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<A Complete History Of Mainframe Computing ⁄ >

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Our trip down mainframe lane starts and ends, not so surprisingly, with IBM. Back in the 1930s, when a computer was actually a fellow with a slide rule who did computations for you, IBM was mainly known for its punched-card machines. However, the transformation of IBM from one of the many sellers of business machines to the company that later became a computer monopoly was due in large part to forward-looking leadership, at that time going by the name of Thomas Watson, Sr.

The Harvard machine was a manifestation of his vision, although in practical terms, was not a technological starting point for what followed. Still, it is worth looking at, just so we can see how far things have come.

It all began in 1936, when Howard Aiken, a Harvard researcher, was trying to work through a problem relating to the design of vacuum tubes (a little ironic, as you will see). In order to make progress, he needed to solve a set of non-linear equations, and there was nothing available that could do it for him. Aiken proposed to Harvard researchers there that they build a large-scale calculator that could solve these problems. His request was not well-received.

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