Blast from the Past

From: Marvin Johnston <>
Date: Sun Jan 30 00:15:42 2005

In going though the archived ClassicCmp messages I'm getting ready to
send to Jay, I ran across several that were quite interesting. This one
by Doug Salot was a discussion about the "first" personal computer.


Hi, ClassicCmp.

I haven't re-subscribed yet, but I hope to as soon as my life reaches a
quiescent state (I'm done breaking eggs, and I'm now working on the
omelette). I check Kevan's web archive once in a while, so I got a
to catch the "first pc" thread.

Of course, my idea of crowning a machine with the title "the first pc"
intended to be a catalyst for discussion, and to help dispel the popular
myth that the Altair was the first pc, or that it started the hobbyist
movement, or any such nonsense.

However, I think Simon is the best candidate for that title. Yes, there
were other simple machines built before Simon, such as Stibitz's relay
calculator, the first version of which was built on his kitchen table.
But I don't consider such one-offs to be viable contenders.

Simon was built in 1950 by Edmund Berkeley for the express purpose of
educating the masses and with the express hopes of fostering a computer
hobbyist movement.

So, who was this Berkeley guy? He was one of the lesser known players
the start of the computer revolution. He was a mathematician who worked
on the Harvard Mark II, he worked with Eckert and Mauchly to help define
the Univac, he founded the ACM, he started the first computer magazine,

How did Simon differ from other simple relay machines, like the first
Stibitiz calculators? It was more general purpose, it was portable, and
it was popularized in the press. 13 articles on Simon appeared in
Radio-Electronics in 1950 and 1951. It was the subject of a cover story
in Scientific American. It was covered in two of Berkeley's books. It
was given television coverage and appeared in such mainstream magazines

Berkeley was the first computer evangelist -- the first to articulate
idea of a personal computer, and the first to build one. Of course,
were others, such as Vanevar Bush, who described futuristic visions, but
Berkeley dedicated a good part of his life to making computers
to mere mortals.

I haven't stumbled upon a machine yet more deserving of "the first pc"
title than Simon, and given the depth of Berkeley's work, I don't expect
to. But Simon was just the first milestone towards the goal of
personal computers, and it doesn't diminish the importance of the PDP-8,
the Mark-8, or even the lowly IBM PC.

OK, I'll crawl back under my rock now.

-- Doug
Blinkenlights Archaeological Institute Featuring... Nearly Forgotten Personal
Received on Sun Jan 30 2005 - 00:15:42 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Oct 10 2014 - 23:37:45 BST