Four Cs in Office Automation

The simple days are gone! No more manual typewriters or carbon paper.“Snail mail” is a thing of the past. Everyday tasks have changed, a result of the electronic revolution. Not so long ago, we were excited by slide rules and fax machines. Now, we talk about word processing, databases, e-mail and video conferencing. Some of these inventions are very simple, others very complex. What we do know for sure is that we can’t survive without them.


Now, it’s pagers, mobile/cellular phones and digital communication devices. Then, it was the intercom, the telephone and the switchboard. But before that, it was the speaking tube. "Two persons standing at each end of a simple tin pipe, 1 in. in diameter, 50 to 100 ft. or more long, with several elbows in it, and carried through a half a dozen rooms, can still converse quite readily in a low voice." (Manufacturer and Builder, Mar. 1872, p. 67) Speaking tubes were commonly installed in office buildings and other structures to allow people in different rooms to speak with each other.

When talking wasn’t enough, we invented the fax. Although the use of fax machines to transmit images via phone lines did not become common until the late 1980s, the technology dates back to 1843. Scottish mechanic Alexander Bain devised an apparatus comprised of two pens connected to two pendulums, which in turn were joined to a wire, able to reproduce writing on an electrically conductive surface.


Now, it’s computers with spreadsheet software. Then, it was a slide rule or electromechanical calculator. Before that, it was a simple mechanical calculating machine. Credit for the invention of the adding machine goes to an eighteen-year-old French mathematician, Blaise Pascal. The Pascaline, built in 1643, was the first practical adding device. It was built to help his father, a tax collector, with the tedious task of adding and subtracting large sequences of numbers. An even more amazing discovery was made on February 13, 1967, by American researchers working in the National Library of Spain in Madrid. Two unknown works of Leonardo da Vinci, known as the“Codex Madrid,” were uncovered. The manuscripts were for the design of a machine that could calculate mechanically.


Now, it’s digital scanners and copiers. Then, it was a Ditto machine, carbon paper or pen and ink. The process known as Xerography, from the Greek for "dry writing," was invented in 1937 by Chester Carlson. Carlson, who worked at a patent office, was frustrated by the cost and speed of duplicating the patents — which usually meant sending them out to be photographed or painstakingly writing new ones. Carlson’s problem was not the invention but finding someone to fund its development. Eight years later, the Haloid Company, that later became Xerox Corporation, gambled on the invention. Electro-photography was demonstrated to the world on October 22, 1948, 10 years to the day after Carlson's first successful experiment. The first photocopiers were introduced in 1949.


From the abacus to ENIAC to the Internet to World-Wide-Web, computing has certainly changed. Ten years ago, school districts shared a mainframe to do their accounting work and maintain student records. Now, every nook and cranny is wired for the web. Today’s wireless laptops weigh a pound. The first electronic digital computer weighed more than 60,000 lbs. The Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), which was built at the Moore School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was completed in 1945. The machine was developed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, and contained more than 18,000 vacuum tubes.

It was not until 1973 that the Internet came into play and computers could be linked through a worldwide network. The Internet and Transmission Control Protocols were initially developed in 1973 by American computer scientist Vinton Cerf, as part of a project sponsored by the United States Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The first computer network of ARPA (ARPAnet) linked several universities and research laboratories in the United States. Use of the Internet was limited until 1989, when English computer scientist Timothy Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web for the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN). The World Wide Web (WWW) system of resources has changed forever the “business” of education.