CALCULATING machines are as old as history, and punched-card control of machines dates back to the early eighteenth century when they were used in France to control looms used for weaving elaborate patterns. In England, Charles Babbage1 produced designs for a mechanical computer that were too far in advance of technology to produce a working machine. Babbage’s proposed ‘analytical engine’ of c. 1840 had an arithmetic unit and a memory and used punched cards, not only for input and output, but also to store programs capable of performing iterative calculations with conditional branching. It was only when the Mark I computer at Manchester University began working in 1948 that Babbage’s vision became reality. There is not time enough nor the space to go into the origins of the computer; those wishing to can try The Origins of Digital Computers, edited by B Randell, 3rd ed., Springer-Verlag (1982).
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