The Apple II became an instant success when released in 1977 with its printed circuit motherboard, switching power supply, keyboard, case assembly, manual, game paddles, A/C powercord, and cassette tape with the computer game “Breakout.” When hooked up to a color television set, the Apple II produced brilliant color graphics.
The Kenbak-1, the first personal computer, advertised for $750 in Scientific American. Designed by John V. Blankenbaker using standard medium-scale and small-scale integrated circuits, the Kenbak-1 relied on switches for input and lights for output from its 256-byte memory. In 1973, after selling only 40 machines, Kenbak Corp. closed its doors.
The Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) — the first of several personal computers released in 1977 — came fully assembled and was straightforward to operate, with either 4 or 8 kilobytes of memory, two built-in cassette drives, and a membrane “chiclet” keyboard.
The abacus was an early aid for mathematical computations. Its only value is that it aids the memory of the human performing the calculation. A skilled abacus operator can work on addition and subtraction problems at the speed of a person equipped with a hand calculator (multiplication and division are slower). The abacus is often wrongly attributed to China. In fact, the oldest surviving abacus was used in 300 B.C. by the Babylonians. The abacus is still in use today, principally in the far east. A modern abacus consists of rings that slide over rods, but the older one pictured below dates from the time when pebbles were used for counting (the word “calculus” comes from the Latin word for pebble).