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

By Sophia Maddox | January 18, 2024

The U.S. Catches Up by Developing the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer

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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The Standards Eastern Automatic Computer, also called the Standards Electronic Automatic Computer and the National Bureau of Standards Interim Computer, was constructed by the U.S. National Bureau of Standards in 1950. Initially, the computer used 747 vacuum tubes, which researchers expanded to 1,500 tubes for amplification, inversion, and information storage on dynamic flip-flops. This 3,000-pound computer was the first to do logic, mostly with solid-state devices, and had 10,500 germanium diodes, which researchers eventually expanded to 16,000 diodes. Harry Huskey led the team that constructed this computer that could run programs taking over 100 hours to complete. It was one of the most reliable computers at the time of its construction.

The Standards Eastern Automatic Computer was the fastest computer available at the time. It could solve addition problems in about 864 microseconds and multiplication problems in about 2,980 microseconds.

John Backus and Team Forge the First High-Level Programming Language, FORTRAN

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According to John Backus, before his team developed FORTRAN, a computer programmer "had to employ every trick that he could think of to make the program run fast enough to justify the rather enormous cost of running it. And he had to do all of that by his own ingenuity because the only information he really had was the problem at hand, and the machine manual." He also pointed out that, sometimes, there was not even a manual. In addition, many computer programmers considered the information they had amassed highly guarded secrets that they would not share willingly.

In 1957, John Backus was working for IBM when he proposed to his superiors that the company develop a more practical alternative to assembly language that told computers what you wanted them to do. The development of FORTRAN eliminated the need to hand-code computer programs, helping to reduce startup costs. The program became widely accepted and was considered the standard for many decades.