A Timeline of the History of Computers

Ever since ancient times, humanity has built problem solving tools.

In the beginning, those were crude weapons for hunting food. Gradually though, we began developing contraptions that weren’t aimed at killing other living beings.

As our ancestors transformed from hunter-gathering to agriculture societies their focus shifted. Humanity invented the written word. It began trading. It built cities and impressive feats of architecture. It needed devices capable of solving number-related problems.

The first proto computing tools were born. Simple contraptions, pebbles on sand.

Then a portable mechanical calculator, known as the abacus.

As mechanics and engineering thrived during the age of enlightenment, the first mechanical computers were born. Impressive apparatuses, able to perform surprisingly complex calculations.

The quantum shift took place after the invention of vacuum tubes and, later, transistors. This allowed the construction of electronic computers. Digital tools that changed humanity from the ground up. Today, we take for granted powerful computers we carry around in our pockets.

We often forget that it took thousands of years to reach this point and it all started with a simple abacus…

abacus
2700 – 2300 BC

The abacus is actualized

The oldest mentions of the abacus appear and it was first used in Ancient Mesopotamia.
2700 – 2300 BC
100 – 400

The Hindu-Arabic numeral system is invented

Indian mathematicians invent the number system we use today. The system is later adopted by Arabic mathematicians who bring it to Europe.
100 – 400
628

First mathematical treatment of zero

Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta creates rules for the use of zero.
628
leonardo da vinci mechanical calculator
1502

Leonardo da Vinci designs the first mechanical calculator

Leonardo da Vinci invents the mechanical calculator. Researchers have not found any device however, only his drawings.
1502
mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio
1614

The Logarithm is proposed

John Napier, a Scottish mathematician, invents logarithms and mentions the function in his book Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio (Description of the Wonderful Rule of Logarithms).
1614
1617

Napier’s Bones is created

John Napier creates Napier’s Bones, a manual calculating device. He bases the device on the lattice multiplication method.
1617
1620–1630

Oughtred's slide rule is invented

William Oughtred invents the slide rule, a mechanical analog computer based on the logarithmic scale.
1620–1630
blaise pascal calculator
1642

Pascal creates the first mechanical calculator

Blaise Pascal was the first to construct a finished mechanical calculator. Wilhelm Schickard made a mechanical calculator prototype in 1623, but abandoned the project one year later and never finished his design.
1642
stepped reckoner mechanisms
1672

The stepped reckoner is invented

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a German mathematician, invents the stepped reckoner in 1672. It is the first mechanical calculator capable of performing all four arithmetic operations – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
1672
1714

Earliest patent describing a typewriter

Henry Milt, an English inventor, submitted the patent for a typing device that is very similar to modern typewriters. He allegedly also created one.
1714
1803

Invention of the Jacquard Machine

Joseph Marie Jacquard develops the Jacquard Machine for use as a mechanical device in the manufacturing of textile. The machine used punched cards which will be the basis for early programming techniques.
1803
charles babbage difference and analytical engines
1819 – 1837

Babbage creates difference and analytical engines

English mathematician Charles Babbage invents difference and analytical engines as mechanical computers. The analytical engine was the first based on the logical structure that is nearly identical to modern computers.
1819 – 1837
1820

Invention of the Arithmometer

Thomas de Colmar invents and patents the Arithmometer, the first digital mechanical calculator.
1820
the mathematical analysis of logic
1820

Introduction of Boolean algebra

George Boole proposes Boolean algebra in his book The Mathematical Analysis of Logic. Boolean Algebra is a branch of algebra based on true and false variables marked by 1 and 0. It would become the foundation on which all electronic digital computers work.
1820
hansen writing ball
1865

Invention of the first commercial typewriter

Rasmus Malling-Hansen, a Danish inventor, invents the Hansen Writing Ball, the first commercial typewriter. It went into production in 1870.
1865
remington no 1 typewriter
1874

Remington No. 1, the first commercially successful typewriter enters production

Designed by Christopher Latham Sholes and manufactured by E. Remington and Sons, the Remington No. 1 introduces the QWERTY keyboard design.
1874
d e felt comptometer
1887

Dorr E. Felt files a patent for the Comptometer

The Comptometer is the first commercially successful key-driven mechanical calculator.
1887
herman hollerith tabulating machine
1890

Invention of the tabulating machine

Herman Hollerith invents the tabulating machine. This electromechanical machine was used for data processing. It stored information on punched cards through the keypunch.
1890
john ambrose fleming valves
1904-1907

Inventions of the diode and triode

John Ambrose Fleming invents the simplest vacuum tube, the diode. It becomes the most important component of electronic circuits during the first part of the 20th century. A few years later, Lee De Forest invented triode, the first electronic amplifier.
1904-1907
Early 1900s

Invention of teleprinters

Many different inventors contribute to the invention of the first teleprinter. This device simplified the exchange of message by having regular keyboards instead of requiring knowledge of Morse code.
Early 1900s
1911

Foundation of IBM

Charles Ranlett Flint and Thomas J. Watson Sr. found IBM, which becomes one of the biggest tech companies in the world. IBM also first coins the term personal computer.
1911
j e lilienfeld patent 1926
1926

Filing of the first transistor patent

Julius Edgar Lilienfeld files a patent for the first transistor in Canada in 1925. The field-effect transistor (FET) would later become the foundation piece of all microchips.
1926
alan turing machine
1936

Alan Turing proposes the Turing Machine

English scientist Alan Turing proposes the model of the universal machine. It is a mathematical model of computation that predicts electronic computers and later named The Turing Machine.
1936
1937

Shannon's A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits is finished

Claude E. Shannon, one of the pioneers of computer science, completes his master thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits. It proves that Boolean algebra could be used in electrical switches. This notion is the basic concept used in all electronic digital computer designs.
1937
1939

Construction of Atanasoff–Berry Computer prototype

John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry invent the Atanasoff–Berry Computer. It's the first electronic computer incorporating vacuum tubes for digital computation. Based on binary math and Boolean logic, it's capable of calculating an operation every 15 seconds and stores information on its regenerative capacitor memory.
1939
1943 – 1945

Construction of Colossus

This set of computers is built and used by the British codebreakers. It is essential in breaking the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher which allowed them to read encrypted German Army messages during World War II.
1943 – 1945
eniac
1945

Construction of the ENIAC

The ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) is the first electronic digital computer used for general-purpose problem-solving. It is designed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania, U.S.
1945
1947

Invention of the first transistor

John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley invent the first point-contact transistor and later on enables the invention of microchips.
1947
1947

Booth invents assembling language

Kathleen Booth starts theoretical work on assembly language and finishes a few years after.
1947
edvac computer
1949

Construction of the EDVAC

The EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer) was another electronic digital computer. Instead of being decimal, like the ENIAC, it was binary. It is the first computer that stored program instructions in its electronic memory. It stored programs on plugboards or similar mechanical systems.
1949
1951

Construction of the UNIVAC I

The designers of the ENIAC also create the UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer). The first electronic computer used for business applications.
1951
1953

The IBM 701 is released

IBM builds the IBM 701, the first mass-produced computer with Nathaniel Rochester as the main designer.
1953
ibm first commercial hard drive
1956

IBM invents the first commercial hard drive

Engineers at IBM invent the first commercially available hard drive with capacity of 5 MB.
1956
1958

First integrated circuit is created

Jack Bilby and Robert Noyce creat the first integrated circuit. Theoretical work by G.W.A. Dummer greatly contributes to the design.
1958
1950s

Birth of programming languages

Computer scientists invent the first programming languages. They are based on machine language and mathematical formulas until Grace Hopper proposes a programming language based on English. Her work is later used for the development of COBOL, one of the earliest high-level programming languages.
1950s
engelbart first mouse patent
1963

Invention of the first mouse

Douglass Engelbart, a US inventor and engineer, invents the first computer mouse.
1963
1963

First prototype of the modern computer system presented

Douglass Engelbart presents a prototype of the modern computer system. The system features the three main components of modern desktop computers – the keyboard, mouse, and graphic user interface (GUI) - that we are familiar with today.
1963
1965

Moore’s Law is first proposed

Gordon Moore's observation is that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit double about every two years. This became the basis of Moore's Law.
1965
1968

Founding of Intel

Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce found Intel in Mountain View, California, it later becomes the world's largest semiconductor chip manufacturer.
1968
unix bell labs
1969

Creation of UNIX

Bell Labs develop UNIX, the first operating system that works on multiple platforms.
1969
1970

Intel releases the first DRAM chip

Intel releases the first DRAM chip, the 1103.
1970
1971

Release of the first commercial microprocessor

Intel releases the first commercially available microprocessor in 1971. The 4004 runs at 740 kHz and is built in a 10µm production process. The engineering team behind it consists of Federico Faggin, Marcian Hoff, Stanley Mazor, and Masatoshi Shima.
1971
ibm floppy disk patent
1971

IBM releases the first commercial floppy disk

IBM’s first floppy disk is 8 inches in diameter and holds 80 kilobytes of data.
1971
1973 – 1974

Development of ethernet

Xerox PARC develops the ethernet. The leading engineer on the project was Robert Metcalfe. Ethernet allows connecting multiple computers in one local network.
1973 – 1974
1973

Xerox Alto, the first computer supporting GUI, is released

A decade before the Apple Lisa, Xerox releases the Xerox Alto. It is the first commercially available computer supporting a Graphical User Interface (GUI).
1973
1975

Founding of Microsoft

Bill Gates and Paul Allen found Microsoft with Gates as CEO.
1975
apple computer co first logo
1976

Founding of Apple

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak found Apple. That same year Apple releases the Apple I, the first computer with a single circuit board.
1976
michael shrayer electric pencil
1976

Release of the Electric Pencil

Michael Shrayer's Electric Pencil is the first word processor for home computers.
1976
apple ii
1977

Release of Apple II

Apple launches the Apple II computer in 1977. It is one of the first successful home computers and the first computer commercially sold by Apple.
1977
visicalc
1979

Release of the first spreadsheet computer program, VisiCalc

Software Arts releases VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet computer program and is a massive success. It is available exclusive for Apple II and considered its killer app.
1979
1981

IBM releases its first personal computer, which ran MS-DOS

IBM releases the Acorn personal computer in 1981, starting the PC era. The computer uses the MS-DOS operating system made by Microsoft.
1981
1981

Unveiling of the first commercial laptop

The Osborne Computer Corporation releases the Osborne 1, the first commercially available laptop. The laptop didn’t have a battery and had to be constantly plugged in a power socket.
1981
apple lisa
1983

Apple releases Apple Lisa

Apple Lisa is one of the first home computers that is GUI based. It was a relative flop, mostly thanks to its $10,000 price.
1983
1984

Apple releases the first Macintosh computer

Apple releases Macintosh in 1984 and the first computer to feature a mouse.
1984
1984

Launch of the first PDA

Psion Organizer is officially the first Personal Device Assistant (PDA). While looks more like a calculator itt features an electronic diary and address book.
1984
seiko rc 1000
1984

RC-1000 Wrist Terminal launches

Seiko launches the world’s first smartwatch with a small LCD screen and memo and calculator capabilities.
1984
microsoft windows 1
1985

Microsoft unveils Windows 1.0

Microsoft releases Windows 1.0 to run as a front end on top of MS-DOS 2.0.
1985
1985

Intel releases the 80386 processor

The 80386 is Intel’s first true 32-bit processor. It was considered extremely high-end CPU at the time and ran at 12-40 MHz.
1985
1985

Registration of the first dot-com domain

A company called Symbolics registers the first dot-com domain, symbolycs.com.
1985
1989

Launch of the GRIDPad 1900, the first commercially successful tablet computer

GRiD Systems releases the GRIDPad 1900, the first commercially successful tablet computer. The computer featured touchscreen and handwriting recognition.
1989
html code
1990

Invention of HTML

Tim Berners-Lee invents HTML (HyperText Markup Language), the building block of the internet.
1990
worldwideweb browser
1990

Launch of the first internet browser

Tim Berners-Lee creates the first internet browser for the NeXT computer. He calls it WorldWideWeb.
1990
microsoft office 1990 version 1
1990

Microsoft Office for Windows launches

The first Microsoft Office suite launches with Word, Excel, And PowerPoint for Windows 3.0.
1990
1991

Launch of the first commercial SSD

SunDisk creates the first commercially available Solid-State Drive (SSD). It had a 20 MB capacity and a price of around $1,000.
1991
1992

IBM releases the Simon Personal Calculator, the first smartphone

The Simon Personal Calculator features PDA functions but also takes calls. It was huge and featured a large, 4.5-inch monochrome touchscreen.
1992
1992

IBM announces the first ThinkPad laptop

IBM announces its new line of laptop computers dubbed ThinkPad. The ThinkPad line would later become one of the most popular laptop lines in the world.
1992
apple newton
1993

Apple releases the Apple Newton

The Apple Newton is the first to be commercially advertised as a PDA. It features a touchscreen and supported handwriting recognition. Its design inspires engineers for future PDA devices and smartphones.
1993
1993

Intel releases the first Pentium processor

The first Pentium processor is based on the P5 microarchitectur and starts one of the most popular CPU lines of all time.
1993
1993

Release of the NSCA Mosaic web browser

The NSCA Mosaic web browser is responsible for popularizing the Internet. It is the first web browser capable of showing images. It works on many platforms and supported multiple internet protocols.
1993
windows 95
1995

Windows 95 is unveiled

Windows 95 becomes a major commercial success and helps secure Microsoft's dominance in computer desktops.
1995
original google search first version
1997

Google Search launched

Larry Page and Sergey Brin launch the Google search engine and officially incorporate Google one year later.
1997
1999

Kyocera releases the first camera phone

The Visual Phone VP-210 debuts in Japan with a .11-megapixel camera and can store up to 20 photos.
1999
1999

Nvidia releases the GeForce 256

The GeForce 256 is the first commercially available consumer-grade graphics card and begins the GeForce line. It fully supports DirectX 7 and is marketed as “the world’s first GPU.”
1999
mac os x and windows xp
2001

Windows XP and Mac OS X launch

Apple launches the Mac OS X operating system first. It brings many improvements and new features and the name is still in use by Apple. Microsoft launches Windows XP the same year. This is arguably the most popular Windows OS ever.
2001
2002

Nokia releases first devices featuring Symbian S60 Operating system

The first worldwide popular smartphone OS is the Symbian S60. It is developed by Nokia and it made smartphones mainstream.
2002
2003

AMD introduces the Athlon 64, the first commercially available 64-bit processor

AMD releases the Athlon 64 to great success. The CPU outperforms the Pentium 4 and ran at a max clock speed of 3.2 GHz.
2003
2005

AMD and Intel release the first dual-core CPU aimed at the consumer market

Both AMD and Intel release their first mainstream dual-core processors. The key difference was that the Athlon 64 X2 was a native dual-core CPU while the Pentium D wasn’t.
2005
youtube first version
2005

Launch of YouTube

Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim found YouTube. The service sees massive growth during its first year. Google buys YouTube in 2006.
2005
2007

Amazon releases the first Kindle

Amazon releases the Kindle and revolutionizes the way we read books.
2007
original iphone version 1
2007

Apple unveils the first iPhone

It features a 3.5-inch screen and operating system made from the ground up for touchscreen. The device would popularize smartphones like no other smartphone before. Ultimately, the iPhone would become the most popular phone model in the world.
2007
2008

Google and HTC launch HTC Dream, the first Android phone

After acquiring Android in 2005, Google completely redesigns the operating system. Triggered by the success of the iPhone which featured a simple, touchscreen-based OS. Three years later Google releases the world’s first Android phone, the HTC Dream, also known as HTC G1. HTC, then the biggest smartphone manufacturer besides Apple, was responsible for the design and manufacture.
2008
2008

Apple releases the MacBook Air

Apple revolutionizes laptop design. The device doesn’t feature a DVD ROM, which became standard in the following years.
2008
2010

Apple releases the iPad

The iPad is predicted by many market analysts to bring doom to PCs. That doesn’t happen but tablet computers become a common thing in many households.
2010
2014 – 2015

Smartwatches resurface

While smartwatches existed since the 1980’s they only resurface now. The Moto 360 is one of the first successful models. Smartwatches enter the mainstream with the release of the first Apple Watch in 2015.
2014 – 2015
2015

Microsoft released Windows 10

Windows 10 quickly became the most popular OS in the world. Microsoft switches to the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model meaning Windows 10 could be the last version of Windows ever.
2015
2020

Apple announces iPad Pro with trackpad support

The iPad Pro has both trackpad and keyboard support. It could lead to tablets finally replacing laptops in the coming years.
2020

Image credits: Peter Hamer, Ken Thompson & Dennis Ritchie at PDP-11, CC BY 2.0

Goran Damnjanovic
Goran Damnjanovic
Goran is Levvvel's senior hardware writer. He studied psychology but found that video games and PC hardware were much more interesting. Over the years he's developed expertise in everything gaming tech related.
Goran Damnjanovic
Goran Damnjanovic
Goran is Levvvel's senior hardware writer. He studied psychology but found that video games and PC hardware were much more interesting. Over the years he's developed expertise in everything gaming tech related.

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