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What Computers Looked Like the Decade You Were Born

The first models took up a whole room and did not even have a screen. From 29,000 pounds to 3 pounds, computers have come a long way.

Apple Macintosh SE Vintage Retro
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Computers have come a long way bit by bit (or byte by byte). The dawn of the computing era has been an iterative process; we didn’t get where we are overnight. Innovators from Charles Babbage to Steve Jobs have brought us to the user-friendly machines we know and love and rely on today. Here’s a timeline of computers and what they looked like the decade you were born.

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Dubbed the first inventor of the computer, Charles Babbage came up with the prototype of what he called his “Difference Engine.” In doing so, he established the two principles used in computers today: a central processing unit, or CPU, and memory.

1949 computer used by rocket scientists
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The first computers were so large, they took up an entire room. This photo depicts rocket scientists using a computer at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory. Norbert Wiener had just published the book Cybernetics, which introduced the topic of “artificial intelligence” the year before.

Universal Automatic Computer)
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The first commercial computer Univac was introduced and sold to the U.S. Census Bureau. Similar models of the 29,000 pound computer went on to be used mostly by the U.S military and by very large (and profitable) utilities and insurance companies. Computers were so expensive, few companies could afford them.

Scotland Yard And Home Office Run Computer
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The decade of the ’60s brought monumental change not only on the social justice scene but in the technology sector. By the late 1960s, computers were still found in businesses rather than homes but they were becoming smaller, and a screen was introduced to “monitor” the computer and interact with it. Pictured above, employees at the Scotland Yard, London’s police force, used this one to run case histories of thousands of criminals.

Calculators Computers
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Computer games didn’t become a thing until the ’70s, and even then they were fairly rudimentary (think Pong and Space Invaders). For the first time ordinary kids were able to play a game on a small, relatively cheap home computer or, as seen here, at the Computer Store. Computers had become small enough and inexpensive enough for families to afford—and they were being touted as indispensable for everything from playing games to doing your own income taxes, but not yet for email. Email was only being used by a few computer scientists at a tech company called Arpanet. In 1976 Queen Elizabeth II became the first head of state to send an email, using Arpanet.

Reed Saxon/AP/Shutterstock


The new Macintosh II computer, being shown here by Apple Computer chairman John Sculley, was among the first to be able to run programs written for personal computers. Around this time, hypertext markup language (A.K.A. HTML) had resurfaced from it’s initial inception in the 60’s. Without it, there’d be no “content,” no hyperlinks, and, thus, no ability for an ordinary person to “surf the web.”

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With the advent of web browsers like Netscape in the ’90s, computers started to be more integrated into everyday use. This decade saw the launch of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as America Online (AOL) and Prodigy, two early providers that gave users both internet access and a “walled garden” membership to things like news, weather, games, and chat rooms and “bulletin boards,” where they could communicate with other members. Computer classes began to be introduced into some school curriculums. Note that personal computers were super-slow then, compared to today. Here’s how to speed up a slow computer.
Man Takes His Work With Him
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In the 2000s, scaled down to about 6 pounds, computers became portable for the first time. No longer chained to their desks, people could take their work with them, like the man in this stock photo pictured “working” on his laptop on a hot day in London’s Kensington Gardens.

Apple's new MacBook Air computers
Bebeto Matthews/AP/Shutterstock


The future is here. Apple’s new MacBook Air is super lightweight, at just 2.75 pounds for the 13″ model. And thanks to “bluetooth technology,” we no longer need an ISP; we can pick up wireless anywhere it’s available. Screens are rich in color, and we can watch all our favorite movies and TV shows “on demand” from just about anywhere. We’re not waiting for a particular hour on a particular day of the week to view our favorite shows. Computers are evolving every day; are you? Here are 15 computer mistakes you should have stopped making by now.

Isabelle Tavares
Isabelle Tavares is a journalism graduate student at the Newhouse School of Syracuse University and former ASME intern for RD.com, where she wrote for the knowledge, travel, culture and health sections. Her work has been published in MSN, The Family Handyman, INSIDER, among others. Follow her on Twitter @isabelletava.