Robot

Robby the Robot

Robby the Robot appears in MGM’s 1956 science fiction movie Forbidden Planet. In the film, Robby was the creation of Dr. Morbius and was built to specifications found in an alien computer system. Robby's duties included assisting the human crew while following Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics (1941). The movie was a cult hit, in part because of Robby's humorous personality and Robby the Robot toys became huge sellers.