100 years in…Technology Part 1

Science, Technology 2014-11-05

Last month at Notch we celebrated the greatest achievements in the last 100 years of science. This month we’re dedicating a series of blogs to look at life-changing technological inventions of the last 100 years.


Keyboard wars

Enigma Machine

In 1923 Arthur Scherbius, a German engineer, developed the ‘Enigma’ machine, capable of transcribing coded information. Enigma allowed an operator to type in a message then scramble it by using four notched wheels, or rotors, which displayed different letters of the alphabet. The receiver needed to know the settings of these rotors in order to reconstitute the coded text.


As more Germans started using this machine, the basic device was developed further and after a few years, plugs and electronic circuits were added. The technology was really helping Germany at this point.


In 1928, the Polish heard about the Enigma machines and managed to intercept one in Polish customs. A group of brilliant mathematicians studied the machine in detail but unfortunately they could not figure out the rotor wiring. The Polish then passed it onto the French but they also couldn’t comprehend how it worked. The machine was then passed onto the British in 1938.

In 1939 Bletchley Park mathematicians attempted to crack the Enigma codes, and finally a mathematician named Alan Turing and his team developed an electronic device, which successfully decoded German messages.


Decryption Device


The Enigma invention inspired further research and investment into electronic devices that are capable of receiving information, and performing a sequence of operations with a predetermined set of procedural instructions – also known as computers.


In 1943, Presper Eckert and John Mauchlybegan to construct the first electronic numerical integrator. This device was later used to calculate ballistic firing tables during the Second World War.


Also in 1943, the colossus was invented. This was a programmable digital machine, which most people consider the world’s first electronic computer; this was built and used in England.  However the colossus couldn’t store any information, therefore could not actually function.

The Manchester Mark 1 was the world’s first stored-program computer, successfully built in 1948, at Victoria University of Manchester. The Manchester Mark 1 used a magnetic store drum to store its program, however it only had a storage capacity of 64 x 40 bit words.


magnetic drummanchester mark 1


The invention of computers has developed over many years and continues to shape and influence our future. Today it is common to have a personal computer at home and work, and/or a portable computer in various sizes and colours.  Computers have allowed business and banks to flourish by creating electronic databases, which are highly organised, accurate and very fast for extracting and calculating information.

We have become more reliant and also more interactive with our computers, in the sense that we learn, watch, create and work on computers on a daily basis.


What has been your favourite technology invention of the past century?


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