The world's first electronic computer, shown below, began
operating in 1946.
It was the ENIAC - short for Electronic Numerical Integrator and
It was developed at the University of Pennsylvania as part of a U.S.
project to speed up complex mathematical calculations for weapons
Women mathematicians and programmers were a key part of the team
the ENIAC computer. The system began operating in 1946, and
in service until the mid-1950s.
Below: A computer used by the military in the 1960s.
This was a big
advance over the ENIAC computer system, but like all computers of
time, it was large, very expensive, and complicated to
In the 1970s, advances in computer technology led to the first
small and affordable computers. The Altair 8800 model shown below
sold in 1975, mainly to engineers and hobbyists interested in learning
about computers. It could run only very simple programs, which
entered one command at a time using the switches on the front panel.
The results were displayed on the lights on the front panel.
By the 1980s, companies like Apple and IBM were developing small
that could do word processing, solve complex math formulas, and run
photo below shows an IBM Personal Computer of that time. As the
price of small
computers fell below
$1,500 during the 1980s, many American families began buying them
use. By the year 2000, slightly over half of American homes had a
Below: The electronic devices that make small and powerful
home computers possible.
At top is a strip of computer memory chips. The chips can hold
millions of numbers
or words in digital form. Also shown is the microprocessor, the
device that does
the actual computing. Under the metal cover are millions of tiny
circuits shrunk down to microscopic size onto a small chip of silicon.
The ENIAC photo at the top is from the Library of Congress.
The ENIAC photo with women programers, and the
photo below it, are from the U.S. Army.
The photo of the Altair 8800 is from by
Michael Holley, from Wiki Commons.
The photo of the IBM PC is from Wiki Commons.
The photo of the computer parts is by David Burns.
Copyright 2012 by David Burns. All rights
reserved. As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning,
some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document,
which is available online from the
Virginia Department of Education. The author's copyright extends
the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related