A Computer Timeline

600's bc?

The abacus is developed in China.  It was later adopted by the Japanese and the Russians.

600's ad?

Arabic numbers -- including the zero (represented by a dot) -- were invented in India.  Arabic translations of Indian math texts brought these numbers to the attention of the Europeans.  Arabic numbers entered Europe by means of Spain around 1000 ad and first became popular among Italian merchants around 1300.  Until then, people used the Roman system in western Europe, and the Greek system in the east.  The original numbers were similar to the modern Devanagari numbers used in northern India:


The moveable-type printing press is invented by Johann Gutenburg.


Francis Pellos of Nice invents the decimal point.

c. 1600

Thomas Harriot invents the symbols used in algebra.  He also drew the first maps of the moon and discovered sunspots.


Dr. William Gilbert discovers static electricity, and coins the term in De Magnete.


John Napier invents logarithms.


William Oughtred invents the slide rule.


Wilhelm Schickard makes his "Calculating Clock."


Blaise Pascal a young French mathematician develops the Pascaline, a simple mechanical device for the addition of numbers. It consists of several toothed wheels arranged side by side, each marked from 0 to 9 at equal intervals around its perimeter. The important innovation is an automatic 'tens-carrying' operation: when a wheel completes a revolution, it is turned past the 9 to 0 and automatically pulls the adjacent wheel on its left, forward one tenth of a revolution, thus adding, or 'carrying'. (Pascal is also a respected philosopher and the inventor of the bus.)


Otto von Gürcke builds first "electric machine."


Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz designs his "Stepped Reckoner", a machine similar to Pascal's, with the added features of multiplication and division, which is constructed by a man named Olivier, of Paris. (Leibniz is also a respected philosopher and the co-inventor of calculus.)


Ben Franklin captures lightning.


J. H. Mueller, of the Hessian army, conceives the idea of what came to be called a "difference engine". That's a special-purpose calculator for tabulating values of a polynomial. Mueller's attempt to raise funds fails and the project is forgotten.


Galvani discovers electric current, and uses it on frogs' legs.


Alessandro Volta invents the battery.


Joseph-Marie Jacquard develops the punch card system which programs and thereby automates the weaving of patterns on looms.


Sir Humphry Davey invents electric arc lamp.


Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar of France, makes his "Arithmometer", the first mass-produced calculator. It does multiplication using the same general approach as Leibniz's calculator; with assistance from the user it can also do division. It is also the most reliable calculator yet. Machines of this general design, large enough to occupy most of a desktop, continue to be sold for about 90 years.


Charles Babbage begins his government-funded project to build  the first of his machines, the "Difference Engine", to mechanize solutions to general algebra problems.

The importance of his work is recognized by Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter who, gifted in mathematics, devises a form of binary arithmetic which uses only the digits 1 and 0.


The first railway is opened for public use.


Photography is invented by Benoit Fourneyron.


Thomas Davenport of Vermont invents the electric motor -- calls it a toy.


Michael Faraday produces electricity with the first generator.


Babbage conceives, and begins to design, his "Analytical Engine". Could be considered a programmable calculator, very close to the basic idea of a computer. The machine could do an addition in 3 seconds and a multiplication or division in 2-4 minutes.


Telegraph, Samuel F. B. Morse.


Christopher Latham Sholes (Milwaukee) invents the first commercial typewriter.


One of the first large-scale analog computers is developed by Lord Kelvin to predict the height of tides in English harbors.


Telephone is invented by Alexander Graham Bell.


Gramaphone is invented by Thomas Edison.


Charles S. Tainter invents the dictaphone.


Dorr E. Felt of Chicago, makes his "Comptometer". This is the first calculator with keys.


E. J. Marey invents the Motion Picture Camera.

Eastman patents the first box camera, moving photography from the hands of professionals to the general public.


Herman Hollerith of MIT, designs a punch card tabulating machine which is used effectively in the US census of this year. The cards are read electrically.


Thomas Edison develops the Motion Picture Projector.   1896 Guglielmo Marconi develops the Radio Telegraph.   1899 Val Demar Poulsen develops the Magnetic Recorder.


Rene Graphen develops the Photocopying Machine.


Reginald A. Fessenden develops the Radio Telephone.


Henry Babbage, Charles's son, with the help of the firm of R. W. Munro, completes his father's Analytical Engine, just to show that it would have worked.


Thomas Edison invents Talking Motion Pictures.


W. H. Eccles and F. W. Jordan publish the first flip-flop circuit design.


Computing-Tabulating-Recording becomes International Business Machines.


J. P. Maxfield develops the All-electric Phonograph.


Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of the television, gives first demonstration.  See The Last Lone Inventor by Evan Schwartz (http://www.lastloneinventor.com)


IBM introduces the first commercial electric typewriter.

Edwin H. Armstrong develops FM Radio.


Robert A. Watson-Watt develops Radar.

Benjamin Burack builds the first electric logic machine.

In his thesis, Claude Shannon demonstrates the relationship between electrical circuitry and symbolic logic.


Alan M. Turing, of Cambridge University, England, publishes a paper on "computable numbers" which introduces the theoretical simplified computer known today as a Turing machine.


Claude E. Shannon publishes a paper on the implementation of symbolic logic using relays.


John V. Atanasoff and graduate student Clifford Berry, of Iowa State College complete a prototype 16-bit adder. This is the first machine to calculate using vacuum tubes.


First electronic computers in US, UK, and Germany


Working with limited backing from the German Aeronautical Research Institute, Zuse completes the "V3", the first operational programmable calculator. Zuse is a friend of Wernher von Braun


Howard H. Aiken and his team at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. funded by IBM, complete the "ASCC Mark I" ("Automatic Sequence-Controlled Calculator Mark I").  The machine is 51 feet long, 8 feet high, weighs 5 tons, and incorporates 750,000 parts. It is the first binary computer built in the U.S. that is operated by electricity.

Max Newman, Wynn-Williams, and their team at the secret English Government Code and Cypher School, complete the "Heath Robinson". This is a specialized machine for cipher-breaking.  (Heath Robinson was a British cartoonist known for his Rube-Goldberg-style contraptions.)


John von Neumann drafts a report describing a stored-program computer, and gives rise to the term "von Neumann computer".


John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert and their team at the University of Pennsylvania, complete a secret project for the US Army's Ballistics Research Lab: The ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator). It weighs 30 tons, is 18 feet high and 80 feet long, covers about 1000 square feet of floor, and consumes 130 or 140 kilowatts of electricity. Containing 17,468 vacuum tubes and over 500,000 soldered connections, it costs $487,000. While it could perform five thousand additions in one second, the circuitry in ENIAC could now be contained on a panel the size of a playing card. Today’s desktop stores millions times more info and is 50,000 times faster. The ENIAC's clock speed is 100 kHz.

Two days before Christmas the transistor is perfected.


Zuse invents Plankalkul, the first programming language, while hiding out in Bavaria.

The ENIAC is revealed to the public. A panel of lights is added to help show reporters how fast the machine is and what it is doing; and apparently Hollywood takes note.


The magnetic drum memory is independently invented by several people, and the first examples are constructed.


Newman, Freddie C. Williams, and their team at Manchester University,  complete a prototype machine, the "Manchester Mark I". This is the first machine that everyone would call a computer, because it's the first with a true stored-program capability.

First tape recorder is sold


A quote from Popular Mechanics:

“Where a computer like the ENIAC is  equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and  weighs 30 tons, computers in the future  may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and  weigh only 1 1/2 tons.”

Jay W. Forrester and his team at MIT construct the "Whirlwind" for the US Navy's Office of Research and Inventions. The Whirlwind is the first computer designed for real-time work; it can do 500,000 additions or 50,000 multiplications per second.  This allows the machine to be used for air traffic control.

Forrester conceives the idea of magnetic core memory as it is to become commonly used, with a grid of wires used to address the cores.


Alan Turing "Computing Machinery and Intelligence"


U.S. Census Bureau takes delivery of the first UNIVACS originally developed by Eckert and Mauchly.

An Wang establishes Wang Laboratories

Ferranti Ltd. completes the first commercial computer. It has 256 40-bit words of main memory and 16K words of drum. An eventual total of 8 of these machines are sold.

Grace Murray Hopper, of Remington Rand, invents the modern concept of the compiler.


The EDVAC is finally completed. It has 4000 tubes, 10,000 crystal diodes, and 1024 44-bit words of ultrasonic memory. Its clock speed is 1 MHz.


Minsky and McCarthy get summer jobs at Bell Labs


An Wang is issued Patent Number 2,708,722, including 34 claims for the magnetic memory core.

Shockley Semiconductor is founded in Palo Alto.

John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley share the Nobel Prize in physics for the transistor.


Rockefeller funds Minsky and McCarthy's AI conference at Dartmouth

CIA funds GAT machine-translation project.

Newell, Shaw, and Simon develop Logic Theorist.


USSR launches Sputnik, the first earth satellite.

Newell, Shaw, and Simon develop General Problem Solver.

Fortran, the first popular programming language, hits the streets.


McCarthy creates first LISP.


Minsky and McCarthy establish MIT AI Lab.

Frank Rosenblatt introduces Perceptrons.

COBOL, a programming language for business use, and LISP, the first string processing language, come out.


Edward Djikstra suggests that software and data should be created in standard, structured forms, so that people could build on each others' work.

Algol 60, a European programming language and ancestor of many others, including Pascal, is released.


First industrial robots. (For interesting modern examples, see the robotic palletizer.)


Doug Englebart invents the computer mouse, first called the X-Y Position Indicator.


Bobrow's "Student" solves math word-problems.

John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz of Dartmouth College develop the first BASIC programming language.  PL1 comes out out the same year.

Wang introduces the LOCI (logarithmic calculating instrument), a desktop calculator at the bargain price of $6700, much less than the cost of a mainframe. In six months, Wang sells about twenty units.

Sabre database system, brought online. It solves the American Airlines' problem of coordinating information about hundreds of flight reservations across the continent every day.

Philips makes public the compact cassette.


Weizenbaum and Colby create ELIZA.

Hewlett-Packard enters the computer market with the HP2116A real-time computer. It is designed to crunch data acquired from electronic test and measurement instruments. It has 8K of memory and costs $30,000.

Hewlett-Packard announces their HP 9100 series calculator with CRT displays selling for about $5000 each.

Intel is founded and begins marketing a semiconductor chip that holds 2,000 bits of memory. Wang is the first to buy this chip, using it in their business oriented calculators called the 600 series.

Late 1960s

IBM sells over 30,000 mainframe computers based on the 360 family which uses core memory.


Greenblatt's MacHack defeats Hubert Deyfus at chess.

IBM builds the first floppy disk


Kubrick's "2001" introduces AI to mass audience.

Intel announces a 1 KB RAM chip, which has a significantly larger capacity than any previously produced memory chip

Unix operating system, characterised by multitasking (also called time-sharing), virtual memory, multi-user design and security, designed by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie at AT&T Bell Laboratories, USA

ARPANET (future Internet) links first two computers at UCLA and Stanford Research Institute. Dr. Leonard Kleinrock, a UCLA-based pioneer of Internet technology, and his assistant Charley Kline manage to send succesfully, after solving an initial problem with an inadequate memory buffer, a command "login" to a Stanford machine set-up and tuned by Bill Duvall.  First email!

(UCLA, UCSB, University of Utah and SRI are the four original members of Arpanet.)


Commodore, a Canadian electronics company, moves from Toronto to Silicon Valley and begins selling calculators assembled around a Texas Instruments chip.


Doug Englebart patents his X-Y Position Indicator mouse.

Nicklaus Wirth comes out with Pascal.


The price of the Wang Model 300 series calculator drops to $600. Wang introduces the 1200 Word Processing System.

Stephen Wozniak and Bill Fernandez build their "Cream Soda computer.”

Bowmar Instruments Corporation introduces the LSI-based (large scale integration) four function (+, -, *, /) pocket calculator with LED at an initial price of $250.

Intel markets the first microprocessor. Its speed is 60,000 'additions' per second.


Ray Tomlinson, author of first email software, chooses @ sign for email addresses.

Dennis Ritchie invents C.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen form Traf-O-Data (which eventually becomes Microsoft).

Stephen Wozniak and Steven Jobs begin selling blue boxes.

Electronic mail!


Stephen Wozniak joins Hewlett-Packard.

Radio Electronics publishes an article by Don Lancaster describing a "TV Typewriter.”

IBM develops the first true sealed hard disk drive. The drive was called the "Winchester" after the rifle of the same name. It used two 30 Mb platters.


MITS introduces the first personal computer - Altair in form of a kit, initially to be assembled by a buyer. It was based on Intel's 8-bit 8080 processor and included 256 bytes of memory (expandable to a 12 Kb), a set of toggle switches and an LED panel. Keyboard, screen or storage device could be added using extension cards.

The Apple I....


Greenblatt creates first LISP machine.

Queen Elizabeth is first head of state to send email.

Shugart introduces 5.25" floppy.

IBM introduces a total information processing system. The system includes diskette storage, magnetic card reader/recorder, and CRT. The print station contains an ink jet printer, automatic paper and envelope feeder, and optional electronic communication.

Apple Computer opens its first offices in Cupertino and introduces the Apple II. It is the first personal computer with color graphics. It has a 6502 CPU, 4KB RAM, 16KB ROM, keyboard, 8-slot motherboard, game paddles, and built-in BASIC.

Commodore introduces the PET computer.

Tandy/Radio Shack announces its first TRS-80 microcomputer.

Ink-jet printing announced by IBM.

JVC introduces the VHS format to the videorecorders.


The first digital audio disc prototypes are shown by Mitsubishi,Sony, and Hitachi at the Tokyo Audio fair.


Apple introduces and begins shipping disk drives for the Apple II and initiates the LISA research and development project.

BITNET (Because It's Time Network) protocol for electronic mail, listserv servers, file transfer, is established as a cooperative enterprise by the City University of New York and Yale University.

Xerox releases the 8010 Star and 820 computers.

IBM announces its Personal Computer.

DEC announces a line of personal computers.

HP introduces the HP 9000 technical computer with 32-bit "superchip" technology - it is the first "desktop mainframe", as powerful as room-sized computers of the 1960s.


Kevin MacKenzie invents the emoticon :-)

Usenet news groups.


First AAAI conference at Stanford.

Telnet. Remote log-in and long-distance work (telecommuting) are now possible.


Listserv mailing list software. Online knowledge-groups and virtual seminars are formed.

Osborne introduces first portable computer.

MS-DOS introduced.


CD disk (12 cm, 74 mins of playing time) and player released by Sony and Philips Europe and Japan. A year later the CD technolgy is introduced to the USA


IBM announces the PCjr.

Apple Computer announces Lisa, the first business computer with a graphical user interface launched by Apple Computer Inc., Cupertino, California. The computer has 5MHz 68000 CPU, 860KB 5.25" floppy, 12" B&W screen, detached keyboard, and mouse.


Macintosh personal computer, launched by Apple Computer Inc. The first computer has 128KB of memory and a 3.5" 400KB floppy disk-drive. The OS with astounding graphic interface is bundled with MacWrite (wordprocessor) and MacPaint (free-hand, B&W drawing) software.

Apple introduces 3.5" floppy.

The domain name system is established.


CD-ROM technology (disk and drive) for computers developed by Sony and Philips

File Transfer Protocol.


Microsoft ships Windows 1.01.


The 386 chip brings PC speeds into competition with LISP machines.


Tim Berners-Lee invents the WWW while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. He won the Finnish Technology Award Foundation's first Millennium Technology Prize in April of 2004. The $1.2 million prize was presented by Tarja Halonen, president of Finland.


Archie FTP semi-crawler search engine, built by Peter Deutsch of MacGill University.


CD-recordable (CD-R) technology is released.

WAIS publisher-fed search engine, invented by Brewster Kahle of the Thinking Machines Co.

Gopher, created at University of Minnesota Microcomputer, Workstations & Networks Center.

WWW server combines URL (addressing) syntax, HTML (markup) language for documents, and HTTP (communications protocol). It also offers integration of earlier Internet tools into a seamless whole.

Senator Al Gore introduced the High Performance Computing and Communication Act (known as the Gore Bill) to promote the development and use of the internet.  Among other things, it funded the development of Mosaic in 1993.  After a 1999 inteview, his political opponents misquoted him as claiming to have invented the internet.


There are about 20 Web servers in existence (Ciolek 1998).


"Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character Set" (UCS), aka ISO/IEC 10646 is published in 1993 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It is the first officially standardized coded character set with the purpose to eventually include all characters used in all the written languages in the world (and, in addition, all mathematical and other symbols).

Mosaic graphic WWW browser developed by Marc Andreessen (Cailliau 1995). Graphics user interface makes WWW finally a competitor to Gopher. Production of web pages becomes an easy task, even to an amateur.

There are 200+ Web servers in existence (Ciolek 1998).


Labyrinth graphic 3-D (vrml) WWW browser is built by Mark Pesce. It provides access to the virtual reality of three-dimensional objects (artifacts, buildings, landscapes).

Netscape WWW browser, developed by Marc Andreessen, Mountain View, California.


RealAudio narrowcasting (Reid 1997:69).

Java programming language, developed by Sun Microsystems, Palo Alto, California. Client-side, on-the-fly supplementary data processing can be performed using safe, downloadable micro-programs (applets).

Metacrawler WWW meta-search engine. The content of WWW is actively and automatically catalogued.

The first online bookstore, Amazon.com, is launched in Seattle by Jeffrey P. Bezos.

Altavista WWW crawler search engine is built by Digital around the Digital Alpha processor. A very fast search of 30-50% of the WWW is made possible).


Google began as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they were students at Stanford University

There are 100,000 Web servers in existence.


There are 650,000 Web servers in existence.

“Deep Blue 2” beats Kasparov, the best chess player in the world. The world as we know it ends.

DVD technology (players and movies) is released. A DVD-recordable standard is created (Alpeda 1998).

Web TV introduced.


Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading in the U.K., became the first human to host a microchip. The approximately 23mm-by-3mm glass capsule containing several microprocessors stayed in Warwick's left arm for nine days. It was used to test implant's interaction with computer controlled doors and lights in a futuristic 'intelligent office building'

There are 3.6 mln Web servers in existence (Zakon 1998).


There are 4.3 mln Web servers in existence (Zakon 1999).

Netomat: The Non-Linear Browser, by the New York artist Maciej Wisniewski, launched. The open-source software uses Java and XML technology to navigate the web in terms of the data (text, images and sounds) it contains, as opposed to traditional browsers (Mosaic, Lynx, Netscape, Explorer) which navigate the web's pages.


A global TV programme '2000Today' reports live for 25 hrs non-stop the New Year celebrations in 68 countries all over the world. It is the first ever show of that duration and geographical coverage. The programme involved a round-the-clock work of over 6000 technical personnel, and used a array of 60 communication satellites to reach 1 billion viewers from all time-zones all over the globe (The Canberra Times, 1 Jan, 2000).

Wikipedia begins as an offshoot of Nupedia by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.

Major sources:

Chronology of Digital Computing Machines
Mark Brader

From the Abacus to the Apple
Bobbi A. Kerlin

Global Networking:  a Timeline
T. Matthew Ciolek

And a variety of others whose names I no longer recollect.  My sincere apologies!