The Computer Revolution: From Room-Sized to Pocket-Sized

By Sophia Maddox | April 21, 2024

Meet the Architect Behind COBOL, Grace Hopper

Computers are an integral part of life. People use them to communicate with people who are important to them at work and home. Many people look up information that they want to learn on a computer. Others watch movies, play games or entertain themselves using computers. From early morning to late night, people rely on computer systems to help them stay organized.

While it is hard for most people to imagine life without computers, it hasn't always been that way. Here's a look at how people developed computers and their operating programs. Along the way, meet some people who influenced their development. You'll discover how computers went from filling entire rooms to being small enough to fit in your pocket.


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Hudson Valley One

After graduating from Yale University with a Doctorate in Mathematics, Grace Hopper gave up a teaching career at Vassar College to join the U.S. Navy. She worked on developing the Mark I computer at Harvard University and wrote a 500-page operator's manual for the Automatic Sequence-Controlled Calculator. After World War II, she became a research fellow at Harvard University before joining Eckert-Mauchly Corporation and assisting with developing the universal automatic computer.

By the mid-1950s, businesses faced a problem applying computers to their companies. They were spending about $800,000 on programming costs and $500,000 on hardware to run them. A group convinced the United States Department of Defense to tackle the problem. Grace Hopper and others solved the problem by writing Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL), allowing computers to understand words and numbers. She based COBOL on FLOW-MATIC language, which she developed first. While being modified a few times, it became the standard program all computers use.

The World's First Dynamic Random Access Memory Computer, the Intel 1103, Transforms the Industry

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In 1969, William Regitz of Honeywell started contacting companies looking for someone to share in developing a dynamic memory circuit containing a three-transistor cell that workers had developed. After being turned down by several companies, Intel became excited about the project and assigned Joel Karp to work with Regitz.

After developing the 1X, 2Y cell and creating the Intel 1102, Intel officials decided that a 2X, 2Y cell would work better, leading to the release of the 1103 in October 1970. This allowed manufacturers to move away from bulky magnetic-core random access memory and to refine previous transistor-based memory cell designs. R.H. Dennard, who designed the one-cell transmitter, said the development of this cell "allowed RAM to become very dense and inexpensive. As a result, mainframe computers could be equipped with relatively fast RAM to act as a buffer for the increasing amount of data stored on disk drives. This vastly sped up the process of accessing and using stored information."