The question of who invented the computer cannot be answered with a single name. Throughout history, many different people have created devices that helped to lead to development of this valuable machine. These go far back into time, and many date the first important invention to the fourth century BCE when the Babylonians developed the abacus.
Other important concepts that would help lead to computers occurred centuries ago and include the adoption of Arabic numerals and the concept of zero, and in the 17th century, the development of the first mechanical calculators by Wilhelm Schickard and Blaise Pascal. Another milestone along the way was the plans created by Charles Babbage in the early 19th century to create a steam-powered “Difference Engine.” Though it was never built successfully, the intent of the device was to calculate astronomical tables. Babbage then turned to the idea of creating an Analytical Engine, which would be designed to solve all math problems.
Babbage’s ideas led to the writings of Augusta Ada Byron on the Analytical Engine. She clearly delineated some of ways in which modern computers now operate and discussed the concepts of data analysis and memory among other things. Another key thinker who needs to be credited is George Boole, who was responsible for Boolean algebra. The work of Babbage, Pascal, Boole, and Bryon is remarkable and far predates capacity to build machines with electronic components that could store memory.
Development and common use of electricity led to many computer precursors in the 1940s. These include Konrad Zuse’s programmable calculator, and invention of the transistor by Bell Telephone. Some early models, like the Colossus, built in 1943, are vast machines that were used to break codes. Several other developments in the second half of the 20th century include the invention of the semiconductor and the integrated circuit.
The machines developed in the early 20th century either had limited programmability or couldn’t be programmed. The creation of what is called stored program architecture, a concept elucidated by John von Neumann, changed the way computers could store memory, however. Von Neumann’s ideas still influence operations of modern machines.
It could be said that the first computer that could store programs was the 1949 Electronic Storage Delay Automatic Calculator or EDSAC, assembled by Maurice Wilkes, though this is a debatable issue. From this point forward, many developers contributed to creating various computer types. Important milestones include the founding of companies like Xerox, Intel, and Fairfield in the late 1960s and early '70s.
In the early 1970s, several recognizable names come into play, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Steve Wozniak. These skilled inventors did much to develop personal computers in the form of PCs and Apples. By the 1990s, ownership of PCs became common as manufacturing and parts grew less expensive. Also, the development of technology like microchips and microprocessors helped to shrink the size of these machines so that they could easily be used in homes.
There’s no doubt this article leaves out the names of many along the way because there are so many thinkers and inventors who helped to develop the computer. There are even legal battles over who made the first one and who should be credited as the primary inventor. These seem overblown given the numerous collaborative efforts that eventually led to development of this most useful device.