The first computer in the world was sold 69 years ago on 12 July 1950. Price was equivalent to 46 years’s work pays

It was a device designed by a German engineer Konrad Zuse and titled Z4. It took eight years (including some breaks) to produce Z4

Since the first computers were enormously big and impractical, there were some more erroneous guesses about their prospects. For instance, in 1943, IBM president Thomas Watson stated: “I think that the global market has a demand for about five computers”.

He certainly had giant and extremely powerful computing machines in mind but even supercomputers are presently counted in hundreds in the world. So how has the global computer market changed from the moment the first computer was sold?

First computer: Plans Changed by World War II

Konrad Zuse started producing computer Z4 in 1942. His main goal was to create a machine intended for mass trade. Two years later, over twenty more people joined the production process, however, the lack of materials and the tragic situation in Germany, which was involved in war, reversed the direction of the events. Zuse had to urgently escape the daily bombarded Berlin and in March 1945 he and his pregnant wife and unfinished Z4 left for a small town in Bavaria. The man hid the computer in the barn. His greatest challenge now was to survive and maintain his family.

Regardless of difficulties, he managed to finish Z4, and, in 1949, a mathematician Eduard Stiefel from the Swiss Federal Technology Institute in Zurich ETH Zurich paid him a visit and evaluated the computer. After the mathematician formulated a differential equation, Zuse deftly programmed it and Z4 produced the solution. Mr Stiefel was impressed. He decided to order a computer for the research institute in which he worked. The transaction was formally concluded on 12 July 1950, and a computer was delivered to ETH Zurich in September of the same year.

It is estimated that it cost about DM 60,000 to restore the computer, and ETH Zurich paid for the purchase DM 100,000 (to compare, an average monthly wage of the time amounted to about DM 180). This transaction was extremely profitable for its developer. Afterwards, the man established a company Zuse KG, which produced and sold computers for over a decade. Unfortunately, the company got into financial trouble in 1961 and a few years later the company was sold.

Computers Increasingly Smaller, Lighter, but More Powerful

The first fully assembled computers suitable for home users were available a decade later. However, the real boom of computers started after 1991 when the World Wide Web (WWW) became accessible to everyone.

In 1996, 70.9 million personal computers were sold in the world. In 2000, this number amounted to 134.7 million; five more years later – to 218.5 million. But the year 2011 was the record year for computer manufacturers – 365.4 computers were sold worldwide. Ever since, the sales of computers decrease annually; but the dropping trend has slowed down in recent years, in fact. For instance, in 2018, according to the data of Gartner, 259.4 million computers were sold which is 1.3% less than the previous year.


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