From cuneiform to computers

Highlights of the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum. Photos: Jan, Braun, HNF

By Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum (HNF) in Paderborn invites you on a tour of discovery and hands-on exploration! Come and experience the history, present and future of information technology over 6,000 m² of floorspace, from the first written characters, via typewriters and calculating machines all the way to early computers and present-day robots. The world’s biggest computer museum is an exciting destination for people of all ages and a lively event venue.

Mesopotamien clay tablet (-2350)Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The earliest documents written on clay tablets in cuneiform script were used for tax and accounting purposes. Records were kept of the bread rations paid to workers, for example. The precise history is not known. About 2350-2100 BC. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

“Calculating clock” by Schickard (1957) by Baron von Freytag-LöringhoffHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

Wilhelm Schickard wanted to “mechanise” the laborious and error-prone task of calculating astronomical tables. In 1623 he had two calculating machines built to his specifications in a mechanic’s workshop in Tübingen – one for himself, the other for Johannes Kepler. The practical benefits of his “calculating clock” appeared somewhat dubious at the time, as the system based on logarithmic tables was superior. Regrettably, both machines were destroyed in a fire at the workshop and the invention was forgotten. This reconstruction of the machine by Baron von Freytag Löringhoff was completed in 1957. Date of manufacture: 1957. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

“Machine arithmétique” by René Grillet (1678) by René GrilletHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

In 1678, French watchmaker René Grillet presented the “Machine arithmétique” which was capable of carrying out all four basic arithmetic operations. Constructed largely out of paper, the invention used so-called Napier’s rods that had been around since 1617 for the calculation process. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

It is an excellent example of the early days of mechanical calculation and an ancestor of today’s pocket calculator. Date of manufacture: 1678. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Leibniz stepped reckoner (1995) by Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForumHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

This calculating machine, invented by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, was built in the years from 1690 to 1720. It represents a historic milestone in the development of mechanical calculating machines because it was the first to perform all four arithmetic operations. Leibniz's operating mechanism, known as the stepped cylinder or Leibniz wheel, allowed multiplication to be performed mechanically and remained an indispensable component of mechanical calculators for over 200 years. Functioning replica of the only remaining original (at the Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek in Hanover), built to plans by N. Joachim Lehmann. HNF replica: 1995. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Chess Turk (2004) by Heinz Nixdorf MuseusmForumHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The device popularly known as the “Chess Turk“ was built in 1769 by Austrian court official Wolfgang von Kempelen in such a way as to convince spectators that they were watching an “automated chess player“. In fact an individual of quite normal size sat inside and controlled the gripper arm with the aid of levers and cable winches. Magnetised chess pieces and small magnetic pins on the underside of the board enabled the moves to be followed by the person within. Functional HNF replica: 2004. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Thomas Arithmometer (1855) by L. PayenHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

An Arithmometer is a mechanical calculating machine invented by the Frenchman Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar (1785-1870). It was the world's first calculating machine to go into series production. As well as addition and subtraction, it could perform multiplication and division by means of repeated addition and subtraction. This luxury version of the calculating machine was a gift to the king of Portugal. Date of manufacture: about 1855. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Hansen Writing Ball (1878) by Albert von ScabelHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The Hansen Writing Ball was the world's first typewriter to be produced commercially, albeit in small batches. It was developed in 1865 by Rasmus Johann Malling-Hansen, a Danish pastor and teacher of deaf-mutes. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a well-known user. Date of manufacture: about 1878. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Ericsson Morse Telegraph Type TA 100 (1880) by L. M. Ericsson & Co.Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The name Morse and the code of the same name became synonymous with telegraphy. His procedure for transmitting text information via a series of pulses (dots and dashes) and the silences between them helped the technology achieve a breakthrough. The most important components of the Ericsson Morse Telegraph Type TA 100 for receiving messages (“sounder”) are an electromagnet, an armature, a mechanical clockwork to move the paper tape, a coloured stylus and a roll of paper. A Morse key is required to transmit messages. Date of manufacture: about 1880. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Edmondson circular calculating machine (1885) by Blakey, Emmot & Co.Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

In 1883, Englishman Joseph Edmondson obtained a patent for a circular calculating machine based on the stepped-drum mechanism. His design was based on Thomas de Colmar’s simple “arithmomètre”. The advantage of Edmondson’s machine was that it was not limited to a certain number of decimal places if a division produced a remainder. Date of manufacture: about 1885. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Hollerith machine (2006) by Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForumHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

This machine is a replica of the first Hollerith machine that was used so successfully to complete the first census in the USA thanks to the use of punched cards. It provided a much faster way of counting the vast amount of data gathered. The Hollerith machine consists of two hinged plates, a switch panel with relays, a counting device with 40 counters and a sorting box. When one of the pins on the plates meets a hole in the punched card, a circuit is completed and an electric pulse causes the pointer of a counter to advance accordingly. The respective compartment of the sorting box is also opened, and the operator can place the analysed punched card into it by hand. Functional HNF replica: 2006. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

“Wooden Box” comptometer (1900) by Felt & Tarrant Manufacturing CompanyHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The comptometer was the first exclusively key-driven mechanical calculator. The “wooden box” was a precursor to the full-keyboard adding machines built between 1886 and 1904. According to its manufacturer’s promotional material, it was the world’s first adding machine with a practical application. Date of manufacture: about 1900. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Underwood No. 5 (1915) by Underwood Typewriter CompanyHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The Underwood No. 5, which appeared in 1900, was the first classic modern typewriter (with visible text, upper- and lower-case letters and tab stops). It set the standard for all subsequent typewriters worldwide until they were superseded first by IBM electric typewriters, which used a type ball instead of type bars, and then by PCs. Date of manufacture: 1915. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

ZB SA 25 tabletop telephone (1925) by Friedrich Merk TelefonbauHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

This extremely compact table-top telephone with a quirky design was also known as the “Pferdefuss” or “horse’s hoof” in Bavaria due to its shape. It was the approved standard dialling apparatus only in Bavaria. Incidentally, the device was referred to as the “cow’s hoof” in Prussia. Date of manufacture: from 1925 onwards. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

NCR Model 422 Cash Register (1910) by National Cash Register CorporationHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

In 1879 the Ritty brothers filed a patent application for the first cash register in the USA. Businessman John H. Patterson acquired the rights to manufacture cash registers in 1884 and founded the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio. The NCR 400 series models were among the standard cash registers in use at the time. They were favoured by retail outlets because of their robust nature. Model 422 has five rows of keys and features 42 keys in all. The indicators are in English and show sums of pounds and pence. Date of manufacture: 1910. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Kryha Liliput (1926) by N.V. Machine Maatschappy „Kryha“Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The Kryha Liliput is a very rare cipher machine in pocket-watch format. The machine consisted of two concentric rings, each featuring an alphabet and numbers. The user would operate it by pushing a lever to step the inner ring a random number of places against the outer ring, thereby changing the relationship between the two. Although Kryha’s devices were a commercial success, they were cryptographically weak as the period lengths of the codes were generally quite short. The Kryha Liliput was cryptographically compatible with its “big sister”, the Kryha Standard. Date of manufacture: about 1926. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Enigma (1942) by Heimsoeth & RinkeHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The legendary Enigma cipher machine was developed in the early 1920s by the German engineer Artur Scherbius in Berlin and initially marketed for commercial purposes. The machine has three rotors, each of which performs an alphabetic substitution cipher. By combining the rotors in series and using a plugboard with variable wiring, very complex scrambling of the message can be achieved. Date of manufacture: about 1942. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Siemens T52 e secret teleprinter (1942) by Siemens & HalskeHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The T52 e was a World War II German cipher machine and teleprinter. Due to its size and weight, however, it was only ever used as a stationary device. Unlike the Enigma, messages were encrypted and deciphered automatically. On 20 July 1944, the resistance group led by Claus von Stauffenberg used the device to issue encrypted commands for Operation Valkyrie, the plot to assassinate Hitler. Date of manufacture: 1942. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

ENIAC (1946) by Eckert/Mauchly ; Moore School of ElectronicsHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The first functioning electronic computer consisted of 40 panels with almost 18,000 vacuum tubes. J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly were commissioned to construct a vacuum-tube computer by the US Army in 1943. ENIAC, which was 1,000 times faster than other calculating machines, was developed by the young scientists at the Moore School of Electronics in Philadelphia. It required just eight hours to perform calculations that had previously taken an entire year. The high processing capacity was needed by the US Army to calculate artillery firing tables. Mauchly wanted to use ENIAC’s speed to produce more accurate weather forecasts, which is why its inventors built a “universal machine“. Date of manufacture: 1946. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

IBM D 11 tabulator (1936) by DEHOMAG GmbHHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The history of IBM in Germany dates back to 1910, with the founding of DEHOMAG (Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft mbH) in Berlin. The company was renamed IBM Deutschland GmbH in 1949, when it relocated to Böblingen. The D 11 tabulator, which was manufactured from 1935 onwards, was the first German machine of its kind. Used for punched card analysis, its ability to read, count, compute and print cards made it the mainstay of many so-called Hollerith departments. The machine proved a milestone in the development of punched card technology: It was on sale until 1960, latterly as the IBM D11 Type 450. Around 1,100 D 11 models were sold in all. Date of manufacture: between 1949 and 1960. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Part of a local telephone exchange (1955)Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

In the early days of telephony, calls were connected manually by a switchboard operator . The next stage of development saw the introduction of automatic telephone exchanges which dispensed with the need for human intervention. A local telephone exchange establishes connections between the subscribers of a local network. In this case, an analogue electrical signal is switched via electromechanical components. If the first digit dialled by the subscriber is a zero, he or she is put through to the trunk or long-distance exchange. The electromechanical system exhibited here was in use in Hagen-Eilpe until 1994, when it was replaced by a digital switching system. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

W 48 Desktop Telephone (1954) by Siemens & HalskeHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The W48 desktop telephone was developed for the Deutsche Bundespost by Siemens & Halske in 1948 in the western zone of occupied Germany and produced in very large quantities. Date of manufacture: 1954. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Nixdorf electronic balancer (1953) by Heinz NixdorfHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

This is the first computer developed by Heinz Nixdorf. He started work in July 1952 and it took him 15 months to complete. The electronic balancer is equipped with vacuum tubes. It is a one-off machine built especially for materials management at Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk (RWE), where it supplemented the work of a Remington Rand tabulating machine, whose mechanical mode of operation was no match for the much faster Nixdorf electronics. Date of manufacture: 1953. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Exacta-Continental 6000 (1958) by Exacta Büromaschinen GmbHHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The accounting machine Exacta-Continental 6000 was the ultimate in electromechanical office equipment: it could manage all accounting tasks with ease. It came with an optional Multitronic electronic multiplication unit manufactured by Heinz Nixdorf’s Labor für Impulstechnik, which signalled the beginning of a new data processing era from 1958 onwards. Date of manufacture: about 1958. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Zuse Z 11 (1958) by Zuse KGHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The Zuse Z 11 was the first programmable relay computer from ZUSE KG to go into series production. It was used for mathematical calculations, its hard-wired programs having been designed for surveying tasks in particular. The last in a development series of electro-mechanically controlled computer systems, it contained relays as binary switching elements. These may have been slower than vacuum tubes, but were also more reliable, more durable and less expensive. Date of manufacture: 1958. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Curta type I (1965) by HerzstarkHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The Curta is the only mechanical pocket calculator that is capable of performing all four basic arithmetic operations. The inventor of this precision-engineered masterpiece was an Austrian, Curt Herzstark (1902-1988). Date of manufacture: about 1965. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Linotype model 5cS (1962) by Linotype GmbHHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The linotype machine was a “line casting” machine used in printing. It replaced the extremely time-consuming manual type-setting process. The machine, which was patented in 1886, mechanised the setting and casting of letters. The setter entered text at a keyboard: every time a key was pressed, a matrix of the chosen letter fell into position from a magazine. The assembled line of matrices was cast as a single piece of type metal and filled with liquid lead once the spaces between words had been automatically adjusted. After cooling, this produced “A LINE OF TYPES”. Date of manufacture: 1962. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Optima Mod. DHY-C “Flying Dove”, Chinese typewriter (1992) by Chinese bicycle factory “Flying Dove”Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

At the start of the 1950s, VEB Optima Büromaschinenwerk Erfurt was asked to develop a typewriter for China as part of e socialist initiative to support allied nations. The Erfurt manufacturers based their design on the box-type typewriter first sold in 1917 by Nippon Typewriter Co. Ltd. in Tokyo. The “Chinese Optima” made its début in 1953. Subsequently, the Chinese bicycle factory “Flying Dove” took over production of the device, two versions of which were produced in China under the “Flying Dove” brand until the end of 1992. Date of manufacture: 1992. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Olivetti Valentine (1970) by OlivettiHeinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

The Olivetti Valentine is a mechanical typewriter that stands out largely by virtue of its unconventional appearance. It is regarded as a milestone in industrial design and is a sought-after collector’s item. Date of manufacture: early 1970s. Photo: Jan Braun, HNF

Credits: Story

Fotos: Jan Braun/Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum

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