February has been an exciting month in hardware history—everything from the founding of one of the most successful computing companies in the world to the first time a computer won a game of chess against a champion. Here is this month’s hardware history roundup.

1924 - IBM Established

IBM’s true history dates back a decade and a half before 1924 when the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) was founded in 1911. CTR was a holding company for the Tabulating Machine Company, the Computing Scale Company of America, the International Time Recording Company, the Computing Scale, and the Bundy Manufacturing Company. Across all four companies, CTR employed over 1,300 employees in the USA and Canada.

CTR was the OG of mega tech companies, specializing in business solutions such as employee time-tracking systems. At its peak, the company brought in $20 million in revenue in 1920 (approximately $250 million adjusted to today's dollars).

On February 14th, 1924, CTR was renamed to International Business Machines (IBM) and expanded its product lineup to include office machines such as electric typewriters. It wasn’t until the 1940s when IBM began to expand into computer technology, a time when programming was done by cards. In 1960, the IBM Model 360 mainframe was released, propelling IBM into a prosperous two decades over the 1970s and 1980s.

 

Programming the IBM 360 mainframe. Image courtesy of IBM.

 

Only six years shy of its centennial (or seven years past, depending if you count the company’s time as CTR), IBM is still a major tech player that has survived serious transformations and paradigm shifts in the computing world.

 

1935 - First RADAR System Demonstrated

RADAR, which stands for RAdio Detection and Ranging, was a concept with origins dating back to the late 1800s with experiments by Heinrich Hertz. Hertz was able to demonstrate that radio waves could bounce off of metallic surfaces and refract through dielectric materials.

In 1904, Christian Hülsmeyer used this concept and built a detection system that could be used to prevent collision between ships in foggy conditions. Hülsmeyer demonstrated this system to the German Navy but did not take particular interest in it.

However, World War II would spur many nations to develop new technologies for defense. Among them was the use of radio propagation, which several countries simultaneously realized could be used to detect enemy aircraft or ships in cloudy or foggy conditions. The USA, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, and the USSR all began exploring this technology. However, in the United Kingdom, Robert Watson Watt, a meteorologist and radio expert, received support from the air ministry to develop a full RADAR demonstration system.

On June 17th, 1935, the RADAR system was successfully used to locate and track an aircraft. The UK then built a system of RADAR stations which remained operational around the clock until the end of the war.

 

Robert Watson-Watt. Image courtesy of Defense Tech.

 

The original system operated in the HF band at around 30 MHz, which we now know isn’t the most effective for RADAR. However, given the situation, a system that could successfully detect enemy aircraft at all was still incredibly valuable.

 

1946 - ENIAC Unveiled to the World

The ENIAC, which stands for Electrical Numerical Integrator and Calculator, was a US military project developed throughout World War II. As is typical for military technology of the time, the ENIAC was used for calculations relating to artillery firing trajectories for various weapons—and simulating the H bomb. 

It was a calculating machine that was comprised of over 17,000 vacuum tubes, weighed 30 tons, covered 1,800 square feet of space, and required 160 kW of power to operate. However, the ENIAC was 1000x faster than electromechanical machines and capable of 5,000 operations per second, although programming it and maintaining it took weeks.

 

ENIAC programmers. Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum.

 

On February 14th, 1946, the ENIAC was unveiled at the University of Pennsylvania by creators John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert. The ENIAC would continue to be used over the next decade and helped refine vacuum tube computing. 

You can read more about ENIAC and the history of logic in From Ancient Binary to Silicon Chips: Logic Through History.

 

1996 - Garry Kasparov, World Chess Champion, Loses to Deep Blue

For decades, humans have wanted to see how we measure up in comparison to AI. Before Deep Blue, there was ChipTest, developed in 1985 by scientists at Carnegie Mellon University. The computer was designed to play chess, performing 50,000 move searches per second, and was tested during the North American Computer Chess Championship.

In 1988, a new chess-playing computer was developed called Deep Thought, capable of performing 720,000 move searches per second. Deep Thought won the World Computer Chess Championship in 1989. After the team graduated, they were hired by IBM to continue development of chess-playing computers with the goal of building a system that could defeat a world-class chess champion. 

The project was renamed to Deep Blue and chess Grandmaster Joel Benjamin joined the team. Deep Blue would become a powerful computer, eventually placing 259th on the TOP500 list of most powerful supercomputers, and was massively parallel. Deep Blue would eventually be capable of 200 million move searches per second.

On February 10th, 1996, Deep Blue was finally put to the ultimate test by playing against world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. Deep Blue won the first match, but lost three and drew two against Kasparov. However, this still marked the first time a computer won a game against a world chess champion.

 

Kasparov and Deep Blue during the rematch in 1997. Image courtesy of Brittanica

 

In 1997, Deep Blue and Kasparov had a rematch—Deep Blue won the entire game and Kasparov accused IBM of cheating by using human intervention, which the company denied. The chess champion believed that many of the moves taken by Deep Blue were too creative. Soon after, IBM discontinued the Deep Blue project and dismantled the chess computer.

 


 

Want to see more hardware history? Let us know what your interests are in the comments below!

 

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