The First Computer

September 9, 2012 in Trivia

Babbage Difference Engine

Shown is a modern re-creation of a difference engine, or computer, based on Charles Babbage’s 19th Century designs.

Q: When was the first computer made?

A: The first machine designed to make calculations with the assistance of a memory bank and receive instructions via punch cards was the Analytical Engine conceived by Charles Babbage of London. From 1822 to 1871, Babbage worked on the construction of the machine, receiving £17,000 from the British government. Ultimately, the concept proved beyond the technology of the time.

The first practical computational machine was built by George Scheutz of Stockholm, Sweden. Based on Babbage’s design, though of far simpler construction, Scheutz debuted his “analytical engine” at the Paris Exposition in 1855. The machine could compute up to four orders of difference, providing answers to eight decimal places in printed format.

It was not until 1946 that the first fully electronic computer was completed. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer was developed for the U.S. Army’s Ordnance Dept. by J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly of the University of Pennsylvania. ENIAC consisted of about 18,000 vacuum tubes and 1,500 relays, weighed 30 tons and took up about 1,800 square feet of space — that’s double the size of the average American home at the time.

Computers have come a long way since.