The First Generation of Computers


The first generation of computers, beginning around the end of World War 2,
and continuing until around the year 1957, included computers that used vacuum
tubes, drum memories, and programming in machine code. Computers at that time
where mammoth machines that did not have the power our present day desktop
microcomputers.

In 1950, the first real-time, interactive computer was completed by a
design team at MIT. The "Whirlwind Computer," as it was called, was a revamped
U.S. Navy project for developing an aircraft simulator. The Whirlwind used a
cathode ray tube and a light gun to provide interactively. The Whirlwind was
linked to a series of radars and could identify unfriendly aircraft and direct
interceptor fighters to their projected locations. It was to be the prototype
for a network of computers and radar sites (SAGE) acting as an important element
of U.S. air defense for a quarter-century after 1958.

In 1951, the first commercially-available computer was delivered to the
Bureau of the Census by the Eckert Mauchly Computer Corporation. The UNIVAC
(Universal Automatic Computer) was the first computer which was not a one-of-a-
kind laboratory instrument. The UNIVAC became a household word in 1952 when it
was used on a televised newscast to project the winner of the Eisenhower-
Stevenson presidential race with stunning accuracy. That same year Maurice V.
Wilkes (developer of EDSAC) laid the foundation for the concepts of
microprogramming, which was to become the guide for computer design and
construction.

In 1954, the first general-purpose computer to be completely
transistorized was built at Bell Laboratories. TRADIC (Transistorized Airborne
Digital Computer) held 800 transistors and bettered its predecessors by
functioning well aboard airplanes.

In 1956, the first system for storing files to be accessed randomly was
completed. The RAMAC (Random-Access Method for Accounting and Control) 305
could access any of 50 magnetic disks. It was capable of storing 5 million
characters, within a second. In 1962, the concept was expanded with research in
replaceable disk packs.

Category: Technology