© 2017

Calculation and Computation in the Pre-electronic Era

The Mechanical and Electrical Ages

  • Offers an introduction to the history of computing during the ‘first’ (of steam) and the ‘second’ (of electricity) industrial revolution

  • Suggests that the computing revolution and the industrial revolution were the same, with the one making the other possible and vice versa

  • Proposes that analog and digital computing technology is inseparable, with their alleged difference actually resulting from either full or restricted view of the computing process


Part of the History of Computing book series (HC)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiv
  2. Aristotle Tympas
    Pages 1-5
  3. Aristotle Tympas
    Pages 7-38
  4. Aristotle Tympas
    Pages 39-73
  5. Aristotle Tympas
    Pages 177-216
  6. Aristotle Tympas
    Pages 217-218
  7. Back Matter
    Pages 219-243

About this book


Although it is popularly assumed that the history of computing before the second half of the 20th century was unimportant, in fact the Industrial Revolution was made possible and even sustained by a parallel revolution in computing technology. An examination and historiographical assessment of key developments helps to show how the era of modern electronic computing proceeded from a continual computing revolution that had arisen during the mechanical and the electrical ages.

This unique volume introduces the history of computing during the “first” (steam) and “second” (electricity) segments of the Industrial Revolution, revealing how this history was pivotal to the emergence of electronic computing and what many historians see as signifying a shift to a post-industrial society. It delves into critical developments before the electronic era, focusing on those of the mechanical era (from the emergence of the steam engine to that of the electric power network) and the electrical era (from the emergence of the electric power network to that of electronic computing). In so doing, it provides due attention to the demarcations between—and associated classifications of—artifacts for calculation during these respective eras. In turn, it emphasizes the history of comparisons between these artifacts.

Topics and Features:

  • motivates exposition through a firm historiographical argument of important developments
  • explores the history of the slide rule and its use in the context of electrification
  • examines the roles of analyzers, graphs, and a whole range of computing artifacts hitherto placed under the allegedly inferior class of analog computers
  • shows how the analog and the digital are really inseparable, with perceptions thereof depending on either a full or a restricted view of the computing process
  • investigates socially situated comparisons of computing history, including the effects of a political economy of computing  (one that takes into account cost and ownership of computing artifacts)
  • assesses concealment of analog-machine labor through encasement (“black-boxing”)
Historians of computing, as well as those of technology and science (especially, energy), will find this well-argued and presented history of calculation and computation in the mechanical and electrical eras an indispensable resource.  The work is a natural textbook companion for history of computing courses, and will also appeal to the broader readership of curious computer scientists and engineers, as well as those who generally just have a yearn to learn the contextual background to the current digital age.


The Slide Rule The Artificial Line Military Calculating Artifacts Pre-Electronic Calculating Artifacts Pre-Electronic Computing Artifacts

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.National and Kapodestrian University of AthensAthensGreece

About the authors

Dr. Aristotle Tympas is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the National and Kapodestrian University of Athens, Greece.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Calculation and Computation in the Pre-electronic Era
  • Book Subtitle The Mechanical and Electrical Ages
  • Authors Aristotle Tympas
  • Series Title History of Computing
  • Series Abbreviated Title History of Computing
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Springer-Verlag London Ltd. 2017
  • Publisher Name Springer, London
  • eBook Packages Computer Science Computer Science (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-1-84882-741-7
  • Softcover ISBN 978-1-4471-7410-3
  • eBook ISBN 978-1-84882-742-4
  • Series ISSN 2190-6831
  • Series E-ISSN 2190-684X
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XIV, 243
  • Number of Illustrations 23 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics History of Computing
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“Tympas (National and Kapodistrian Univ. of Athens, Greece) traces the story of analog computing devices in the preelectronic (or pre-digital) era, from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. … Tympas's meticulous attention to detail is demonstrated by the extensive references provided at the end of each chapter. All the references are united in a cumulative reference section at the end of the book. There is also a well-constructed, useful index. … Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” (J. Beidler, Choice, Vol. 56 (1), September, 2018)
“In this fascinating, original work, Tympas indispensably intertwines the histories of analog and digital computing, showing them to be inseparable from the evolution of social and economic conditions.” (Prof. David Mindell, MIT)