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50 years of Information Technology

15 May 2012

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This brief roundup by Online IT Degree presents a timeline of information technology’s development and influence from the 1950s. It demands that the reader keep an open mind about what defines “information technology,” which today includes everything from video games to smartphones to the Internet.

1958 was an interesting year for the entire world. Nikita Krushchev became the Premier of the Soviet Union. Robert Fischer, considered one of the greatest chess players who ever lived, won the United States Chess Championship at the ripe age of 14. The men who would become known as The Beatles had their first recording session, known then by a different name.

In November of that same year, the Harvard Business Review published an article by Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whistler called “Management in the 1980′s”, which begins: “Over the last decade a new technology has begun to take hold in American business, one so new that its significance is still difficult to evaluate. While many aspects of this technology are uncertain, it seems clear that it will move into the managerial scene rapidly, with definite and far-reaching impact on managerial organization. … This new technology does not yet have an established name. We shall call it information technology.”

Information technology, as it was then coined, was only at its nascence. It has since grown into a rich and multi-layered domain within business management, casting its wide umbrella over information systems, mass data management and manipulation, programming languages, software advancements, and the visualization of unique data.

To say that information technology has had an enormous impact on business and culture is an understatement. The era of computation and mobile software that IT has spawned is unparalleled in its reach and forward progress, and as the world continues to move onward its ability to process larger and larger quantities of data will improve to levels still unknown.

Here is a brief timeline of information technology’s development and influence since that article from the Harvard Business Review so many decades ago. It demands that the reader keep an open mind about what defines “information technology,” which today includes everything from video games to smartphones to the Internet. And also, not to forget that unique developments in IT were happening even before the fifties, too.


  • Information Technology in the Early 1950s touches on interesting developments between 1950 and 1955, including such highlights as the development of IBM’s Electronic Statistical Machine (Type 101), and the establishment of the National Science Foundation for the purpose of coordinating scientific information among scientists in the U.S. and around the world.

  • Advertisements of the 1950s addresses how the rise of the personal computer changed the face of advertising. How do you get skeptical consumers to purchase a new, bulky technology in its beginning stages? How has information technology influenced the way companies relay information to customers?

  • History of Artificial Intelligence describes the rise of A.I. and illuminates its connections to the information technology industry.

  • 1950s: New Technology, strategic acquisitions is a short essay by the engineering firm Schlumberger. It is a detailed account of how the rise of information technology at the time transformed their business forever thereafter.

  • The History of Transistors by Jack Ward helps demonstrate how the 1950s development and proliferation of this device changed information technology and the development of the computer.

  • The History of Jack Kilby, who invented the integrated circuit in 1958 and virtually revolutionized the IT industry, will forever be an integral part of the computer’s success today. Kilby famously said of his invention, “It won’t be that big a deal in the long term.”

  • In 1953 Transistorized Computers Emerged, dwarfing the previously used vacuum tube.

  • One of the oldest computing languages, FORTRAN, was developed by a team of programmers at IBM in 1957.

  • Magnetic Core Memory Systems, which became the standard for many years after their development, were born in the early 1950s.

  • The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Automatic Computer (CSIRAC) the first computer built in Australia, was also the first stored-program computer in the world to play music in the 1950s.


  • Information Technology in the 1960s is a decade timeline that includes information on things like the Heatwole H-44, which could search 1,000 documents a minute, and George E. Vladutz’s development of an idea for a system of computerized retrieval of chemical reactions.
  • In 1963, Douglas Engelbart invented the computer mouse, changing how people used computers to interact with on-screen data. This essay by Berkeley Engineering gives a brief history of Engelbart and summarizes the circumstances of his invention.
  • The Equity Funding Scandal, beginning in 1964, was the first major use of computers to generate scams, and was the main incident that sparked information technology auditing. This is a publication by David R. Hancox.
  • The Merit Network, created in 1966 by Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University, could be considered an ancestor to the Internet. The project originally started to investigate the potential for connecting the major research database computers at these three universities. The project was in operation by 1972.


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