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Read the text. Then answer the questions.

                                           FROM ABACUS TO PC

1 What is the Abacus?

2 Who invented the slide rule?

3 What were the essential parts of Babbage’s Analytical Engine?

4 Did the Analytical Engine run on electricity?

5 When was the first tabulating machine of Herman Hollerith used?

6 What is considered to be the first serious computer?


Although electronic computers are relatively new, the need for computation is not. The earliest recognized device for computing was the abacus, invented in Mesopotamia around 2500 BC. It is essentially a hand-operated calculator, which helps add and subtract many numbers. It also stores the current state of calculation much like your harddrive does today.

There were Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Chinese, Indian and Russian versions of the Abacus, They are hardly a computer but people were able to do calculations upon them.

Then in 1623 Wilhelm Schickard invented the first mechanical calculator and the era of the computer truly began. His invention – the calculating clock – used cogs and gears and was a long way away from where we are today with our mobile phones, tablets and laptops but it was a significant development in the use of calculating devices. Mechanical calculators were used well into 20th century. In fact, the slide rule, which is a type of mechanical calculator, is still used today by some engineers, even though it was invented way back in the 1620s by William Oughtred.

In the early 17th century Blaise Pascal also designed a mechanical calculator. It was called Pascal’s Calculator or Pascaline. The first Pascaline could only handle 5-digit numbers but later Pascal developed 6-digit and 8-digit versions of the Pascaline.

The great German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz was one of the first men who dreamed for a logical (thinking) device. Leibniz created the first mechanical calculator, suitable not only for a addition and subtraction, but for multiplication also.

But Pascal’s Pascaline in France and Leibniz’s Step Reckoner in Germany were mere curiosities. The first mass-produced calculating device was built by Thomas de Colmar in 1820. His arithmometer was the first mechanical calculator strong enough to be used daily in an office environment.

Another important step was Charles Babbage’s mechanical difference machine.

The British mathematician designed the ‘first difference engine’ while working at Cambridge University. This was, basically, a hand-operated mechanical calculator. But he dreamed however of more complicated machines and began to design them. The result was a series of ‘analytical engines’ which were in fact powerful computers! His designs contained processors (he called them ‘mills’), control units, a memory (he called it a ‘store’), and an input/outputsystem. These are the four essential parts of a modern computer! But his machines could not use electricity since this had not yet become a useable source of power. For this reason he could not build his second ‘difference engine’. It was too sophisticated for its age.

Next step was the punched card machine of Herman Hollerith. The first automatic data processing system was used to count the 1890 US census. It was developed by Herman Hollerith, a statistician who had worked for the Census Bureau. The system used a hand punch to record data and a tabulating machine to count them. Without Hollerith’s machines the 1890 census would take 10 years to complete. Hollerith went on selling his machines throughout the world for a variety of accounting functions. In 1911, this company was merged into the company we now know as IBM.

Babbage’s mechanical ‘computer’ and Hollerith’s punched card machine were followed by the ENIAC. This American computing machine could be considered to be the first serious computer.



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