Of Mice and Motherboards

MOTAT's deep collection of historical tech offers a fascinating look at computer history through actual objects that people used every day.

We may smugly think that computing technology is a product of our modern era, beginning in the 1960s or '70s.

However, consider this: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known use of the word computer was in a 1613 book called The Yong Mans Gleanings:

"I haue [sic] read the truest computer of Times, and the best Arithmetician that euer [sic] breathed, and he reduceth thy dayes into a short number."

This referred to a human computer, a person who expertly carried out calculations or computations. This particular usage of the word lasted well into the 20th Century; women were often hired as computers because they could be paid less than men.

Even further back in history, we could point to the abacus and even the Greek Antikythera mechanism (100 BC), thought to be used for calculating astronomical positions, as early computing tech.

However, the first mechanical computer was conceived as a machine of cogs and gears as far back as the 1880s (a few were even steam-powered!). Englishman Charles Babbage, considered the "Father of the Computer," originated the concept of a programmable computer with his "Difference Engine" which was a mechanical calculator he designed in the 1820s.

CREDIT: G2.com

But the concept of the personal computer only became practical in the 1950s and '60s with the invention of semiconductors, the mouse, and the graphical user interface (GUI), a way to interactively click on the screen to get information instead of having to know a computer language.

As New Zealand's leading museum of Transport and Technology, MOTAT has a deep collection of interesting historical computer objects, from monitors to modems, mice to motherboards...and more. It's fascinating to view computer history through actual tech that people used every day.

Check out our image gallery to see just a sample of MOTAT's large and ever-growing collection of computing technology.

MOTAT Collection Image Gallery: Computer Tech

Story by Cliff Hahn, Content Producer, MOTAT


MOTAT Collection Online: Computers

G2.com: A Complete History of Computers: From the 1800s to Now

BBC History of Computers Documentary

Computer History Museum


Hahn, Cliff. MOTAT's Monitors, Mice and Motherboards. MOTAT Museum of Transport and Technology. First published: 10 February 2022. URL: https://www.motat.nz/collections-and-stories/of-mice-and-motherboards