1950s Computer Upgrades

and their impact on American society and culture

By Taylor Scott and James McCoy

The Hard Disk

The first hard disk was an expensive and heavy piece of machinery. "Each generation of disk drives replaced larger, more sensitive and more cumbersome devices." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_hard_disk_drives


Modern day disk drives are small and can store up to around 2 Terabytes(2000 gigabytes) of storage.

In 1956, Reynold Johnson invented the very first hard disk. The first one had 50 2 foot platters that all together stored five million characters or about 4.8 megabytes. To put that in perspective, an average 2 hour movie in standard definition is around 1,600 megabytes. "The capacity of hard drives has grown exponentially over time." http://voices.yahoo.com/hard-disk-8540491.html

The first hard disk that stored one gigabyte weighed 550 pounds, was the size of a refrigerator and cost $40,000 or $130,000 in present times


The hard disk wasn't very popular until the mid 1960's where it and computers began to appear in workplaces all across America. It was very convenient because everything was stored on the computer's hard disk instead of punch cards. It didn't save very much physical space because of its size however it was a great advancement in computer storage systems. The hard disk was a turning point in American life because it ultimately led the the advancements in computers. People would soon be common things in workplaces and could store more sensitive data. Another reason this changed American life is that it would eventually spark the idea of portable computer storage systems like flash drives and external hard drives.

The Modem

The first modem(shown above) was very large and complicated.
Modern modems are much smaller, cheaper, and much easier to use.
The modem was first invented by the US government as part of the SAGE air defense system program in 1958. "Modems stand for modulator-demodulator" http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blmodem.htm

and could send information via a sort of telephone line. The air defense system needed it in order to connect different military terminals and radar systems together.


The first modems did not begin being commercially used until the early 1960s. They had a very large impact on modern American life. Now that computers were becoming a common thing in American's households, modems were very useful. You could now work on a computer and send that data to someone else a good ways away. Sure, they weren't very practical for normal people however it was quite useful for the military and government. In my opinion, this was one of the earliest forms of the Internet.

The Mouse

The old mouse was a simple block with a button.
The modern day mouse is an advanced piece of technology which has multiple buttons, a laser, and is often wireless.

The computer mouse might have been thought up in the late 1950's, however its first prototype didn't come out until 1964. It was invented by Douglas Engelbart and was a revolutionary piece of equipment. "At the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco in 1968, Engelbart astonished his colleagues by demonstrating the aforementioned systems." http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/compmouse.htm

The mouse was made to work with the brand new "Windows" graphical user interface (GUI). The mouse's release was perfectly timed to come out during the same year as the keyboard. These two paired together would start a revolution in its own sense, the revolution of computers.


This was the first time an average, everyday person could actually interact with a computer. The mouse was so revolutionary that it is still used today. Although people couldn't have a computer in their own home yet, having the mouse and being able to interact with the computer opened up a whole new world of possiblities. With computers on the rise and constantly being improved, people needed a way to easily use it which is why the mouse was invented. The mouse was a turning point in American life because it sparked the idea of having usable computers in every home.

Computer Sales Since 1975

1975 - 40,000

2000 - 46 Million

2010 - 93 Million

2011 - 95.4 Million

Video of the First Computer Mouse