Computers 4: History: Origins

Computer History Under Construction

The history of Memory:  Random Access Memory (RAM)  Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) Non-Volatile Memory| Integrated Circuits, (IC’s), Chips, Microchips and  Printed Circuit Boards (PCB’s)  – Motherboards | Magnetic Data Recording Hard Disk Drive HDD |  Optical Laser Recording (CD, DVD), Laser Disk, Video Disk | Digital Transmissions Data and Recording | OCR Character Recognition | Fiber Optics | Inkjet, Daisy Wheel, Xerox and other printers


“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” Carl Sagan


For many the concept of the computer has become what is scientifically referred to as a counter-intuitive – a thing not easily understood, something not intended to be understood. Like Einstein’s relativity theories and quantum mechanics it has taken-on an almost magical quality in the eyes of those who, as someone told me the other day, “don’t have the time to ponder such things”. It has been given qualities that only exist in the imaginations of science journalists and science fiction writers – things like intelligence and quantum power. Such things are pie-in-the-sky, jam tomorrow inducements to ‘keep you watching this space’. I am not alone in believing that computers don’t think and that quantum computers don’t exist. But if you know of one that does exist, let me know and I’ll be glad to change this page. I’m not holding my breath.

This page is about the origins of the vital components that make-up a computer and, if possible, who was responsible for the original idea. The reader will find some of the below at odds with the official version, but its all referenced. The page is intended to be a reference work for those with an interest in a true as possible and interesting history of the computer. An ongoing project to be updated as information becomes available.



RAM  Random Access Memory and DRAM Dynamic Random Access Memory

If there is one thing that delayed the development of the computer and other technologies like flat screen TV, it has to be memory. The struggle to find a compact, reliable memory went-on for years. But as we will see, the answer had been there, in plain sight for all to see, maybe even since 1888.

The Williams Tube Cathode Ray Tube Memory

The Williams Tube Cathode Ray Tube Memory

Developed 1946 to 1947 the Williams tube, or the Williams–Kilburn tube after engineers/inventors Freddie Williams and Tom Kilburn – the first random-access digital storage device? (Weeeell no, not really)

Wiki: The Williams tube depends on an effect called secondary emission. When a dot is drawn on a cathode ray tube by a beam of fast-moving electrons, the area of the dot becomes slightly positively charged and the area immediately around it becomes slightly negatively charged, creating a charge well. The charge well remains on the surface of the tube for a fraction of a second, allowing the device to act as a computer memory. The lifetime of the charge well depends on the electrical resistance of the inside of the tube…Each Williams tube could store about 1024–2560 bits of data.

The Wiki description continues with several paragraphs of waffle without actually telling us how it works; the below almost admits to the same bemusement: In December 1953, Electronics (magazine) described the CRT computer memory array developed by US National Bureau of Standards. Even if Williams and Kilburn explained the operation of their system, basing (it) upon the well-known theory of secondary-emitting surfaces, there were some not well-explained phenomena.
See also: for a similar description.

What is needed for such a memory device is a delay and refresh: If the reader considers the mechanical automatic telephone system of the day and dialling a number that is not answered, that keeps ringing the same number, it is not so difficult to imagine a memory in the telephone system. The number circulates around the system until refresh. The single plate of the Williams Tube cannot read characters on the cathode ray display and seems to be refreshed by the charge of new characters drawn on the screen, be it a positive dash or a negative dot. The binary is positive or negative, fed to the computer unchanged. You see, like Wiki and I have no idea how the Williams tube worked.

1888 Almon Brown Strowger, funeral director and entrepreneur, invented the first commercially successful automatic telephone exchange in 1888 and maybe the inspiration for computer memory. 🙂 I don’t think anyone knows!

Delay Line Memory and another first computer
1919 Mercury Delay Line (monstrosity)

Mercury delay-line memory

Wiki: John Adam Presper “Pres” Eckert, Jr. (April 9, 1919 – June 3, 1995) was an American electrical engineer and computer pioneer. With John Mauchly he invented the first general-purpose electronic digital computer (ENIAC), presented the first course in computing topics (the Moore School Lectures), founded the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation, and designed the first commercial computer in the U.S., the UNIVAC, which incorporated Eckert’s invention of the mercury delay line memory.       Just one of a number of “first computers”. tells us: If you had a hard time remembering things for very long, and happened to live in a cave, you could just shout out what you didn’t want to forget, and a few seconds later you would hear an echo to remind you. Of course, the problem with this is that an echo doesn’t stick around for long, so you would have to shout again every time that you heard the echo, so that you could remember again in a few seconds. Assuming you could keep this up, you would never forget your idea.
This is how a refresh system works, but in the case of delay lines you had to shout into a long tube of mercury.

Wiki: Analog delay line technology had been used since the 1920s to delay the propagation of analog signals. When a delay line is used as a memory device, an amplifier and a pulse shaper are connected between the output of the delay line and the input. These devices recirculate the signals from the output back into the input, creating a loop that maintains the signal as long as power is applied. The shaper ensures the pulses remain well-formed, removing any degradation due to losses in the medium.

DRAM in 1944 – Dynamic Random Access Memory
dramWe would expect to see some kind of evolutionary development process regarding DRAM memory but that’s because it was probably known to some since before the first computers: We find genuine DRAM memory used in Colossus in the 1940’s.

Wiki says: The cryptanalytic (Colossus) machine code-named “Aquarius” used at Bletchley Park during World War II incorporated a hard-wired dynamic memory. Paper tape was read and the characters on it “were remembered in a dynamic store. … The store used a large bank of (2,000) capacitors, which were either charged or not, a charged capacitor representing cross (1) and an uncharged capacitor dot (0). Since the charge gradually leaked away, a periodic pulse was applied to top up the capacitors every two minutes. (hence the term ‘dynamic’)”.
Note: The DRAM memory was adapted from the UK telephone Post Office service, the telephone ringer has the same memory device. There is very little information on this as Colossus was top secret for 30 yeas after the war and some information has never been released. Telephone ringer memory is never mentioned, probably because it’s an embarrassment. See page on Alan Turing

Annals of the History of Computing, Volume 5, Number 3, July 1983 . 253
The Making of Colossus
Of such a nature was the special machine we called Protege, another called Aquarius (which stored information as charges in small capacitors we continually had to top up‑whence the name), Salamander (which was never completed, having been forestalled by the peace), and the attachment called Mighty Wurlitzer, which can be seen as a sort of cinema organ keyboard near the foreground Wren in Figure 14 of Flowers’s paper.
See also:

Wiki then changes its collective mind and decides it was not “Aquarius” after all – we read: “In 1966, DRAM was invented by Dr. Robert Dennard at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center. He was granted U.S. patent number 3,387,286 in 1968. Capacitors had been used for earlier memory schemes such as the drum of the Atanasoff–Berry Computer, the Williams tube and the Selectron tube.”  (No mention of the Colossus Aquarius as this would be tantamount to admitting he did not invent anything.)

Dennard appears to have used the same DRAM as did the builders of Colossus but miniaturised. As he obviously did not invent DRAM or miniaturisation, this is a development and not an invention and one starts to doubt his whole story.

It can only be assumed that DRAM was known of by the telephone engineers before Colossus construction. It’s laughable now when we think of all the head-banging and convoluted methods to find a reliable memory, when it was there for everyone to see (to hear) in the humble telephone ringer for decades.


motherboardPrinted Circuit Boards (PCB’s) – Chips, Microchips – Motherboards – mainboards Integrated Circuits, (IC’s),

1903 Albert Parker Hanson’s first printed circuit board “In 1903, Albert Parker Hanson, a German citizen living in London, submitted a British patent application for flexible printed wiring circuits intended for use in telephone exchange interconnections.
Based on flat parallel copper conducting strips bonded to paraffin waxed paper, the design used a double layer construction. The copper strips were to be arranged in alternate layers forming a rectangular grid. Interconnections were crimped through holes in the paper. Hanson’s patent application also described (are) double-sided and multilayer boards.
“Hanson may have originally developed this design in 1898 and had certainly submitted a German patent application in 1902 that was not published until 1905. The British Patent Office placed the Hanson patent application in the public domain in 1903 and granted it in 1904.” 45

1918 Max Schoop “1918 Max Schoop produced high current printed circuit boards with heavy tracks for high power vacuum tube circuits using metal deposition by flame spraying through a mask. While successful, like Arthur Berry’s ideas before him, they were not taken up by others.” 46

1936 Paul Eisler

Wiki: “The inventor of the printed circuit was the Austrian engineer Paul Eisler who, while working in England, made one circa 1936 as part of a radio set. Around 1943 the USA began to use the technology on a large scale to make rugged radios for use in World War II. After the war, in 1948, the USA released the invention for commercial use.” 47 We have two inventors!

Integrated Circuit – IC,

Jack Kilby

According to Wiki: Jack Kilby “Jack St. Clair Kilby (November 8, 1923 – June 20, 2005) was an American electrical engineer who took part (along with Robert Noyce) in the realization of the first integrated circuit while working at Texas Instruments (TI) in 1958. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2000.” 48

We will see as we proceed that the above statement is somewhat untrue and that the integrated circuit came about due to other innovators and a series of technological developments that had little or nothing to do with Jack Kilby.

Wiki contradicts it’s statement above: “Early developments of the integrated circuit go back to 1949, when the German engineer Werner Jacobi of Siemens AG filed a patent for an integrated-circuit-like semiconductor amplifying device showing five transistors on a common substrate arranged in a 2-stage amplifier arrangement. Jacobi discloses small and cheap hearing aids as typical industrial applications of his patent. A commercial use of his patent has not been reported. 50

WikiTalk: “Furthermore, there is a German patent number 833366 which was granted to a Mr. Werner Jacobi on May 15th, 1952, describing the idea of manufacturing several amplifier stages on a single semiconductor by means of applying multiple electrodes to the surface of the semiconductor. It is a rather cursory patent, but nevertheless contains the basic idea of an integrated circuit, at about the same time when Dummer described the idea. Maybe it would be appropriate to include this in the list of inventors. –Stefan Heinzmann” 51

Geoffrey W.A. Dummer

1952 Geoffrey W.A. Dummer

Wiki: “The idea of the integrated circuit was conceived by a radar scientist (see below) working for the Royal Radar Establishment of the British Ministry of Defence, Geoffrey W.A. Dummer (1909-2002), who published it at the Symposium on Progress in Quality Electronic Components in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 1952. He gave many symposia publicly to propagate his ideas. Dummer unsuccessfully attempted to build such a circuit in 1956.
A precursor idea to the IC was to create small ceramic squares (wafers), each one containing a single miniaturized component. Components could then be integrated and wired into a bi-dimensional or tri-dimensional compact grid. This idea, which looked very promising in 1957, was proposed to the US Army by Jack Kilby, and led to the short-lived Micromodule Program (similar to 1951’s Project Tinkertoy). However, as the project was gaining momentum, Kilby came up with a new, revolutionary design: the IC.” 52

Geoffrey Dummer Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce

Wiki again and this time Dummer is an engineer: “Geoffrey William Arnold Dummer, (1909-2002) MBE (1945), C.Eng., IEE Premium Award, FIEEE, MIEE, USA Medal of Freedom with Bronze Palm was a British electronics engineer and consultant who is credited as being the first person to conceptualise the integrated circuit, commonly called the microchip, in the late-1940s and early 1950s… …In 1952 he presented his work at a conference in Washington, DC, (Dum and Dummer!) some six years before Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments was awarded a patent for essentially the same idea. As a result he has been called “The Prophet of the Integrated Circuit”…
…In May 1952 Geoffrey Dummer read a paper at the US Electronic Components Symposium. At the end of the paper he made the statement: “With the advent of the transistor and the work on semi-conductors generally, it now seems possible to envisage electronic equipment in a solid block with no connecting wires. The block may consist of layers of insulating, conducting, rectifying and amplifying materials, the electronic functions being connected directly by cutting out areas of the various layers.” 53
This is a description of an integrated circuit. “In 1959 both parties applied for patents. Jack Kilby and Texas Instruments received U.S. patent #3,138,743 for miniaturized electronic circuits. Robert Noyce and the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation received U.S. patent #2,981,877 for a silicon based integrated circuit.” 54

Both Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce had access to the relevant information before their “invention” and their success was in the field of development. The Prophet was the inventor. Did the Prophet know about the 1949 work of German engineer Werner Jacobi (above)? Additionally, Dummer it seems was not a “radar scientist”.

Central Processing Unit, CPU

“A central processing unit (CPU), also referred to as a central processor unit, is the hardware within a computer system which carries out the instructions of a computer program by performing the basic arithmetical, logical, and input/output operations of the system. The term has been in use in the computer industry at least since the early 1960s. The form, design, and implementation of CPUs have changed over the course of their history, but their fundamental operation remains much the same.” 49CPU

It was the integrated circuit that led to the processor (CPU) – and it’s difficult to decide when the one became the other. The CPU is the result of the fusion of various already existing circuits on the same chip due to advances in semiconductor materials and miniaturisation.



Magnetic Data Recording
HDD Hard Disk Drive Non-Volatile Memory

HDDThe development of the computer as we know it, would not have been possible without the hard disk drive (HDD). Searching the web, we find superficially, that its invention is credited to IBM and Reynold B. Johnson in the 1950’s. 56  Wiki makes a big thing about Reynold Johnson being the inventor whilst also giving the credit to other earlier inventors. as magnetic disk recorders were developed alongside magnetic tape recorders. Also digital recording is no more difficult than analog.

Wiki: “IBM manufactured magnetic disk storage devices from 1956 to 2003, when it merged its hard disk drive business with Hitachi’s. Both the hard disk drive (HDD) and floppy disk drive (FDD) were invented by IBM and as such IBM’s employees were responsible for many of the innovations in these products and their technologies. The basic mechanical arrangement of hard disk drives has not changed since the IBM 1301. Disk drive performance and characteristics are measured by the same standards now as they were in the 1950s. Few products in history have enjoyed such spectacular declines in cost and size along with corresponding improvements in capacity and performance.” 57

Reynold Johnson
Wiki: “The IBM 350 Disk File, invented by Reynold Johnson, was introduced in 1956 with the IBM 305 RAMAC computer.”… 58  although the ideas and the patents for magnetic recording appeared some fifty years earlier.

Reynold B. Johnson
Reynold B. Johnson

Wiki: “Reynold B. Johnson (1906 – 1998 was an American inventor and computer pioneer. A long-time employee of IBM, Johnson is said to be the “father” of the disk drive. Other inventions include automatic test scoring equipment and the videocassette tape. Johnson graduated from Minnehaha Academy (1925) and went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota (BS in Educational Administration, 1929).” 59

Magnetic disk recording goes back way before Johnson and although it was something of a novelty, it has been around for as long as any other method of recording. The development of existing technology by Johnson is not invention, it’s development, and we can also rule-out the inventions of both the disk drive and the video-cassette tape as they had already been invented.

It has always seemed fair that the announcement of an invention should also be accompanied by credit given to the person or persons who thought of the original idea. However, modern history seems to give credit only to ideas by academics or in this case academic researchers working for large international companies. Some of the ideas recorded here are accredited to those who had nothing to do with the original idea. This manipulation of history is seemingly endless. See other pages at this website. “While on loan to Sony, (Reynold B.) Johnson developed the process to store video on half the width of normal video tape. It is now known as VCR.” 60
It seems that he reduced the width of the existing videotape by half and can only claim the cassette as his own idea…or can he?


Oberlin Smith_magnetic_recording
Oberlin Smith

1888 Oberlin Smith “Thomas Edison demonstrated his newly invented phonograph machine to Oberlin Smith when Smith visited Edison in his Menlo Park laboratory in 1878. As a lover of music, Smith purchased an Edison phonograph, but soon found the audio quality of it to be “too scratchy” and he questioned the expense and precision of its mechanical parts. After nearly ten years of tinkering, Smith published the idea of storing a recording on a magnetic wire in the English journal Electrical World, and became the father of all magnetic recording devices.” 61

Magnetic recording appears to have had its intellectual début in the workshop of Oberlin Smith of Cincinnati, Ohio, a mechanical engineer. (Note, again we see a major innovation that dates back to before the 1930’s and no scientist involved) He published an original work suggesting magnetic recording in 1888. The article appeared in a British magazine where he suggested the use of permanent magnetic impressions for recording sound. His ideas were apparently taken seriously by Valdemar Poulsen, a Danish engineer.

Valdemar Poulsen: He developed a magnetic wire recorder, the ‘Telegraphone’ that received a patent in 1898. He invented devices that recorded on tape, and disks and so we see that recordable magnetic disks were 50 years old when the first recordable magnetic disks were ‘invented’ in the 1950’s by IBM scientists. What they did was to change the format from analogue to digital, digital being easier to record. The digital format being the invention of Alec Harley Reeves in 1938. Note the 1930’s watershed yet again. 62


Wiki: “Valdemar Poulsen (23 November 1869 – 23 July 1942) was a Danish engineer who developed a magnetic wire recorder in 1899.” 63 Poulsen recorded the voice of Emperor Franz Joseph, which is still preserved today. It is the oldest existing magnetic recording. 64

1925 Curt Stille and a Cassette 1925 – “Stille and another German, Karl Bauer (a licensee of the Stille wire recorder patents), marketed an improved wire recorder telephone answering/dictation machine called the Dailygraph (In 1925). The machine was manufactured by the Vox company, also of Germany. Later versions of the Dailygraph include provisions for a cartridge, apparently the first use of a cartridge-loaded (cassette) medium.” 65
The cassette, as we recall, was re-invented by Reynold B. Johnson in the 1960’s.

Blattnerphone steel tape recorder at BBC studios London in 1937 “The development of an electronic amplifier using the thermionic valve (vacuum tube) enabled the tiny magnetic fluctuations in the steel wire to be magnified to a usable level. By 1924 a German engineer, Dr Curt Stille, had developed a machine that could record sounds on a steel tape. The BBC (British Broadcasting Company) showed great interest for (it), at this time, they used disc recorders for pre-recording programs and talks that were cut into acetate discs, replayed maybe twice and then discarded. So they sent two engineers to Berlin for a demonstration. They offered to buy the machine but were refused and so returned empty-handed. In 1931 Louis Blattner purchased a Stille machine, shipped it to England and renamed it the Blattnerphone, illustrated in Figure 20. It used 2-inch (50-mm) wide flat steel tape and could record for up to 20 minutes.” 66

S. J. Begun
No link for this one: 1939-45 – At the (Charles) Brush Development Company, S. J. Begun develops steel tape and coated-paper tape recorders. Between 1942 and 1945 the company designs and successfully sells to the military various types of recorders utilizing plated media in the form of tapes, disks, and wire. Google Patents: SJ BEGUN – US Patent 2,535,480, 1950 67

Fritz Pfleumer used very thin paper which he coated with iron oxide powder using lacquer as glue. He received a patent in 1928.” 68
Wiki: “Fritz Pfleumer (20 March 1881 in Salzburg – 29 August 1945 in Radebeul) was a German-Austrian engineer who invented magnetic tape for recording sound.” 69
1932 “AEG, a large German electrical manufacturer, purchases the patent rights of the independent inventor Fritz Pfleumer, who after 1928 patented a system for recording on paper coated with a magnetisable, powdered steel layer. AEG sets about designing a tape recorder, while it collaborates with the German chemical firm I. G. Farben to develop a suitable tape. I. G. Farben experiments with tape coated with carbonyl iron powder, made under a proprietary process.”

1943 Wiki: “German engineers had developed a high-quality form of magnetic tape sound recording that was unknown elsewhere. The Nazi radio networks used it to broadcast music and propaganda around the clock.

WWII The Magnetophon John T. Mullin

On his way back home to San Francisco, Mullin made a chance stopover at a nearby German radio station at Bad Nauheim, which was already in American hands. Here he was given two suitcase-sized AEG ‘Magnetophon’ high-fidelity recorders and 50 reels of Farben recording tape. Mullin had them shipped home and over the next two years he worked on the machines constantly, modifying them and improving their performance. His main hope was to interest the Hollywood movie studios in using magnetic tape for movie sound recording.

Magnetophon Germany WWII

Mullin gave two public demonstrations of his machines in Hollywood in 1947, in which he first presented live music performed behind a curtain, followed by a concealed playback of the performance. Mullen’s recorder caused a sensation among American audio professionals and many listeners could not tell the difference between the recorded and live performances. By luck, Mullin’s second demonstration was at MGM Studios in Hollywood and in the audience that day was Bing Crosby’s technical director, Murdo Mackenzie. Mackenzie arranged for Mullin to meet Crosby, and in June 1947 Crosby was given a demonstration of Mullin’s magnetic tape recorders.” 70

1945 “Former serviceman John T. Mullin demonstrates a captured Magnetophon to the Institute of Radio Engineers. Performer Bing Crosby works with Mullin to use the Magnetophon for radio broadcasts on ABC” 71 Wiki tells us that: John T. “Jack” Mullin (1913–1999) was an American pioneer in the field of magnetic tape sound recording and made significant contributions to many other related fields. From his days at Santa Clara University to his death, he displayed a deep appreciation for classical music and an aptitude for electronics and engineering.

1945 “American and British technical investigators “discover” the Magnetophon in Luxembourg, France, and other places formerly occupied by the Germans. By Spring, these investigators begin gathering information about the production of tape recorders and tape, and the U.S. Department of Commerce publishes the information. The U.S. Alien Property Custodian seizes German patent rights on the technology.” 72 How many reputations were crafted from Nazi technology?

1950’s Magnetic disk technology ran alongside that of tape, the only difficulty being that of tracking. But this also seems to have been overcome because, during the fifties, magnetic disk recorders were being manufactured for sale to the public. The Timex Magnetic Disc Recorder and the Pye ‘Record Maker’ are just two examples to illustrate that the idea behind the hard disk drive is not new. The Timex Thermionic Products ‘Recordon’ used a 9″ dia oxide coated paper disk and was on sale from 1954 to 1957. 73

Pye ‘Record Maker’ magnetic disk recorder

It was to be the tape recorder that grabbed the public imagination and became popular with the recordists, due to, I would guess, the longer playing time. The magnetic disk became the forerunner of the floppy disk and the HDD.

Optical Recording CD and DVD Laser Disk, Video Disk

CD’s and DVD’s are a development of already existing much earlier optical recording systems where an analogue sound track was recorded onto a motion picture film. Digital recordings can be made on the same medium as analogue recordings:

Sound on Film “The first attempts to record sound to an optical medium occurred around 1900. In 1906 Eugene Lauste applied for a patent to record sound on film. He and Dickson worked on the moving picture idea that Edison wanted to go with the phonograph. The result of their work, which Edison took the credit for, was the famous Kinetoscope. In 1905 he built a complete experimental apparatus for recording and reproducing pictures and sound simultaneously on the same film, a British patent No 18057 was granted in August 1907.” 74 In 1923 Lee de Forest applied for a patent to record to film; he also made a number of short experimental films, mostly of vaudeville performers. 75

No theory technology

Eric Tigerstedt

Wiki: “Eric Magnus Campbell Tigerstedt (August 4, 1887 – April 20, 1925) was one of the most significant inventors in Finland at the beginning of the 20th century, and has been called the “Thomas Edison of Finland”. He was the first person to implement a working sound-on-film technology,” 76 “After many disappointments, Tigerstedt finally succeeded in substantially improving on the design of Lee De Forest, and he achieved an amplification effect many times that of the original vacuum tubes. His achievement was purely experimental, as there were no prior experience or mathematical models that he could have followed. This was a major step forward for Tigerstedt, and he was soon able to show a film with sound which was electrically amplified and broadcast through a speaker system. He had finally solved the most difficult practical problem of talking movies. Beginning in 1919, DeForest created his own sound-on-film system, which he called Phonofilm, and which may have used some of Tigerstedt’s concepts.” 77

Vitaphone  1926 Wiki: “Vitaphone, the first long playing records at 33 1/3 RPM were in use from 1926. Using a synchronised disk, the system was quickly supplanted by technologies which recorded a sound track optically directly onto the side of the strip of motion picture film. This was the dominant technology from the 1930s through the 1960s and was still in use as of 2004.” 78

Laser Recording

At this point, I was about to say that there are exceptions to all rules and admit that the laser, something also integral to computer data recording, came about as a result of the theoretical work of Albert Einstein. However, reading various versions of the history of his Nobel prize the jury is still out until I find some information that gives clear answers on the subject. It seems that no two writers agree as to exactly what he received the prize for, and this indecision apparently also applies to the Nobel committee who made the award after a year of deliberation.

Wiki: “Albert Einstein received his Nobel Prize one year later, in 1922. During the selection process in 1921, the Nobel Committee for Physics decided that none of the years nominations met the criteria as outlined in the will of Alfred Nobel. According to the Nobel Foundation’s statutes, the Nobel Prize can in such a case be reserved until the following year, and this statute was then applied. Albert Einstein therefore received his Nobel Prize for 1921 one year later, in 1922.” 79

Wiki gets the date wrong. “In 1921, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Because relativity was still considered somewhat controversial, it was officially bestowed for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. He also received the Copley Medal from the Royal Society in 1925.” 80
All very confusing, relatively speaking. “As is well known Einstein did not get the Nobel Prize for his relativity theories due to strong disbeliefs in those theories among some influential members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The 1911 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine Allvar Gullstrand was of the opinion that the correctness of Einstein’s special relativity theory rested on belief – not proven facts, (as it still does to this day, see the physics blog) and the general relativity theory could in his opinion not stand a critical analysis…

…The Nobel Committee avoids committing itself to the particle concept. Light-quanta or with modern terminology, photons, were explicitly mentioned in the reports on which the prize decision rested only in connection with emission and absorption processes. The Committee says that the most important application of Einstein’s photoelectric law and also its most convincing confirmation has come from the use Bohr made of it in his theory of atoms, which explains a vast amount of spectroscopic data…

…Bohr, however, resisted the concept of photons for many years, until about 1925. In his 1922 Nobel lecture Bohr expressed his opposition in the following words: “In spite of its heuristic value the hypothesis of light quanta, which is quite irreconcilable with the so-called interference phenomena, is not able to throw light on the nature of radiation.” Einstein was invited to receive his prize at the same event, but could not come, because of his journey to Japan. Thus the world missed the opportunity to witness an early discussion between these two giants of physics about the nature of light.

The connection between Einstein and Bohr, which the Nobel Committee for physics saw, was made manifest by the two Nobel Prizes decided in 1922: the reserved one from the earlier year to Einstein and the current one to Bohr.” 81 Albert Einstein is a megastar of physics, his reputation built on hype comparable to that of a Hollywood movie star. We will probably never know the facts behind this award, but you never know!

Ted Maiman
Wiki: “Theodore Harold “Ted” Maiman (1927 – 2007) was an American physicist (Maiman was an engineer) who made the first laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation).[1] Maiman received many awards and honors for his work, and was the author of a book titled The Laser Odyssey, which describes the events surrounding the creation of the first laser.” 82

CD, DVD, Laser Disk, Video Disk

Dr. David Paul Gregg, according to Wiki, is credited with invention of the optical disk (CD, DVD, Laser Disk) in 1958. However, there do seem to be a string of complaints about the contents of the Wiki article on this subject. The author of these pages has no idea why there should be so much confusion about a relatively modern technology?

Here is an example – WikiTalk: “I have a problem with the intro to this section: The Compact Disc is not an invention: it is the convergence of a series of enabling technologies, such as laser technology, mechanics, electronics, and coding technology. Therefore, nobody can claim that he or she is the inventor of the Compact Disc…Is it just a digital version of the Videodisc developed in the 60s and 70s? ” 83

…and recording in digital is no different from recording in analogue. The discussion continues with a somewhat (by now) lame argument that we have come across before in these pages: WikiTalk again: “The same sort of argument could be made for just about any invention. Take the automobile – we couldn’t have cars if someone hadn’t invented the wheel, wagons, metalurgy, internal combustion engines, etc. And of course we never would have CDs if nobody had invented lasers, transistors, computers, digital audio formats, etc. But just because an invention builds on previous inventions doesn’t mean that it’s any less an invention in its own right. Credit for the invention should be given to Philips and Sony and their “joint taskforce of engineers.”” 84
But it’s all about the fact that Philips and Sony did not invent them, they developed them.

This argument is based on the assumption that some of the examples given: “lasers, transistors, computers, digital audio formats, etc.” are automatically assumed to be the work of academics. The Compact Disc “invention” is attributed to an academic who is deserving of the accolade if the circular reasoning is accepted. The “engineering task-force” is assumed to be working on the instructions of the academic. The insecurity of the scientific community is such that it deems it necessary to lay-claim to every new technology even when the patent claimant is making pots of money from the idea.

Wiki says: “Dr. David Paul Gregg was the inventor of the optical disc (disk). Gregg was inspired to create the optical disc in 1958 while working at Californian electronics company, Westrex. He (His) first patent for a “Videodisk” was filed in March 1962 (USPO 3350503) where he looks to advance electron beam recording and reproducing. Gregg went to work at 3M’s Mincom division with experienced television videotape engineers Wayne Johnson and Dean De Moss. The three men subsequently filed patents to cover a disc recording system, a way to duplicate discs, and reproducing TV signals from photographic discs. When Mincom contracted Stanford’s SRI to further the research, Gregg left and formed his own company Gauss Electrophysics.” 85

Videodisc History Time-line
Mostly from Wiki:
1898 “E & H T Anthony, a camera maker based in New York, marketed in 1898 a combination motion picture camera and projector called “The Spiral” that could capture 200 images arranged in a spiral on an 8 inch diameter glass plate, which when played back at 16 frames per second would give a running time of 13 seconds.

1907   Theodore Brown patented (UK patent GB190714493) a photographic disk system in 1907 recording approximately 1,200 images in a spiral of pictures on a 10 inch disk. Played back at 16 frames per second, the disk could provide around one and a quarter minutes of material. The system was marketed as the Urban Spirograph by Charles Urban, and disks were produced – but it soon disappeared.

1930s John Logie Baird, created the Phonovision system in the early 1930s, which mechanically produced about four frames per second. The system was not successful.” 86 But someone did get it to work:


1941 Video jukebox “Video jukebox from 1941 that played a stack of VideoDiscs and was the television equivalent of a Wurlitzer Jukebox. The image was seen through the aperture at the top, and the sound recorded on the discs came out the large round speaker at the bottom. A stack of 10″ VideoDiscs can be seen at the left side of the large opening in the middle, with any one of the discs being selectable using the row of buttons underneath the opening. The grooved discs rotated at 100 RPM and provided about a minute of playback. This system appeared in the December 1941 issue of Popular Mechanics, so the advent of World War II halted any commercial implementation of the VideoDisc jukebox. Manufacture of televisions was also halted during the war.” 87

1950’s P.M.G Toulon,
a French inventor working at Westinghouse Electric during the 1950s and 1960s patented a system in 1952 (US Patent 3198880) which used a slow spinning disc with a spiral track of photographically 1.5 millimeter wide recorded frames, along with a flying spot scanner, which swept over them to produce a video image. This was intended to be synchronously combined with playback from a vinyl record. It appears a working system was never produced. It has similarities with the tape based Electronic Video Recording system, which was released for professional use.88

Laser Turntable

Laser Turntable for standard vinyl record reproduction

William K. Heine Wiki: He presented a paper entitled A Laser Scanning Phonograph Record Player to the 57th Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention in May 1977. The paper details a method developed by Heine that employs a single 2.2 mW Helium–neon laser for both tracking a record groove and reproducing the stereo audio of a phonograph in real time. In development since 1972, the working prototype was named the “LASERPHONE” and the methods it used for playback was awarded U.S. Patent 3,992,593 on 16 November 1976.[1] Heine concluded in his paper that he hoped his work would increase interest in using lasers for phonographic playback.

 1938 Alec Harley Reeves Digital Transmissions and Recording

Wiki and “Engineer, Alec Harley Reeves, (1902 – 1971) recognised the potential of pulse-code modulation (What are now called digital transmissions or recordings) for reducing noise when speech is transmitted over long distances. He patented the invention in 1938, (that 1930’s deadline again) but it was impractical at the time due to the need for the complex circuits needed with valve/vacuum tube technology. It only became feasible in the 1950’s with the introduction of the transistor. He was also involved in the invention of optical fibres.”. 89

Reeves was a pioneer of semiconductor devices and among the first to exploit the possibility of using light to carry information. When ‘waveguides’ – pipes carrying high frequency signals – failed to work, Reeves thought of glass fibres. In the late 1960’s, he inspired and led the team under Charles Kao and George Hockham (See below) that created the world’s first practical optical fibre system.”
Open-minded, he experimented with the paranormal and believed he was in regular contact with the 19th century inventor of DC electrical generation, Michael Faraday. (It’s not unusual to find a spiritual element in the lives of those who have pioneering ideas, but this is not considered to be sound scientific methodology. 🙂  90

There is very little scope for inventors these days and almost no forums where they can exchange ideas. New ideas are frowned upon and inventors are often accused of pseudo-science by sceptics and sceptical scientists who often never have an original idea in their lives.


1920s The Reading Machine (first OCR character reading device) of Gustav Tauschek

Patent drawing of Gustav Tauschek’s character reading machine

A lot of people dreamed of a machine which could read characters and numerals, but it seems the first OCR (Optical Character Recognition) device was developed in late 1920s by the Austrian engineer Gustav Tauschek (1899-1945), who in 1929 obtained a patent on OCR (so called Reading Machine) in Germany, followed by Paul Handel who obtained a US patent on OCR (so called Statistical Machine) in USA in 1933 (U.S. Patent 1915993). In 1935 Tauschek was also granted a US patent on his machine (U.S. Patent 2026329).

Tauschek was a genius self-taught Viennese engineer, with more than 200 patents in the computing field to his credit, who used to work for IBM and who besides the first OCR device, invented also many devices and systems for the punch-card machinery, as well as the magnetic drum-memory.


Fiber Optics

Like most “modern, original” ideas in these pages, fibre optics is an old technology invented by enthusiasts rather than the wise and prudent qualified academic scientists. But when someone gets a Nobel prize, I like to look at the history “As far back as Roman times, glass has been drawn into fibers.” 115


“Fibre optics, though used extensively in the modern world, is a fairly simple, and relatively old, technology. Guiding of light by refraction, the principle that makes fibre optics possible, was first demonstrated by Daniel Colladon and Jacques Babinet in Paris in the early 1840s. John Tyndall included a demonstration of it in his public lectures in London, 12 years later.” 116

1841 Daniel Colladon “Colladon studied law but then worked in the laboratories of Ampere and Fourier.” 117 He wrote: “I managed to illuminate the interior of a stream (of water)in a dark space. I have discovered that this strange arrangement offers in results one of the most beautiful, and most curious experiments that one can perform in a course on Optics.” Colladon demonstrated light guiding in water jets through a number of public performances to the urban intelligentsia of Paris. Auguste de la Rive, another Geneva Physicist, duplicated Colladon’s experiment using electric arc light. Colladon designed a spectacular device using arc light for Conservatory of Arts and Science of Paris in 1841, Oct..” 118

1842 Jacques Babinet “Babinet started his studies at the Lyce Napolon, but was persuaded to abandon a legal education for the pursuit of science. Arago recalled that Jacques Babinet, a French specialist in Optics had made similar demonstrations in Paris. He focused candle light on to the bottom of a glass bottle as he poured a thin stream of water from the top. TIR guided the light along the jet. Arago asked Babinet to write down his work, but Babinet did not think that the work is very important. Yet he made a comment that “the idea also works very well with a glass shaft curved in what ever manner and I had indicated that (it could be used) to illuminate the inside of the mouth (Comptes Rendes 15, Oct. 24, 1842). After sending his letter to Arago, Babinet never returned to guiding of light before he died in 1872.” 119

1870 John Tyndall “In 1870, John Tyndall, (teacher and surveyor), using a jet of water that flowed from one container to another and a beam of light, demonstrated that light used internal reflection to follow a specific path.” 120

It is but a small step from liquid to solid, but:

1880 William Wheeling “William Wheeling, in 1880, patented a method of light transfer called piping light. Wheeling believed that by using mirrored pipes branching off from a single source of illumination, i.e. a bright electric arc, he could send the light to many different rooms… ” 121

1880 Alexander Graham Bell and “That same year,(1880) Alexander Graham Bell developed an optical voice transmission system he called the photophone. The photophone used free-space light to carry the human voice 200 meters.” 122 123

“Bell received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, to the point that the requests almost became burdensome…But Bell’s only academic qualification was professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory. 124
Academia wanted Bell within its ranks for the prestige and so he became an adopted son of science.

1888 Roth and Reuss of Vienna “In 1888, the medical team of Roth and Reuss of Vienna used bent glass rods to illuminate body cavities.

1895 Henry Saint-Rene

In 1895, French engineer Henry Saint-Rene designed a system of bent glass rods for guiding light images in an attempt at early television.

In 1898, American David Smith applied for a patent on a bent glass rod device to be used as a surgical lamp.

1920’s,  John Logie Baird

In the 1920’s, Englishman John Logie Baird and American Clarence W. Hansell patented the idea of using arrays of transparent rods to transmit images for television and facsimiles respectively.”

1930 Heinrich Lamm

In 1930,(that magical decade again) German medical student, Heinrich Lamm was the first person to assemble a bundle of optical fibers to carry an image. Lamm’s goal was to look inside inaccessible parts of the body. During his experiments, he reported transmitting the image of a light bulb. The image was of poor quality, however. His effort to file a patent was denied because of Hansell’s British patent.” 125 and “Fiber optic technology experienced a phenomenal rate of progress in the second half of the twentieth century. Early success came during the 1950s with the development of the fiberscope. This image-transmitting device, which used the first practical all-glass fiber, was concurrently devised by Brian OBrien at the American Optical Company and Narinder Kapany (who first coined the term fiber optics in 1956)” 126

Holger Moeller”In 1951, Holger Moeller applied for a Danish patent on fiber-optic imaging in which he proposed cladding glass or plastic fibers with a transparent low-index material, but was denied because of Baird and Hansell’s patents. Three years later, Abraham Van Heel and Harold H. Hopkins presented imaging bundles in the British journal Nature at separate times. Van Heel later produced a cladded fiber system that greatly reduced signal interference and crosstalk between fibers.” 127

It’s at this point, as far as these researches are concerned, that academia seems to have gotten its foot in the fibre optical front-door. A theory that claims the technology as their own and once a theory is in place the academics have control of development.

Believe it or not? “The Honorable Sir Charles Kuen Kao, GBM,KBE, FRS, FREng, (born 4 November 1933) is a pioneer in the development and use of fiber optics in telecommunications. Kao, known as the “Godfather of Broadband”, “Father of Fiber Optics” or “Father of Fiber Optic Communications”, was awarded half of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for “ground-breaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication” 128


Inkjet and other Printers

1867 Lord Kelvin Inkjet

Wiki: The continuous inkjet (CIJ) method is used commercially for marking and coding of products and packages. The idea was first patented in 1867 by Lord Kelvin, and the first commercial devices (medical strip chart recorders) were introduced in 1951 by Siemens.  91 For all its originality, the idea behind the inkjet is far from new. As long ago as 1867, William Thomson (later known as Lord Kelvin) was granted a patent for “Receiving or Recording Instruments for Electrical Telegraphers” which used electrostatic forces to control the release of ink drops on to paper. 92 As it turns out, the Syphon Recorder was not a success, despite being the first device to use an electrostatic charge to print a code. It was a pen recorder with an electrostatically controlled ink flow that drew a wiggly line on a role of tape – not a printer. But reverse engineering the name of a famous scientists onto a page at Wiki is what its editors do best.

Lord Kelvin’s Syphon Recorder

1937 Xerox In 1937, the process called Xerography was invented by American law student Chester Carlson. Carlson had invented a copying process based on electrostatic energy. Xerography became commercially available in 1950 by the Xerox Corporation. Xerography comes from the Greek for “dry writing”.93

1948    Rune Elmqvist Elmqvist

Wiki: “Rune Elmqvist Elmqvist initially worked as a medical doctor (having trained in Lund), but later worked as an engineer and inventor.
In 1948, he developed the first inkjet ECG printer which he called the mingograph while working at Elema-Schnander, a company which later became Siemens-Elema. In 1957 he received an honorary doctorate.” 94 Well he would, it’s very flattering.

1972 Daisy Wheel

Wiki: In 1972 a team at Diablo Systems led by engineer David S. Lee developed the first commercially successful daisy wheel printer, a device that was faster and more flexible than IBM’s golf-ball devices, being capable of 30 cps (characters per second), whereas IBM’s Selectric operated at 13.4 cps. 95

I personally, see no justification in any of the above that would lead anyone to attribute the development of the computer to academic science, the scientific method, or an education in physics. Most of the names that appear above were not qualified scientists or physicists in the accepted understanding of the word. If the requirement for an inventive mind depends on a scientific education then most of the names above would be those of scientists and they clearly are not.
It’s not possible to educate someone to be inventive or innovative, this depends on individual imagination, something discouraged by science unless accompanied by scientific qualification. This in turn seems to discourage independent critical thinking outside of the scientific box and so nothing new to science is discovered and scientists don’t usually invent.


Numbered references Computer History
Wiki is frequently used, not because it’s the best reference work but because it is the most accessible.

See also:







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