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Author Topic: First Electric Computer  (Read 584 times)
RJBowman
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« on: July 05, 2015, 10:24:58 pm »

I was curious and did a little looking, and found a photo of an experimental computing device built in 1937:



I can't find any text describing its workings, but it appears to be a device that adds to on-digit binary numbers using two electromagnetic relays. This is probably very similar to the "and" gate created by Tesla for his famous radio-controlled torpedo. The really important thing is that this simple proof-of-concept device was used to secure support from Bell Labs to build the first useful electro mechanical computer, Bell Labs Model I, completed in 1940.

But another thing I'd like to point out is that the electromagnetic relays that are the heart of this device were not state-of-the-art in 1937; relays were invented in the 1830s, and were used extensively in early electric telegraph equipment.

So if someone had had the vision to do it, there could have been a relay-based computer in the 19th century.
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Maets
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« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2015, 01:01:43 am »

Interesting design.  Definitely some steampunk potential for the electronically inclined.
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oldskoolpunk
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« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2015, 07:16:32 am »

There were early attempts in that direction. IBM worked on electromechanical computation for decades. Here's one of the good early machines, the Hollerith Model III.



1921 technology. This reads cards, can add, and has a printer. No subtraction or multiplication, though. Subtraction came in around 1927. 


Eckert's computing machine, 1934. This is three IBM machines interconnected with a "calculation control switch".

This little-known setup is the first known fully automatic numerical computation engine that did useful work. This gear could add, subtract, multiply, read from cards, print, and execute simple programs stored on cams.

Eckert went on to design the ENIAC, then formed Eckert-Mauchley Computer Corporation, which became UNIVAC.
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RJBowman
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« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2015, 07:29:58 am »

The early IBM machines could follow sequences of instructions, but performed calculations using old fashioned non-electric mechanical methods. The use or relays (switches) to represent numbers was the major innovation. It was quicker, and you could use flexible wires, rather than mechanical connections, to link machine components.
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Drew P
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« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2015, 02:33:32 pm »

No more info on the 1937 thingy?
I don't like the 2 brackets, nor the small light bulbs nor the 'modern' stripped wire.
I know it may be a recreation, just not so 'period'.
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RJBowman
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« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2015, 04:01:43 pm »

This was a quick demo model that the inventor put together on his kitchen table. The original might have had cloth-insulated wire instead of vinyl, and the two metal brackets might not quite look period, and maybe the two flashlight bulbs were originally the threaded type, but overall this is pretty dead-on for what an experimental apparatus from the 1930s would have looked like.
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Siliconous Skumins
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« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2015, 07:01:01 pm »

No more info on the 1937 thingy?
I don't like the 2 brackets, nor the small light bulbs nor the 'modern' stripped wire.
I know it may be a recreation, just not so 'period'.



This was a quick demo model that the inventor put together on his kitchen table. The original might have had cloth-insulated wire instead of vinyl, and the two metal brackets might not quite look period, and maybe the two flashlight bulbs were originally the threaded type, but overall this is pretty dead-on for what an experimental apparatus from the 1930s would have looked like.



Apparantly Stibitz himself built this replica around 1980. So yeah, its about as close as you can get to orignal, and still be way off at the same time...  Cheesy


More info I found on the 'Model K' (as in "kitchen table adder" after where it was made) device:

Quote
At Bell, Stibitz was a member of a group of mathematicians who designed relay switching equipment – the same kind of on/off electromechanical switches that Zuse employed in his calculators. Bell scientists had long been aware of the similarity between the action of these humble devices and the zeros and ones of binary math, but it had never occurred to them that relays could also be used to perform symbolic logic – until the inquisitive Stibitz came along. “I had observed,” Stibitz recalled thirty years later, “the similarity between the circuit paths through relays and the binary notation for numbers and had an idea I wanted to work out….

    That weekend I fastened two of the relays to a board, cut strips from a tobacco can and nailed them to the board for input; bought a dry cell and a few flashlight bulbs for output, and wired up a binary adder. I wired the relays to give the binary digits of the sum of two one-digit binary numbers, which were entered into the arithmetic unit by pressing switches ma de of the metal strips. The two-flashlight-bulb output lighted up to indicate a binary 1 and remained dark for binary 0.

    I took my model into the labs to show to some of the boys, and we were all more amused than impressed with some visions of a binary computer industry. I have no head for history. I did not know I was picking up where Charles Babbage in England ha d to quit over a hundred years before. Nor did it occur to me that my work would turn out to be part of the beginning of what we now know as the computer age. So, unfortunately, there were no fireworks, no champagne.

 

More:  http://ds.haverford.edu/bitbybit/bit-by-bit-contents/chapter-four/4-1-stibitz-calculators-at-bell-labs/


Quote
Origin of the term "digital"

In April, 1942, Stibitz attended a meeting of a division of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), charged with evaluating various proposals for fire-control devices to be used against Axis forces during World War II. Stibitz noted that the proposals fell into two broad categories: "analog" and "pulse." In a memo written after the meeting, he suggested that the term "digital" be used in place of "pulse," as he felt the latter term was insufficiently descriptive of the nature of the processes involved. The word "digit" at the time had two common meanings: the ten fingers of one's hands, and the numbers 0 through 9. The adjective "digital" was also in use, although it was not as common. For example, among physicians, a "digital" examination referred to the use of a doctor's finger to palpate part of the body. Stibitz's memorandum was the first known use of the term "digital" to refer to calculating machinery.
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Drew P
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« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2015, 03:06:40 am »

Ah, I see. Very good then, thanks.
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