Mechanical Computers

Humans were not the only computers.

In competition to the mathematicians were the Engineers. 

These guys were building machines that could do the Math for them.  

In 1642, Pascal, age 19 created this mechanical machine to help his accountant father to do basic additions.

The pascal adding machine

The Pascal adding machine

The mechanism used in this machine was still used in car odometers until recently. 


The Leibniz’ Stepped Reckoner, 1675:

Leibnitz Stepped Reckoner

Leibnitz Stepped Reckoner

This was the first machine to add, subtract, multiply and divide. All these operations were done by a the combination of cleverly setup mechanical gears. 


Industrial and French Revolutions:

By the time of  the french revolution, the French guys were worried of losing their looming business to the British.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution

They put holes with cards on paper and programmed looms for looming clothes – hence they did not need loom workers. Just automated machines!

The looms in france

The programmable looms in France


This particular guy Jacquard convinced Napoleon to fund his work.

Jacquard and Napolean

Napoleon funded Jacquard

Meanwhile in the UK:


Father of modern computers:

Charles babbage father of modern computers

Charles Babbage – Father of modern computer


Charles Babbage,  was one of the smartest but he wasn’t an Engineer. His machine, which was one of the most funded projects; never worked. But his ideas were brilliant. The technology at that time was not enough to make his ideas come true. 

You can contribute to the Babbage Engine project here. 


Meanwhile in the USA:


Census in the USA was very very cumbersome and took lots of time and man power.

Census in the usa in 1800

Census in the USA in 1800


Counting people took 7 years by the 10th census in the US. So, guy named Hollerith invented the punched cards.

Electrical punch cards

Electrical punch cards

Later he upgraded his machines to electronically read the holes in the cards.


The birth of IBM

The birth of IBM

This need of the American Constitution results in a company called – International Business Machines (IBM).


The Mechanical Computer History Recap:


Mechanical computers history recap

Mechanical Computers History Recap


So, starting from Napoleon, Jacquard, Babbage, Hollerith, Voting machines and Bush – that’s the cycle we have made with Computer technology! 

The Harvard Mark 1

The Harvard mark 1 computer in 1944 was horribly complex. But, it was the best Mechano-Electriical Computer at that time. It had around a million mechanical and electrical components!  

Harvard Mark 1 Mechanical Computer

Harvard Mark 1 Mechanical Computer


How fast was this computer? Let us put you in the spot here, how much is 2 times 2? 

4, right? We were faster than this machine which took 4 seconds for doing multiplication. 


The most important aspect of this machine is – it had a Clock. This was a brilliant concept. The clock was the fastest gear in this machine and it was at constant motion all the time. This clock was used to synchronize the motion of other gears in the machine. 

The Clock in Harvard Mark 1

The Clock in Harvard Mark 1


The instructions were passed to the machine using a paper tape with punch holes in it. The clock punch holes were in the middle. Observe that the number of holes is the highest for the clock. 


More about clock:

The mobile phones these days have processors that work at around 2.2 Giga-Hertz. The computers have them working at around 3.3 Giga-Hertz. 

Computer Processor speed and performance

Computer Processor speed and performance


What this essentially means is that the clock signal in this processor is toggling at the rate of 3 billion times every single second!! That’s 9 zero’s after 3, every single second. 

This is what is called as the ‘frequency‘ of the electronic gadget. 3.1 GHz clock frequency means that around half a billion calculations are being made by the processor every second (assuming every instruction takes 6 clock cycles to be completed).


Mobile Processor speed and performance

Mobile Processor speed and performance


More frequency means more number of calculations being done every second and hence, better the performance.


Now you know why your computer is more powerful than your mobile phone!!