Computers Then and Now

Here is a brief history of computers over the last 60 years. You will have an opportunity to research more on computer history as part of your assignment in this section.

First Generation Computers           

In the 1940's and 1950's, very large computers such as the ENIAC and the UNIVAC were developed. These computers had many vacuum tubes and were slow and difficult to program. The ENIAC weighed 30 tons and could add, subtract, multiply, divide and take square roots. The UNIVAC was smaller and faster than the ENIAC, and had the capability of being programmed with punch cards. These computers could perform computations in thousandths of a second.

Second Generation Computers

In the late 1950's the transistor changed the size of the computer markedly. These computers were much faster and used magnetic tape to store and retrieve data. They were able to use programming languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL. These computers could perform computations in millionths of a second.

Third Generation Computers

IC'S (Integrated Circuits) replaced the transistors and further reduced the size of the computer in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Many electrical circuits could be included on a single silicon chip. These computers could perform computations in billionths of a second.

 Starting in the mid 1970's, VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) circuits allowed us to put large numbers of circuits on one chip, thus further reducing the size of computers, and represents our microcomputers.

Uses of Computers Today

You probably do not realize the variety of uses computers have found in our modern society. We are all aware of the computers used in the space program, the computerized junk mail we receive, and the small computers used in our homes and offices, but the chip is turning up in lots of other interesting places.The self-service gas station now has digital read outs at the pump and a small computer to record the sales. The 24 hour teller at banks provides push button access to most banking services. A computer reads the number code at the bottom of your personal check to prepare bank statements. A computer is providing you with correct telephone numbers, and tells you when you have reached an incorrect number. The "voice" is a computer generated voice. The new grocery stores use a scanner to read the bar code (UPC or Universal Product Code) on your groceries, the information is relayed to a computer for proper pricing, and the information is printed on your grocery slip! Robots are programmed to perform much of the work needed to assemble cars. Even the dairy industry is finding the computer helpful in feeding cows and keeping track of milk production. Increasingly, police are able to access information about your driver's license or registration. The computer has helped police in the difficult task of matching finger prints. Hospitals have used the computer as a sensing device for body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and brain function.



1. Describe three experiences you have had with computers in your daily activities.


2.In a few sentences, describe the evolution of computers in the past 60 years.


3. Use the library or internet to research some additional information on the history of computers and describe your findings in a well written, typed page; you may use a font size of up to 14 pt, single spaced. You may not use the information from the text on this page as your source!