What Did Computers Look Like In The Past?

Created on Jan 19, 2017 by Kathy Pinna

Aren't you thankful that computers don't look and operate like they used to?

Of course, you're looking at this from your desktop computer, your laptop - or even more likely your phone. These are photos of some of the early "computers" from the past, and the people who used machines that are radically different from what we know today.

The advantage of these computers? Before the internet, they couldn't be hacked!

Discover what computers looked like in the past: the evolution from human calculators through the introduction of early modern computer technology.

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A Visual History of Computers moment please

Computing Division, 1924

At least they had (very large!) adding machines.

Mabel Roy Mouton

One of the NASA "computers", she went on to become the Assistant Chief of Research Programs.

Harvard computers, 1889

Click on this photo to read about the astronomy department "computers" in the 1880's and how they shined.


Even 1993 looks retro!

1993 Vandenberg Air Force Base.

1965 school

Typewriters, not keyboards. Remember typing classes?

Learning to compute, 1916

Katherine Johnson

Featured in the film "Hidden Figures", Katherine was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. She is still alive.


Mary Jackson

Mary was a computer and then an engineer at NASA.

Dorothy (Johnson) Vaughan

The acting head of the West Area computers at NASA (an African American couldn't become the official head), Dorothy went on to become a computer programmer.

Oh, the paper!

Computer print-outs in 1976. Are those checks??

Computing division

1920's computers figuring out soldiers' bonuses.

1997 Amrak

And this small area is now the hub of Amtrak activity.

Charles Babbage

He is known as the father of the computer.



Even 15 years ago seems retro in the computer world!

IBM digital computer model 7090 - 1965

In 1960, this system sold for $2.9 million or rented for $63,500 a month - about half a million dollars today!

Science fiction?

Contrast this 1995 photo to the ENIAC computer which was the size of a house!

John Glenn's first flight

On February 20, 1960, John Glenn was the first US astronaut to circle the earth. This is a graphic showing his flight (shown on tv). Not quite CGI graphics!

Animation of the inside of John Glenn's space capsule

Again, not quite CGI - let alone HDTV!

And a new era begins!

Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple, in 1980. The Apple I was launched in 1976.

Jobs & Wozniak, 1975

Apple computers getting their start.

The 2016 film "Hidden Figures" tells the story of a group of African American women who were "computers" (people who computed numbers) for NASA. In a time before the computers that we know today, these (mostly) women took on the task of calculating the complex numbers that allowed our first astronauts to travel in space.

In 1822, Charles Babbage conceived of (but never built) a steam powered machine that could compute numbers; It would take more than a century until the first mechanical computer was actually created. In 1946, the ENIAC was built - it took 1800 square feet to house it. In the meantime, human beings were used to calculate numbers - and they mostly included female mathematicians, who were considered more suited to routine tasks. (Yes, discrimination against women didn't only include the lack of equal pay and the inability to vote!)

Click "Next Page" to continue your journey through time, decades before computers were a reality.

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