A computer for everyone

The first consumer computers appeared on the market in the late 1970s. Today, a personal computer can be found in almost every home.

By NEMO Science Museum

ENIAC Programmers / United States Army (1946) by United States ArmyNational Women’s History Museum

The first electronic computers were developed in the 1940s. 

The American computer ENIAC was used by the United States army to calculate missile trajectories. 

These machines could be a several metres high and wide.

Trinity 77 (1977) by Byte MagazineNEMO Science Museum

In the 1970s, computers became smaller and more affordable thanks to the transistor. 

These three computers dating from 1977 were among the first successful personal computers.

With a Commodore on the left and an Apple in the centre.

Michael Holley's Home Computer (1978) by Northwest Computer Club NewsNEMO Science Museum

Personal computers in those days were mainly used for word processing and you could connect a printer to many of the early models. 

Apple II (1980) by AppleNEMO Science Museum

This is the Apple II Europlus (without screen) that was introduced in 1980. The keyboard was usually integrated in the machine, while devices such as floppy disc drives were sold separately. 

Acorn electron cassette computer (1983) by Acorn ElectronNEMO Science Museum

Many people will associate the cassette tape with audio, but it was also useful for storing computer files and programs. 

Apple personal computer (1986) by AppleNEMO Science Museum

Until the mid-1980s, computer screens mainly displayed only lines of text. The Apple Macintosh Plus, introduced in 1986, and its predecessor the Macintosh 128K, worked with a ‘desktop’ and a mouse. 

IBM Personal Computer Convertible (1986) by IBMNEMO Science Museum

The first laptop with a battery was manufactured by IBM in 1986. The computer had now become portable and mobile. 

Atari pocket computer (1989) by AtariNEMO Science Museum

The Atari Portfolio, introduced in 1989, was the first handheld computer. The device had 128 kilobytes of memory (a modern laptop easily has a million times more storage capacity: 128 gigabytes). 

Commodore C286LT (1990) by CommodoreNEMO Science Museum

In the early 1990s, the first laptops appeared on the market with a design that is still familiar to us today. This Commodore was introduced in 1990. 

Analog Modem 56K (2000) by TrustNEMO Science Museum

The general public now also gained access to the internet www (world wide web) protocol, which allowed computers to communicate using a modem and a telephone line. 

If you used a computer with internet connection in the 1990s and 2000s, you will certainly recognize this sound which was produced by the modem when it connected.

Turn your sound on! 

Atari Game Console (1979/1986) by AtariNEMO Science Museum

Another early ‘task’ of computers was entertainment. In the 1970s, the first game console appeared: the Atari 2600 dating from 1977. It was one of the first devices to use cartridges.  

The game Pac-Man was developed in Japan in 1982 for the Atari console. It would become the best-selling game for that device. The player had to eat all the balls in the field while avoiding the ghosts. 

Commodore PET 8032-SK personal computer (1979/1980) by CommodoreNEMO Science Museum

Communication, administration, information and entertainment: the computer is a multi-tasker. According to Statistics Netherlands, in 2017, 91 per cent of Dutch households had a computer and 98 per cent had internet access. 

Credits: Story


Object of the Month – August 2021 

Each month, NEMO Science Museum spotlights one item from its collection of 19,000 special objects. These objects, which were once part of people’s everyday lives, show us how technology changes over time. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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