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Originally Answered: What country invented the first computer in the world?
It depends on how you want to define computer. I am limiting this discussion to digital computers, and ignoring analog ones, which are a completely different beast.
England, 1837. Charles Babbage describes the plans for his Analytical Engine, a mechanical digital computer using punched cards as input which was only partially constructed. It included sequential control, branching and looping, and would have been Turing-complete. In 1843, Ada Lovelace developed an algorithm that would have enabled the Engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers, and is thus considered by some to be the world’s first computer programmer.
England, 1936. 99 years later, the principle of the modern computer is first described by computer scientist Alan Turing in his seminal paper, On Computable Numbers. However because of his work in World War II breaking German codes, he won’t be involved in the actual design of an electronic computer until the Pilot-ACE project (1950).
Germany, 1941. Konrad Zuse completes the Z3, the world’s first working electromechanical programmable digital computer. It included about 2000 relays, did 22-bit floating point arithmetic and was considered marginally Turing complete (it had looping but not conditional branching). The German Aircraft Research Institute used it to perform statistical analyses of wing flutter. The original Z3 was destroyed on 21 December 1943 during an Allied bombardment of Berlin.
US, 1942. John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry of Iowa State College (later University) develop the Atanasoff–Berry Computer (ABC), the first electronic digital computer. It used binary arithmetic, had about 300 vacuum tubes, and used capacitors fixed in a mechanically rotating drum for memory. The ABC was not programmable however, and was designed only to solve systems of linear equations. However 30 years later, it will be shown to have influenced the design of ENIAC, and thus invalidate the latter’s patents.
England, 1943. Tommy Flowers at Bletchey Park designs Colossus, considered to be the world’s first programmable electronic digital computer, although it was programmed by switches and plugs and not by a stored program. Like the ABC, it is also special-purpose and only used to break the German Lorenz cipher. It used 2400 vacuum tubes (valves in the UK). It had paper-tape input and was capable of being configured to perform a variety of Boolean logical operations on its data, but it was not Turing-complete. Ten were built.
US, 1945. John von Neumann authors First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC, in which he describes a computer architecture in which programs and data are located in the same address space. Now called von Neumann architecture, it is the model for all computers used today, except those used in many embedded systems which use Harvard architecture (program and data in separate memory spaces). The British computers EDSAC at Cambridge (1949) and the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (1948) are the first working computers that followed his design.
US, 1946. John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania design ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the world’s first general-purpose programmable electronic digital computer. It initially contained 17,468 vacuum tubes and used decimal rather than binary arithmetic. Punched cards were used for input and output.
ENIAC was intended to be used to computer artillery firing tables for the Ballistics Research Laboratory, but the first programs run were actually used to study the feasibility of a hydrogen bomb. It was Turing complete. However like the Colossus, it was initially programmed using switches and plugs (see photo above). A read-only memory was added in 1948, which was first used in April. Mauchly and Eckert will later go on to design UNIVAC I, the first commercial computer first produced in the US in March, 1951.
England, 1948. The Manchester SSEM (Small-Scale Experimental Machine) is developed as a testbed for using Williams electrostatic tubes as computer memory. It had a memory of only 32 words (32-bits each) and contained 550 vacuum tubes. It is considered by some to be the first world’s stored program electronic digital computer. It ran its first program out of electrostatic tube memory in June of 1948, but this was actually two months after ENIAC’s first demonstration of its read-only memory capability.
The SSEM’s successful demonstration quickly led to the construction of a more practical computer, the Manchester Mark 1. The first version was operational by April 1949, and it in turn led directly to the development of the Ferranti Mark 1, the world’s first commercially available general-purpose computer, beating out the UNIVAC I by one month (February, 1951).
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