It seems that it was IBM, in the context of its initiatives to encourage computer-related university training and research, that came up with the term “computer science”, though this is just one of the names applied to the discipline over its 70-year life. Other terms that have been used with a similar meaning include cybernetics, automation, electronic brains, computers and electronic data processors, among many others.

However, before modern computers were developed, people were already using instruments with pre-computed calculations. Usually these were analogue (non-digital) devices. The slide rule is undoubtedly the most successful analogue computer. Based on Napier’s logarithmic calculation method, the instrument was developed by William Oughtred, among others, in the seventeenth century. Up until the 1970s, scientists and engineers enjoyed showing off their slide rules and used them with pride: it was a skill that not everybody had the intellectual ability to master (V-1).

Many slide rules were used to do calculations of all kinds, but some were designed for special purposes. Of these specialised slide rules, perhaps one of the least known is the sector, invented by the great scientist Galileo for use in the construction of military fortifications and citadels, and in navigation (V-2). As the use of slide rules grew, some calculations, because of their length or the degree of precision they entailed, could not be performed on a simple pocket slide rule; they required the use of highly sophisticated variants with scales arranged in spiral form to make optimal use of the space on the device (V-3).

In the twentieth century, long after the days of Galileo’s sector, the need for devices that could perform special calculations arose once again. The instruments developed in response included planimeters – instruments for automatically calculating surface areas that automated the mathematical integration of two variables – and various instruments designed for other specialised tasks, such as telemetry in automotive racing, and air navigation (V-5).

Photo album

V-1-1 / Nester sliderule

V-1-2 / Faber sliderule


V-1-3 / Aero circular sliderule


V-2-1 / Galileo's compas or sector


V-2-2 / User manual for Galileo's sector


V-3-1 / Fuller desktop spiral rule


V-3-2 / Tröger circular rule


V-3-3 / Otis Kings portable rule


V-4-1 / Planimeter


V-4-2 / Morin planimeter


V-5-1 / NASCAR Computer Pack


V-5-2 / SkyKing Computer


V-5-3 a / Electronic calculators


V-5-3 b / Electronic calculators do arrive