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A History of Modern Computing

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A History of Modern Computing

MIT Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

That shiny computer on your desk is the newest child in a family lineage of computing machines going back to 1945. Plunge into this history to meet its grandpa (the UNIVAC) and grandma (the 1975, $400 Altair Personal Computer kit).

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Paul E. Ceruzzi, curator of the National Air and Space Museum, describes the development of computing, starting with its earliest history. He examines the beginnings of commercial computing from 1945 to 1956 and traces the history of computer hardware and software, dividing these developments into five- to 10-year time periods. His book emphasizes technical development, rather than personalities or business dynamics, a focus that contributes to its fairly dry, academic style. With this caveat, getAbstract recommends the book primarily to those with a technological bent, such as professionals in operations and computer sciences, and academics in the field. However, if you are interested in the subject, you’ll love this. Ceruzzi provides an informative and comprehensive saga including extensive footnotes and a bibliography that runs about 80 pages.


1945-1956: The Birth of Computing

Before 1945, the word “computer” referred to a person who solved equations on an electronic digital computer, which was invented for that purpose. The term only began to refer to the machinery itself around 1945. At that point, the development of the computer was spurred by a climate of prosperity and the strong US consumer market that emerged after World War II. The Cold War against the Soviet Union and policy-makers’ concern with building military strength contributed to the development of increased computer power, such as the ENIAC and other military projects and weapons systems. The military and other government agencies were the first customers for the commercial computers.

Commercial computing emerged from 1945 to 1956. The early developers included the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, led by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. The firm, which was soon absorbed as a division of Remington Rand, initially developed the ENIAC, an electronic calculator, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering. It was created to calculate US Army firing tables, which required repeatedly solving complex mathematical...

About the Author

Paul E. Ceruzzi is curator at the National Air and Space Museum and the Department of Space History. He is the author of Beyond the Limits: Flight Enters the Computer Age.

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