Technology: 1959-60

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The Rise and Fall of the "Specialist" or "Expert"

Kid Baltan (Dick Raaijmakers) and Tom Dissevelt at Philips "Nat. Lab" 1959, explaining how electronic tape music is made. Broadcast by VARA television on January 17, 1959

Transistor, c1959

  • This is from an excerpt of Fred Kaplan's book 1959: The Year that Changed Everything (see the discussion on the home site 1959-60).
  • Kaplan writes: "On March 24, 1959, at the Institute of Radio Engineers' annual trade show in the New York Coliseum, Texas Instruments, one of the nation's leading electronics firms, introduced a new device that would change the world as profoundly as any invention of the 20th century—the solid integrated circuit, or, as it came to be called, the microchip. Without the chip, the commonplace conveniences of modern life—personal computers, the Internet, anything involving digital technology and displays, even something as simple as the handheld calculator—would be the stuff of science fiction." See:

Computing Science

The Integrated Circuit

Image: The January/February issue of Technology Review features a beautiful photo gallery of integrated circuit images from 1950’s till now, entitled Moore’s Law.

  • In the 1950s,two devices would be invented which would improve the computer field and cause the beginning of the computer revolution. The first of these two devices was the transistor. Invented in 1947 by William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain of Bell Labs, the transistor was fated to oust the days of vacuum tubes in computers, radios, and other electronics.

Vacuum tubes were highly inefficient, required a great deal of space, and needed to be replaced often. Computers such as ENIAC had 18,000 tubes in them and housing all these tubes and cooling the rooms from the heat produced by 18,000 tubes was not cheap.. The transistor promised to solve all of these problems and it did so. Transistors, however, had their problems too. The main problem was that transistors, like other electronic components, needed to be soldered together. As a result, the more complex the circuits became, the more complicated and numerous the connections between the individual transistors and the likelihood of faulty wiring increased.

In 1958, this problem too was solved by Jack St. Clair Kilby of Texas Instruments. He manufactured the first integrated circuit or chip. A chip is really a collection of tiny transistors which are connected together when the transistor is manufactured. Thus, the need for soldering together large numbers of transistors was practically nullified; now only connections were needed to other electronic components. In addition to saving space, the speed of the machine was now increased since there was a diminished distance that the electrons had to follow.

Also in 1958, a group of computer scientists met in Zurich and from this meeting came ALGOL--ALGOrithmic Language. ALGOL was intended to be a universal, machine-independent language, but they were not successful as they did not have the same close association with IBM as did FORTRAN. A derivative of ALGOL-- ALGOL-60--came to be known as C, which is the standard choice for programming requiring detailed control of hardware. After that came COBOL--COmmon Business Oriented Language. COBOL was developed in 1960 by a joint committee. It was designed to produce applications for the business world and had the novice approach of separating the data descriptions from the actual program. This enabled the data descriptions to be referred to by many different programs.

Source: The History of Computing Science <>


Image: Lunik 1 (Source:

  • Here's the quote from Kaplan's summary article: "On Jan. 2, 1959, a Soviet rocket carrying the Lunik 1 space capsule—also known as Mechta, or "the dream"—blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Tyuratam, Kazakhstan, accelerated to 7 miles per second (the magical speed known as "escape velocity"), sailed past the moon, and pushed free of Earth's orbit, becoming the first man-made object to revolve around the sun among the celestial bodies. Lunik has since been obscured by the rapid milestones in space that followed. But it was a big deal at the time, the subject of front-page headlines and frightful fears on the floor of Congress. The next issue of Time magazine hailed the feat as "a turning point in the multibillion-year history of the solar system," for "one of the sun's planets had at last evolved a living creature that could break the chains of its gravitational field." See:
-Aldona Dziedziejko

  • Space monkeys Able and Baker boldly go where no monkey (or human) has gone before. The space monkeys paved the way for humans. This year, NASA picks the Mercury Astronauts, 7 guys with the "right stuff."

  • Anthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey's wife Mary discovers bone and tool fragments in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, Africa. These suggest that Australopithecine Man lived more than 1.75 million years ago. The find greatly increases scientists' estimates of humankind's history.