The Amazing World of Early Computing

Hello! Have you ever thought about how important computers are in our lives? If they all suddenly switched off, we would be in big trouble. Cars would crash, planes would fall, and our whole world would be in chaos.

But don’t worry, that won’t happen. In fact, computers are getting smarter and more powerful. This is because of something we call computing, and it’s not new. People have been doing it for thousands of years.

Let’s take a journey back in time to understand how computing started and why it’s so important to us.

Table of Contents

Our First "Computers”

The first “computer” was actually a tool called an abacus, invented about 4500 years ago. The abacus is a little like a hand-operated calculator. It helps you add and subtract big numbers without getting mixed up.

There were many other clever tools invented for computing, like the astrolabe for finding your way at sea, and the slide rule for multiplication and division. These tools made hard calculations easier and quicker.

The Meaning of "Computer"

Credit: CrashCourse

Did you know that in the past, a “computer” was actually a person, not a machine? These were people who did calculations. Sometimes they used machines to help, but often they just used their brains. This job existed until the late 1800s, when the meaning of “computer” began to change.

The Step Reckoner

One early computing device was the Step Reckoner, built by a man named Gottfried Leibniz in 1694.

It worked a bit like the odometer in your car that adds up the miles you’ve driven.

The Step Reckoner could do addition and subtraction, and with some clever tricks, also multiplication and division.

The Problem with Early Computers

Even with tools like the Step Reckoner, computing could still take a long time. If you had a really tough problem, it could take hours or even days to find the answer. Also, these machines were expensive and not many people could use them.

The Need for Faster Computing

In the 1800s, the U.S. government had a big problem. They needed to count all the people in the country every ten years, as required by the Constitution. But the country was growing so fast, they couldn’t count everyone quickly enough.

The Tabulating Machine

To solve the problem, a man named Herman Hollerith invented a machine called the tabulating machine.

It was much faster than earlier machines. It used punch cards to represent data.

When you inserted a card into the machine, it would count the punches and add them up.

The Birth of IBM

Hollerith’s machine was a big success. It finished the 1890 census in just two and a half years, saving a lot of time and money. Seeing how useful computing could be, Hollerith started a company called The Tabulating Machine Company. This company later became IBM, which is now one of the biggest computer companies in the world.


So you see, computing has been around for a long time. It started with simple tools like the abacus and grew into the powerful computers we use today. As computers get smarter and more powerful, who knows what amazing things they’ll be able to do in the future!


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