This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Kitchen Table Computer

stibitz_1990

September 11, 1940: First Demonstration of Remote Computing

At a meeting of the American Mathematical Society in New Hampshire, Dr George Stibitz uses a telephone to send equations to be calculated and have the results sent to a ‘teleprinter’ installed at the meeting while being connected to a computer in New York.

George Robert Stibitz (April 20, 1904 – January 31, 1995) is internationally recognized as one of the fathers of the modern first digital computer. He was a Bell Labs researcher known for his work in the 1930s and 1940s on the realization of Boolean logic digital circuits using electromechanical relays as the switching element.

stibitz_1927     George_Stibitz

In November 1937, George, then working at Bell Labs, completed a relay-based calculator he dubbed the “Model K” which calculated using binary addition.

On a late evening of November 1937, George left his work place to go home, taking from the Bell stockroom two telephone relays, a couple of flashlight bulbs, a wire and a dry cell. At home he sat behind the kitchen table and started to assemble a simple logical device which consisted from the above-mentioned parts and a switch, made from a tobacco tin.

Model K

Model K

He soon had a device which proved to be the first relays binary adder, in which a lighted bulb represented the binary digit “1” and an unlighted bulb, the binary digit “0.” His wife Dorothea named it the K-model, after “kitchen table” on which he had assembled it. The next day Stibitz’s took the K-model to the Labs to show his colleagues, and they speculated on the possibility of building a full-size calculator out of relays.

Model K Replica

Model K Replica

Bell Labs subsequently authorized a full research program in late 1938 with Stibitz at the helm. Their Complex Number Calculator, completed January 8, 1940, was able to do calculations on complex numbers.

Complex Number Calculator

Complex Number Calculator

In a demonstration to the American Mathematical Society conference at Dartmouth College in September of 1940, Stibitz used a teletype to send commands to the Complex Number Calculator in New York over telephone lines. It was the first computing machine ever used remotely over a phone line!!

The site of the first long-distance communication of man and computer: McNutt Hall at Dartmouth College

The site of the first long-distance communication of man and computer: McNutt Hall at Dartmouth College

In his later years, George “turned to non-verbal uses of the computer”. Specifically he used a Commodore-Amiga to create computer art.

Commodore Amiga

Commodore Amiga

In a 1990 letter written to the department chair of the Mathematics and Computer Science department of Denison University he said:

“I have turned to non-verbal uses of the computer, and have made a display of computer “art”. The quotes are obligatory, for the result of my efforts is not to create important art but to show that this activity is fun, much as the creation of computers was fifty years ago.”

Some of Stibitz’s “Art”:

Dog

Dog

Dog Heckel

Dog Heckel

Dance

Dance

Einstein

Einstein

Barberry

Barberry

Jerry

Jerry

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