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Inventors of the Modern Computer
International Business Machines

computer inventionsThis chapter in the History of Modern Computers finally brings us to a name most of you will have heard of. IBM stands for International Business Machines, the largest computer company in the world today. IBM is responsible for numerous inventions having to do with computers.

computer inventionsThe company incorporated in 1911, starting as a major producer of punch card tabulating machines. In the 1930s, IBM built a series of calculators (the 600s) based on their card processing equipment. In 1944, IBM co-sponsored the Mark 1 computer (together with Harvard University), the first machine to compute long calculations automatically.

illustration of IBM 701

computer inventionsThe year 1953 saw the development of IBM's 701 EDPM, which, according to IBM, was the first commercially successful general-purpose computer. The 701's invention was part of the Korean War effort. Thomas Johnson Watson, Jr. wanted to contribute a "defense calculator" to aid in the United Nations' policing of Korea. One obstacle he had to overcome was in convincing his father, Thomas Johnson Watson, Sr. (then Chief Executive Officer of IBM) that computers would not harm IBM's card processing business. The 701s were incompatible with IBM's punched card processing equipment, a moneymaker for IBM.

computer inventionsOnly nineteen 701s were manufactured (the machine could be rented for $15,000 per month). The first 701 went to IBM's world headquarters in New York. Three went to atomic research laboratories. Eight went to aircraft companies. Three went to other research facilities. Two went to government agencies, including the first use of a computer by the U.S. Department of Defense. Two went to the navy and the last machine went to the U.S. Weather Bureau in early 1955.

computer inventionsThe 701 had electrostatic storage tube memory, used magnetic tape to store information, and had binary, fixed-point, single address hardware. The speed of the 701 computers was limited by the speed of its memory; the processing units in the machines were about 10 times faster than the core memory. The 701 also led to the development of the programming language FORTRAN.

computer inventionsIn 1956, a significant upgrade to the 701 appeared. The IBM 704 was considered the world's first super-computer and the first machine to incorporate floating-point hardware. The 704 used magnetic core memory that was faster and more reliable than the magnetic drum storage found in the 701. Also part of the 700 series, the IBM 7090 was the first commercial transistorized computer. Built in 1960, the 7090 computer was the fastest computer in the world. IBM dominated the mainframe and minicomputer market for the next two decades with its 700 series.

computer inventionsAfter releasing the 700 series, IBM built the 650 EDPM, a computer compatible with its earlier 600 calculator series. The 650 used the same card processing peripherals as the earlier calculators, starting the trend for loyal customers to upgrade. The 650s were IBM's first mass-produced computers (universities were offered a 60% discount).

computer inventionsIn 1981, IBM created its first personal home-use computer called the IBM PC, another milestone in computer history.

computer inventionsFurther Reading:
Pictures of the 701's tape drive, 701's electrostatic storage tubes used for memory, the 704 and the 650 EDPM. More on the history of the largest computer company in the world.

Inventors of the Modern Computer
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John Backus & IBM

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