10 Surprising stats about the first computers

The first computers are nothing like the ones we know today. Modern computers have changed so much that it’s hard to believe that they started as massive machines that took up an entire room!

Here are ten surprising stats about the first computers:


  • The first computer never saw its completion.
  • A bombing raid destroyed the first fully-built programmable computer.
  • The first commercially available computer cost over 11 million dollars.
  • The first laptop computer weighed as much as a car tire.

1. The first computer never saw its completion

The Analytical Engine, designed by Charles Babbage in 1837, was the first machine to be considered a general-purpose computer. Its purpose was to perform any calculation an individual could do by hand. It used punch cards to input data and output results. While it could perform simple math, it was not programmable.

Charles Babbage was never able to build a working model of his machine due to a lack of funding. Babbage only managed to make a small part of the machine before he ran out of money.

2. The first computer programmer in history was a woman

Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, is considered the first computer programmer. In 1842, she wrote a program for the Analytical Engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. This program is in the appendix of Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s article titled “Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage.”

3. The first use of the word “computer” was in 1937

John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry developed the first programmable computer, the Atanasoff–Berry Computer (ABC), in 1937. The ABC is the first time anyone has used the word “computer” to refer to the calculating machine. It used vacuum tubes and could perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. However, it could not store programs.

Their machine, though, wasn’t actually built until 1973.

4. War saw the first use of computers

Engineers created the first computers for war purposes. One of the earliest examples was the Harvard Mark I, used to calculate artillery firing tables during World War II.

The Harvard Mark I could only perform about three calculations per second. The average laptop today can execute billions of calculations per second!

The Harvard Mark 1 computer team, developers of one of the first computers
Harvard Mark 1 computer team.

Image source: https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/633643/view/harvard-mark-1-computer-team-1944

5. A bombing raid destroyed the first fully-built programmable computer

Konrad Zuse designed and completed the first programmable computer in 1941. The Zuse Z3 machine used electromechanical relays and could store 64 programs of up to 4096 instructions.

A bombing raid during World War II destroyed the Zuse Z3, but Zuse went on to build other computers after the war.

6. The first electronic computer cost six million dollars

The first electronic computer was the ENIAC, completed in 1946. ENIAC stands for  Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer. It used vacuum tubes and occupied an area the size of a large 50ft by 30ft room. It could perform up to 5000 calculations per second.

The ENIAC was extremely expensive. It had cost around $400,000 to build, equivalent to over six million dollars today (in 2022)!

7. The first commercially available computer cost one million dollars

The first commercially available computer was the UNIVAC I, released in 1951 by the company UNIVAC. It could perform up to 1200 calculations per second and cost around one million dollars, equivalent to over 11 million dollars today!

The first customer of the UNIVAC I was the United States Census Bureau, which used it to process data from the 1950 census.

8. Microprocessors revolutionized computing

Before microprocessors,  computers used vacuum tubes, which were large, fragile, and consumed a lot of power. In 1971, Intel released the first microprocessor, called the Intel 4004. It was a four-bit microprocessor, and it could perform addition and subtraction.

In 1974, the first eight-bit microprocessor made its debut and could perform more complex calculations.

The first microprocessor-based computer was the Altair, developed in 1974. It used the 8080 microprocessor, and engineers could use machine code to program it.

9. The first home computer came with a cassette tape player

The Apple II cost $1,298 USD when it debuted in 1977. It came with a keyboard, a monitor, and a cassette tape player for storing programs. An Apple II owner could use it for various tasks, including playing games, writing letters, and balancing their checkbook.

The Apple II was very popular and was used by schools and businesses as well as at home. It spawned a range of new home computers, including the Commodore 64 and the IBM PC.

10. The first laptop computer weighed as much as a car tire

The first laptop computer was the Osborne I, released in 1981. It weighed approximately 25 pounds and cost $1795. It had a five-inch screen and used an eight-bit microprocessor.

An Osborne I, the first laptop computer

Image source: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-first-laptop-2011-6

Did you enjoy the stats about the first computers?

While the first computers were large, slow, and expensive, they paved the way for the small, fast, and powerful computers we have today. It’s incredible to think about how far they have come in such a short time!

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