Home About Schedule Project Presentation & Paper

This chart arranges in order all the major events discussed in the different readings. Items in italics show how the course readings fit into the timeline, other entries refer to important events.

One of the most important things in a history course is to understand the chronology of things -- not just dates, but what comes before what and influences it, how different things can be going on in parallel, and so on. But synthesizing all the materials from the readings and the lectures into a clear sense of what happens when can be difficult. You will still have to do some work to fit it all together mentally, but this should make it easier.

(In case you stumbled onto this page from the Net: this timeline is not intended to be exhaustive, but to supplement these specific readings for my course. Only events referenced in or directly related to the readings are included).

Year Event
1943 British "Colossus" code breaking machine becomes the first all-electronic calculating device. It is not programmable.
  ENIAC project begun
1944 Harvard Mark I, programmable mechanical calculator, is completed.
1945 John von Neuman circulates "First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC" -- codifying computer design principles now referred to as the "von Neuman architecture". (check date)
1946 The ENIAC is finished and publicly unveiled as the first electronic digital computer. ENIAC press release is written.
  UNIVAC forerunner (Electronic Control Company) founded by ENIAC creators Eckert and Mauchly to produce computers for civilian purposes
1947 William Shockley invents the transistor. Earliest civilian uses are in hearing aids and radios -- not computers.
1949 Edmund Berkeley published "Giant Brains: or Machines That Think" -- the first book on electronic computers intended for a general audience.
1951 A UNIVAC I, the first commercial electronic computer, comes on-line at the US Census Bureau. 48 of these computers are eventually installed
  Whirlwind computer (SAGE precursor) becomes operational at MIT
1953 Initial installation of IBM 701 -- its first large electronic computer. Formerly known as "Defense Calculator". Optimized for scientific calculations. Nineteen are built.
1954 First IBM 650 delivered -- inexpensive, punch-card oriented computer. "Model-T of computing". 2,000 are eventually produced.
  My paper, The Chromium-Plated Tabulator, covers 1954-1958 and the first use of computers for administrative purposes.
1955 IBM 702 shipped  -- the first large IBM computer designed for business data processing. 15 are eventually installed.
  DEC founded -- later to become the leading supplier of minicomputers. Intial products are intended for laboratories.
1956 System Development Corporation spun off from RAND to work on software for SAGE project
1957 FORTRAN developed -- first widely used and standardized high level programming language. Commonly used by scientists and engineers to perform calculations, often without the aid of specialist programmers. Remained ubiquitous into the 1980s.
  Fairchild Semiconductor is founded (by refuges from Shockley Semiconductor).
1959 Transistor based computers enter the mainstream with announcements including the IBM 7090 (a transistorized version of the 709), the NCR 304 and the RCS 501.
1960 COBOL -- the standard high level language for the programming of business applications -- is unveiled. It remains the most popular language for new program construction into the 1990s.
  IBM 1401 "2nd generation" computer is shipped -- inexpensive, reliable, transistorized. It becomes the workhorse of data processing for the next five years. Offered in both card and tape oriented versions, with a 10 or 20 million character disk drive as an option. 12,000 are eventually produced. (BA census estimates 9,000 at peak in 1965)
  (Approx) The TX-0 computer, no longer needed for its original purpose, is entrusted to the TMRC at MIT. Hacker culture grows up around it.
1962 First general purpose, high capacity disk storage units become available -- essential for real-time operation.
  MIT hackers write SpaceWar, the first interactive videogame. It runs on a PDP 1 computer donated to MIT by DEC the previous year.
1963 SABRE airline reservation system is fully operational.
  SABRE fully operational
1964 IBM announces System/360 range of "third generation" computers -- intended to replace all current models. These are IBM's first models to successfully span both scientific and business administration tasks. This array of compatible large, medium and small computers introduces concept of computer architecture.
  BASIC language developed at Dartmouth College
1965 DEC introduces PDP minicomputer -- over 30,000 are eventually sold. Used for many control and experimental purposes.
  Gordon Moore makes the observation that component density on integrated circuits tends to double every 18 months -- applied to memory chips this later becomes famous as Moore's Law.
  Bob Taylor, head of the IPTO group at ARPA, gains funding to being work on the development of ARPAnet, the precursor of the internet.
1968 Douglas Englebart gives a public demonstration of the mouse, which he invented, and an innovative system system called NLS which included windows and mouse controlled collaborative editing.
  Ed de Castro and other fugitives from DEC found Data General. Their first product is the Nova minicomputer.
1969 Commercial development of the MULTICS project is abandoned after four years intense development. Multics involved MIT, GE and Bell Labs in an attempt to build a large scale time-sharing system for computer utilities.
  Unix, the first portable operating system, is produced by Bell Labs researchers. Because the system is elegant, expandable and free for non-profit users it spreads in academic circles.
  The first four nodes (UCLA, SRI, UCSB and Utah) are connected to the ARPAnet. The system enters experimental use.
1970 Memory chip introduced. (Fairchild comes first with a 256 byte model, Intel soon follows with introduces a larger memory chip version with 1024 bits of information information. 8 of the larger chips together store 1 kilobyte).
  The first version of UNIX goes into use within Bell Labs. This highly modular operating system introduces the extensible toolset approach to system design. By the late 1980s it had evolved into the dominant system for powerful workstations and internet servers.
  Xerox founds PARC -- the research center responsible for many key personal computing concepts of the 1980s.
1971 First floppy disk is introduced by IBM. Cheaper, faster and more flexible than magnetic tape for small volumes of data, it finally replaces punch cards as storage medium of choice for the cheapest business computing applications.
  Wang introduces its first word-processing unit
1972 Intel introduces 8080 general purpose microprocessor -- basis of many first generation microcomputers
  Ray Tomlinson's email program spreads rapidly over the Internet, providing it with its most useful application to date.
  Atari uses the 4004 chip to build Pong, the first successful video game console.
1973 Under the codename "Winchester", IBM introduces the 3340 disk drive. Much smaller and cheaper than previous drives, it is widely adopted for use in minicomputers, microcomputers and word processors -- and is eventually dubbed the "hard disk drive."
  Researchers at Xerox PARC deploy specially built Alto computers for their own use. Their inventions include Ethernet, the laser printer, the object-oriented Smalltalk language and key elements of today's graphical user interfaces. The group is managed by Bob Taylor, formerly of ARPA.
1974 MITS, a small Albuquerque firm catering to the hobbyist electronics market, develops the ALTAIR -- generally regarded as the first personal computer. Although the machine is almost entirely useless, and the purchaser must build it from a kit, it is a huge success. Business applications are limited.
  David Ahl leaves DEC to start Creative Computing, the first magazine devoted to the personal computer.
  Ted Nelson self-published Computer Lib, a tract calling for a computer revolution and the delivery of computer power to the masses.
1975 Electric Pencil for the Altair kit-computer becomes the first word processing program to run on a micro computer.
  First meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley.
  IBM introduces the laser printer.
1976 CP/M, the dominant operating system for 8-bit micro computers, is first released.
1977 Xerox launches its Star 8010 office computer, an attempt to commercialize the research of its PARC center.
  Atari introduces the 2600, the first successful home video console to accept program cartridges. It becomes a fixture in the homes of teenagers, and hundreds of different games are produced.
  Lee Felsenstein founds the Community Memory project in Berkeley.
1978 Intel introduces 8086 processor, eventually to be used in IBM-PC machines.
  Under Tom West's command, the Eclipse group within Data General begins work on its 32-bit upgrade, codenamed Eagle.
  DEC introduces the VAX -- a 32-bit minicomputer with virtual memory. Becomes the standard for scientific and technical applications.
1979 Dan Bricklin and Personal Software introduce VisiCalc for the Apple II -- the first compelling business application program for a personal computer.
1980 Tom West's Eagle minicomputer is finally launched by Data General
1981 In France, the Minitel network and its inexpensive terminals are deployed.
  The IBM PC is introduced. While technologically uninspired it is well engineered, affordable, highly expandable and enormously successful. It sets hardware and software standards for decades to come.
1982 Sun Microsystems is founded by a team associated with Stanford University (SUN originally stood for Stanford University Network). Sun soon dominates the growing market for graphical workstations -- the machines of choice for academics, engineers and financial analysts.
  Jack Niles writes "Teleworking from Home" -- the teleworking concept is much discussed during the early 1980s.
  An early version of TCP/IP, now the standard internet protocol, replaces the earlier NCP as the main ARPAnet protocol. The network remains a closed system for research use -- the same year, its military portions are split off into the separate MILNET.
  Startup firm Compaq introduces its IBM PC compatible computer -- the first to be produced in large numbers. It soon grows to become a major player in the industry.
1984 Apple introduces the Macintosh in an expensively produced commercial shown only once -- during the Superbowl game. Although its design includes many elegant features early models lack the power, expandability and application software necessary for corporate success.
  The bottom falls out of the home computer and video game markets. Many companies fail, Atari cuts back massively and is sold by Warner Brothers, its corporate parent. Its research lab is closed.
  Levy publishes "A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge"
1985 John Sculley (recently hired from Pepsi) ousts messianic co-founder Steve Jobs from Apple following a boardroom showdown.
  The allegedly non-fictional "Out of the Inner Circle" is published by Microsoft Press to cash in on the hacker hype.
  The current internet naming system begins operations, and with it the .com, .edu .gov and .org domains.
  In San Francisco the scrappy on-line service "The WELL" (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) begins operations.
  Mayer Martin profiles the wave of investment and hype behind on-line systems for the public in "The Videotext Revolution".
1987 Microsoft passes Lotus as the biggest vendor of PC software.
  Justine De Lacey publishes "The Sexy Computer" about the French Minitel (the only successful videotext system).
1989 Tim Berners-Lee develops the basic concepts and protocols behind the World Wide Web while employed at European high energy physics lab CERN. His original software is a proof of concept -- it is text based and runs only on esoteric hardware. First public release in 1991.
1990 Microsoft launches Windows 3.0, the first version to achieve widespread use. Windows becomes the dominant computing platform of the 1990s.
1991 Linus Torvalds releases the first version of Linux, his open source Unix clone.
1993 Mosaic, the first widespread graphical browser for the embryonic World Wide Web is released. Its use spreads exponentially among computer science departments and research labs connected to the Internet.
  Howard Rheingold publishes Virtual Communities: Homesteading on the COmputer Frontier.
1995 Netscape, founded the previous year, files its IPO. By the end of the day its stock has doubled -- ushering in the internet goldrush and the beginnings of the New Economy bubble.
  Microsoft releases its Windows 95 operating system, the first major overhaul of Windows in five years.
  Microsoft changes its corporate direction towards the internet, launching its own Internet Explorer browser and beginning work to incorporate internet features into all its products.
  Hacker and allegedly dangerous criminal mastermind Kevin Mitnick is captured by the FBI. He has been wanted since 1992. New York Times journalist John Markoff blows the event up to major proportions.
  Katie Haffner uses Wired magazine to profile San Francisco on-line system The WELL in "The Epic Saga of the Well: The World’s Most Influential Online Community (and it’s not AOL)".
  Douglas Coupland writes about geek life at Microsoft and in a software startup in Microserfs.
1998 Netscape puts its browser source into the public domain, effectively surrendering the so-called "Browser Wars" to Microsoft's free Internet Explorer. General attention has switched from web software (especially client software) to the use of the web for business.
  Jeff Madrick draws attention to the continuing "Productivity Paradox" in Computers, Waiting for the Revolution.
1999 Public interest in the Internet shifts decisively away from on-line community and toward ecommerce, as firms like Priceline.com, Amazon and eBay are awarded stock valuations in the tens of billions.
  Time Magazine profiles Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, as its "Man of the Year".
2000 The internet bubble bursts, and the Nasdaq begins to plummet.
2001 Webvan is just one of many high profile ecommece firms to fail. CGMI, @Home, Metricom (operator of Ricochet) each burn through a billion dollars or more of investors money. Far, far more is wiped from their market valuations.

Page copyright Thomas Haigh -- email thaigh@sas.upenn.edu.    Home: www.tomandmaria.com/tom. Updated 01/18/2002.