Timeline of Computer History


The Maynard mill

Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) founded

DEC is founded initially to make electronic modules for test, measurement, prototyping and control markets. Its founders were Ken and Stan Olsen, and Harlan Anderson. Headquartered in Maynard, Massachusetts, Digital Equipment Corporation, took over 8,680 square foot leased space in a nineteenth century mill that once produced blankets and uniforms for soldiers who fought in the Civil War. General Georges Doriot and his pioneering venture capital firm, American Research and Development, invested $70,000 for 70% of DEC’s stock to launch the company in 1957. The mill is still in use today as an office park (Clock Tower Place) today.


Fortran manual for the IBM 704


An IBM team led by John Backus develops FORTRAN, a powerful scientific computing language that uses English-like statements. Some programmers were skeptical that FORTRAN could be as efficient as hand coding, but that sentiment disappeared when FORTRAN proved it could generate efficient code. Over the ensuing decades, FORTRAN became the most often used language for scientific and technical computing. FORTRAN is still in use today.


Walden Kirsch, aged 3 months

First computer scanned image on SEAC

One of the earliest applications of computers to image creation and processing starts with the work of Russell Kirsch on the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC) in 1957. Working with the SEAC team, Kirsch designed a rotating drum scanner, allowing him to digitize an image of his young son, Walden. The image, a five-by-five centimeter black-and-white shot, was the first image to be scanned into a computer. In 2003, Life Magazine noted it as one of the “100 Photographs that changed the world.”


Univac Math-Matic promotional brochure


Sperry Rand releases a commercial compiler for its UNIVAC I computer. Developed by programmer Grace Hopper as a refinement of her earlier innovation, the A-0 compiler, the new version was called MATH-MATIC. Earlier work on the A-0 and A-2 compilers led to the development of the first English-language business data processing compiler, B-0 (FLOW-MATIC), also completed in 1957.