Timeline of Computer History


1980s Channel Bank for bringing T1 lines into a business

Digital Phone Lines

Phone companies develop digital transmission for internal uses – specifically to put more calls on each of the main lines connecting their own switching centers. By 1958, this produces the T1 standard still used in North America. By the 1980s, phone companies will be leasing digital lines to commercial customers.


Re-creation, Tennis for Two

Higinbotham develops Tennis-For-Two at Brookhaven National Labs

Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York holds an annual “Visitor's Day” for families and area residents. William Higinbotham, looking for a way to entertain visitors, conceived of a simple electronic game that could be played using the lab's Donner Model 30 analog computer connected to an oscilloscope display. Working with David Potter, Higinbotham's creation allowed two players to play a game of 'tennis' on the oscilloscope screen, with simple physics for the ball, and even a sound whenever the ball was contacted.

Tennis-for-Two was only used for two years before being salvaged for parts. It only became widely known following Higinbotham's testimony in a trial over the video game Pong.


John McCarthy


The programming language LISP (short for "List Processing”) is invented in 1958 by John McCarthy at MIT. A key feature of LISP was that data and programs were simply lists in parentheses, allowing a program to treat another program – or itself – as data. This characteristic greatly eased the kind of programming that attempted to model human thought. LISP is still used in a large number of artificial intelligence applications.


RCA 501 brochure cover

RCA introduces its Model 501 transistorized computer

The 501 is built on a 'building block' concept which allows it to be highly flexible for many different uses and could simultaneously control up to 63 tape drives—very useful for large databases of information. For many business users, quick access to this huge storage capability outweighed its relatively slow processing speed. Customers included US military as well as industry.


SAGE console, late 1950s

SAGE Air Defense System: Network Pioneer

Designed to detect Russian nuclear bombers, the IBM-built SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) pioneers many technologies including a special-purpose form of networking. There are 23 computer centers across North America, communicating with radar stations, counter-attack aircraft, and each other — all in real-time, as potentially threatening events are happening.

Besides networking SAGE also helps pioneer interactive computing and multi-user systems. Hundreds of people use the system simultaneously, interacting through groundbreaking graphical consoles. Each console has its own large screen, pointing device (a light gun), a telephone, and an ashtray. Ever on the alert for a Soviet attack, SAGE operators would describe the experience as endless hours of boredom…broken by seconds of sheer terror. By the early 1960s, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) will make the bomber threat – and SAGE itself – partly obsolete. But the system will operate until the 1980s.


SAGE Operator Station

SAGE system goes online

The first large-scale computer communications network, SAGE connects 23 hardened computer sites in the US and Canada. Its task was to detect incoming Soviet bombers and direct interceptor aircraft to destroy them. Operators directed actions by touching a light gun to the SAGE airspace display. The air defense system used two AN/FSQ-7 computers, each of which used a full megawatt of power to drive its 55,000 vacuum tubes, 175,000 diodes and 13,000 transistors.