Saturday, June 7, 2014

19th Century Computers...No Way! PLUS a giveaway!

By Debbie Lynne Costello

When most people think of the word computer, they think of it being a relatively modern term. You might be surprised to learn that the word computer dates back as far as the 1600's! In 1640 the word computer meant "one who calculates." Which of course referred to a person. Had you for a minute there didn't I?

But in the late 19th century the word computer evolved to a different definition because people realized that machines never tired and they could work faster and more accurately than any human ever could. So in the 1900's the word computer took on a whole new meaning-- "calculating machine."

Now granted, these were not desk tops, laptops, tablets or the cool little phone computers we stick in our pockets, on our belts, or in our pocketbooks and seem to be lost without. But none-the-less these inventions were a stepping stone to the technology we have today.


Charles Babbage, an English engineer is considered "the father of the computer." In 1822, Babbage made the Difference Engine to help aid in navigational calculations. This machine is considered to be the first automatic computing machine or engine and was able to compute multiple sets of numbers. What is really fascinating about this machine (remember we are talking the early 1800's) is that it also made hard copies of the results.



After working on the Difference Engine, Charles Babbage realized a more general design was possible. He began working on the Analytical Engine in 1833. The input and data would be supplied by punch cards. This machine was said to be a century ahead of its time. Unfortunately, due to funding, neither of Charles Babbage's computers were ever completed while he was alive.

However, in 1910, Charles' youngest son, Henry managed to complete a portion of the computer and it was able to perform basic calculations.





 A tide-predicting machine, invented by Sir William Thomson in 1872, was the first modern analog computer. Thomson continued to work on and improve his inventions. The picture to the right shows the third edition of his tide-predicting design.

There are many more computers invented by different men in the late 1900's showing the ingenuity of the men from this century.




Moving on to the 20th century

In 1936 German inventor Konrad Zuse came on the scenes developing a computer in his parents living room. By 1941, he had the worlds first working electromechanical, fully programmable, automatic digital computer. (Okay, just so you know I am not a computer wiz and though this sounds very fascinating, I had to ask my husband what it meant.)

Tommy Flowers who worked for the Post Office Research of London began to explore using electronics for the telephone exchange in the 1930s. Little did he know that his interest in technology would result in world changing events.

The Lorenz SZ were German cipher computers used in World War II by the German Army and were
developed by C. Lorenz. These new codes were nearly impossible for the Allied Forces to crack.  They needed help breaking these messages if they were going to win the war.

World War II brought new needs for the use of computers. When the need to crack the German encryption machine arose, Flowers was commissioned to build the Colossus to break the German's codes.On February 5, 1944, the Colossus was delivered to Bletchley Park and began working on its first message.

Just like computers today cause quandaries for many parents, the information Winston Churchill received from the Colossus gave him a dilemma that no man wants to face. Does he reveal his hand to the Germans and warn his people of an upcoming raid or does he sacrifice the few for the many?







Answer one of these questions to be entered in my giveaway When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey:
So what do you think? Do think these early machine are really computers or do you think they are just mechanical machines? What makes a computer a computer in your opinion? Don't forget to leave your email addy so I can contact you. Good luck! Giveaway ends June 10th.







Debbie Lynne Costello is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She attended Heritage University, where she studied Journalism and worked in the editing department.


She has a short story coming out in Guideposts 2014, Christmas Cup of Cheer. She has completed five full length novels set in Charleston and Savannah areas in the late 19th century along with one Medieval, and is now seeking homes for them.


She and her husband have four children and two grandbabies. They live in upstate South Carolina with their family. Debbie Lynne has raised Shetland sheepdogs for eighteen years. In her spare time, she sews, paints, knits, camps, and enjoys the grandbabies.

19 comments:

  1. Do think these early machine are really computers or do you think they are just mechanical machines? I think they are, everything that gets a start is primitive to begin with and then over time is upgraded, polished, and made to work more efficiently. I never knew they had such machines in WWII - thanks for the history lesson! It is neat how they went from the 19th century to the 21st century and things have changed so much with computers! I have been wanting to read this book by Bill Coffey - thank you for offering it as a giveaway! Blessings! Lori

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    1. Hey Lori! Thanks for coming by. I'm with you. I think they are computers, too. I was shocked when I learned that the 19th century had computers!

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  2. My answer is yes. i do believe this was the beginning of the computer. the codes were very important in the war. it was much faster than messengers traveling. then is America got some Indians who broke the codes and the enemy could never break our codes. it was in Indian language. yes so many wanted to say the Indians were not smart. The machines just kept getting better until those we have now. And, aren't we thankful for that?

    Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com










    indian language

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    1. Yes! I am so thankful. Its hard to know what would have happened if those computers were never invented. Our world would be much different. Good luck!

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  3. I tried to leave a comment before but not sure it went through. If this is a duplicate, just delete it. I'm not sure I'd call the early calculating machines computers -- at least in the way we use the word today. Seems like they're more like calculators than computers. Definitely forerunners, though.

    ckbarker at gmail do com

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    1. Thanks for coming by Cheryl. Amazing how they progressed through the years.

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  4. I think they were the very first start of computers. This post was so interesting. Thank you for the post and the giveaway.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

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    1. Hey Melanie. Thanks for coming by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I found really interesting when I stumbled on it. Good luck!

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  5. It seems logical to me that anything that computes would be a computer.
    may_dayzee(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Good point, Kay! Thanks for coming by and good luck!

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  6. I feel that every early predictive device of any kind was a stepping stone for the computers of our day. Progress in technology builds upon itself. Now, I'm not saying I like all the changes!!! But progress innovates progress....
    bcrug(at)myfairpoint(dot)net

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    1. I am so with you, Connie! There are certainly some changes I don't like either!

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  7. A computer is only as good as the person behind it. In the early days I believe that what they called a "computer" was only a mechanical device but haven't we come a long way since the abacus.
    Thanks for the giveaway!
    Janet E.
    von1janet(at)gmail(dot)com

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  8. I definitely think these were computers-they calculated numbers and codes- as they were the beginnings of what we call computers today. sharon, wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Hey Sharon. Those are my thoughts, too. A computer computes and those certainly did. Good luck!

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  9. Connie R won When Mockingbirds Sing. Congratulations!

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  10. Actually, Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter, is often attributed with having invented the first (precursor to) the modern computer. That's mid 1800s! Amazing, huh? Without her work as a foundation, I don't think Babbage would have gotten much further.

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