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Discover the 9 Oldest Computers in The World

Vintage personal computer with keyboard on a desktop, outdated electronics concept

Discover the 9 Oldest Computers in The World

Computers have become a quintessential element of daily life in most societies. The advancements within recent years have made computers the accessible, helpful, and impressive tools that are absolutely necessary for a modern lifestyle.

However, much can be said about the way that this technology developed to bring about the computers that we know today. In today’s article, we’re going to take a walk through history to see just how far we’ve come from the early days of computing. We’ll start all the way back in Ancient Times and work our way up until the last World War. Let’s get into it!

Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism is said to be the world’s first computer. 2,000 years ago, the Greeks made the Antikythera Mechanism to predict astrological events and set dates for the Olympic Games. This impressive feat was a hand-powered analog computer that functioned beyond what most people would think of when they talk about that period.

It was found in a shipwreck in 1901, but unfortunately, being under the sea for so long destroyed a large majority of what the computer used to be. Now, historians and scientists alike have been analyzing the pieces of information they have to grasp a full picture of what the computer was like in its full form before the wreck.

For over 120 years, the Antikythera Mechanism perplexed historians. There was so little information, yet so much curiosity surrounding it that they wanted to learn more — but had little resources to do so until a piece of it was recovered. After that point, historians realized just how much weight the device had on the overall progression of society, not just technology or computing. Much of the Greeks’ culture revolved around astronomy and astrological predictions, but the Antikythera Mechanism proved to be much more than what its intended use had been.

The Greeks’ understanding of space and time was equal parts spiritual and scientific. Their deep fascination with the passage of time and its correlation to the planets made it possible for the modern calendar to be created, and this would not have been possible without the development of the Antikythera Mechanism. Hopefully, more curious historians can unlock deeper pieces of information held within this technological wonder. 

Z1

Dubbed the Z1, this computer was developed at the height of WWII. Programmer Konrad Zuse was the mastermind behind the world’s first programmable computer, using funding from his family to bring his idea to life. His first iteration of the Z1 was destroyed in 1941 during the historical Bombing of Berlin, but a Z2 and Z3 were created in its place, earning Zuse the title of the father of the modern computer.

This calculator set up a lot of what the following models of computers would look like for several decades. It would not be until a few decades later that computers were able to be used for multiple purposes. Instead, they were designed to solve one specific problem, usually based in mathematics, and typically for war.

If Zuse hadn’t quit his job in airplane construction in 1931, the rest of this list would not exist — nor would the computer that is being used to write this list. His background in airplane construction gave him the creative power necessary to build such an intense mechanical unit. He used very thin pieces of metal to construct his computer, and an electric motor from a vacuum cleaner kept it running. Sometimes, the world’s most impressive inventions were created by a stroke of luck and a ton of relentless optimism!

Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC)

Sometimes, delayed gratification is needed for society to fully appreciate great work. The ABC computer is one of those instances; John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry put their thinking caps on, collaborating to create one of the most innovative inventions of all time. Their major contribution to computer science was fully recognized after a lawsuit in 1973. Now, the ABC computer is properly credited as the world’s first automatic electric computer. The computer’s name comes from the names of the inventors.

The ABC was invented at Iowa State University, and the team behind it was a professor-student duo. Anastasoff’s goal was to improve pre-existing models of calculators and computers, which was common for tech progression at the time. He knew that devices like the IBM tabulator were capable of much more than what they were being used for.

Eventually, he grew so frustrated with his ideas that seemingly had nowhere to go that he took a personal road trip to the Iowa border to organize his thoughts. He was able to generate four concrete ideas, spending the next year bringing them to life. The State College approved a grant for $640, which was the perfect amount to get the job done.

Colossus Mark 1

WWII led to much advancement, including the creation of the impressive Colossus Mark 1. British intelligence needed a system like this to track German activity during the war. By the end of the war, 10 Colossus Mark 1 devices were being used by various military intelligence to track opponents’ activity. In 1975, information about the Colossus Mark 1 was spread, allowing people to marvel at and learn from its existence, pushing computing even further than the device’s initial mission. 

Unlike many other early computers, which are lost to the past, the Colossus has been rebuilt for us to enjoy today. From the early 1990s, Tony Sale, a British electronics engineer and computer programmer, dedicated his time to rebuilding the Colossus Mark 1 based on the declassified information that was revealed to the world. The project was completed in 2007, and in 2012, the workroom became available to the public. Now, the goal of the Colossus Mark 1 is to inspire future generations of engineers and computer programmers.

Harvard Mark 1

The biggest Texas Instrument calculators that your University Professor listed as a required tool cannot hold a candle to the gargantuan Harvard Mark 1. Initially, computers were designed to complete a specific goal. For example, the Colossus Mark 1 was created to track Hitler’s activity during World War II to hopefully get an advantage over him and stop his advances. The creation of the Harvard Mark 1 signified the first major step in the technological revolution. 

Its original name was the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, and it used punch cards to solve various kinds of problems — not just one. The computer’s release in 1944 was a considerable leap forward; this US Navy project amasses over five tons and extends over 50 feet long. Now, your Texas Instrument calculators can fit in the palm of your hand to do even more, but these couldn’t have existed without the Mark 1.  

ENIAC 1 (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer)

The ENIAC 1 could be held responsible for the development of the H-Bomb. During the Cold War, military intelligence needed a device that could help predict the likelihood of the bomb’s conception, and this miracle computer was able to do just that. This powerhouse machine was the world’s first general-purpose computer. 

Released on Valentine’s Day in 1946, the ENIAC 1 was developed by a team of women; these programmers weren’t recognized for their efforts in 1946, but thankfully, history has rewritten itself, and they are rightfully redeemed in the eyes of the tech world.

The ENIAC 6, as they are now known, have been inducted into the Women In Technology Hall of Fame for their contributions. Their groundbreaking creation was massive in size, but it was the most flexible piece of technology created to date. General-purpose computers would not look the way they do today without the ENIAC 1.

Manchester Mark 1

Just two years after the invention of the ENIAC 1, the Manchester Mark 1 took lessons from all of its predecessors and created something almost recognizable to most people of today. For example, this was the first known computer to operate using RAM (Random Access Memory) storage. These components are truly fascinating to look back on; it is here, at the development of the Manchester Mark 1, that people can really begin to see the makings of a computer that seems familiar.

Even looking at the body of this unit is reminiscent of tower computers that were significantly popular in 2000s home computing. This computer ran user-created programs, much like units that are in use today. Of course, the programs on the Manchester Mark 1 are far more remedial than anything on an iMac or PC, but these baby steps helped us discover the magic that existed within computing. 

Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) 

It’s hard to imagine the world’s fastest computer running at just 1 MHz today, but the Automatic Computing Engine did just that. Operating via user-created programs like the Manchester Mark 1, this computer gave more insight into what computers were capable of. There was much to be uncovered when the ACE was developed in 1950, but to imagine that development being made so early on is impressive enough on its own. 

Only three computers like it existed in the entire world when it was made. Alan Turing’s exceptionally impressive design would later go on to inspire the development of cryptocurrency. The first model of Turing’s design didn’t go exactly according to plan, but the journey of the machine proves that patience and trust in the process are crucial. Several decades after his death, Turing’s contributions to technology development are still being hailed as quintessential and groundbreaking.

Universal Automatic Computer 1 (UNIVAC 1)

In 1951, America’s Universal Automatic Computer 1 brought commercial computing to the United States for the very first time. The computer famously predicted Dwight D. Eisenhower’s win in the 1952 election, marking a significant turning point for life as we now know it in the United States. At this point, commercial computing was mostly reserved for business use. You would have an easier time operating data-analysis programs than a computer game or word processor. However, if the UNIVAC 1 didn’t exist, laptops and other modern computers wouldn’t, either.

There were legal and financial issues with the computer’s development, but the team behind it managed to come out of it relatively unscathed, completing the project under the first budget that had been proposed. While the developer’s company technically got bought out, this was still a better fate for them to have rather than the other potential option — which was, of course, the machine never fully coming to fruition and the developers fighting legal battles for years to follow. 

The computer’s most impressive achievement, the prediction of the outcome that Eisenhower would win the election, was a PR stunt meant to take attention away from the developers’ competitors, IBM. However, the stunt was successful, and the UNIVAC 1 is still hailed as a significant and important technological advancement.

Frequently Asked Questions

what is the oldest computer in the world

The Antikythera Mechanism is regarded as the oldest computer in the world. It was found on a Roman-era shipwreck near modern-day Greece and is thought to be up to 2,000 years old.

What was the first electronic computer?

The first fully electric, general-purpose computer was the ENIAC, created in 1945 at the University of Pennsylvania.

What was the first mass-produced computer?

Before personal computers took off in the 1970s, computers were mass-produced for business and scientific purposes. The first of these to be mass-produced was the IBM 650 Magnetic Drum Data-Processing Machine in the 1950s.

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