see it clearly
Learn more

Computer History Timeline

A computer history timeline helps students, teachers and others who are interested define the evolution of the computer from science fiction to science fact to household necessity.

Computer History Timeline

About a Computer History Timeline

Early Greek myths talked of robots and mechanical devices that would perform the tasks of men. In the 1920s, a Czech author published a play called R.U.R. or Rossum’s Universal Robots. In all of this “science fiction” the idea of self-motivated and high-thinking computers were at the heart of the robots. But it wasn’t until 1936 that fiction began to translate to reality.

1936 - Konrad Zuse develops the Z1 computer. The Z1 is the first freely programmable machine.

1939 - David Packard and Bill Hewlett formed Hewlett-Packard in a car garage. They developed sound oscillators, and test equipment engineers enjoyed. In fact, Walt Disney ordered several for a film he was creating: Fantasia.

1940 – The Complex Number Calculator or CNC (developed in 1939) was demonstrated at the American Mathematical Society by Bell Laboratories. The audience was amazed when the head researcher “dialed in” remotely to the CNC via Teletype and performed the calculations. This is considered by most to be the first act of remote access computing.

1941 – The first Bombe was completed. This machine allowed the allies to decrypt Nazi military communications during World War II.

1942 – The ABC computer was built. This machine would revolutionize many basic concepts associated with computers, but would also launch a patent suit that was not resolved until 1973. The result of the suits determined the concept for a computer is un-patentable and freely open to development by anyone with a good idea.

1942-1945 – As World War II continued, many computer development deals were sought by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army. The military sought to improve performance, functionality and capability.

1945 – Computer languages and architecture for storing programs became the focus of computer development in the post-World War II boom. This is also the year the first computer “bug” was reported – only in this instance it was an actual insect rather than a fault in a program. But the nomenclature stuck.

1946 – The ENIAC was completed. This room-sized computer improved all previous models by more than 1000 times, but also took up more than 1,000 square feet of room.

1953 – International Business Machines ( IBM) enters the computer sales business shipping 19 machines to various laboratories and research facilities.

1958 - The Integrated Circuit is developed which would improve computer-processing functionality. The Integrated Circuit became known as the “computer chip.”

1962 - MIT students created SpaceWar, the first computer game featuring shooter graphics and spaceships. A joystick was required for play.

1969 – ARPAnet comes online. The Advanced Research Projects Agency network was the first packet switching network of its kind and is the grandfather of the modern Internet, using many of the same early protocols that allowed for the transmission of data across a network.

1970s – The 1970s would revolutionize the modern computer allowing for the development of the first ram or memory chip, the floppy drive and floppy disk, the first microprocessor and by 1979, a word processing program.

1980s – In the 1980s, the next step for the computer history timeline was the development, advertising and sale of the personal home computer. Apple Macintosh, IBM and Commodore 64 are just some of the producers of popular home computers that changed everything from homework to graphics to how work was produced. The BBS systems and Internet continued to be built, platform-by-platform and a young upstart company called Quantum Computer Services franchised the development of localized computer networks that delivered content. The company would eventually become America Online.

1990s – The expansion of the Internet led to the construction of multiple network backbone hubs, elevating the online experience from dial-up only to standard, network connections that reached around the world. Computers became smaller, more functional and software programs included multiple platforms. The 1990s also launched the Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games that required a home computer and Internet access.

21st Century Computer History

By 2001, the home computer was as prevalent as the television as a required electronic in homes and many schools were adding computer courses to their year-by-year curriculums. Internet businesses, working remotely and email were becoming the standard. Apple computers continued to penetrate the market with new, smaller devices that allowed computers to travel more easily with the end user. By 2010, the clunky laptop is replaceable by a much lighter, speedier netbook. The iPad, iPhone and iPod revolution gave an advantage to the consumer in how they watch their favorite programming, communicated, accessed email and even read books.

The computer history timeline covers just a few decades, but the leaps and advances in technology have continued to give birth to new advantages and ideas. By 2010, most everyone needs a computer for something whether it’s banking, shopping, working or playing.