The History of Computer Peripherals

Computer Mouse
Computer Mouse. Jonathan Kitchen | Getty Images

Computer peripherals are any of a number of devices that work with a computer. Here are some of the most well known components.

Compact Disk/CD

A compact disk or CD is a popular form of digital storage media used for ​computer files, pictures and music. The plastic platter is read and written to using a laser in a CD drive. It comes in several varieties including CD-ROM, CD-R and CD-RW.

James Russell invented the compact disk in 1965.

Russell was granted a total of 22 patents for various elements of his compact disk system. However, the compact disk did not become popular until it was mass manufactured by Philips in 1980.

The Floppy Disk

In 1971, IBM introduced the first "memory disk” or the "floppy disk," as it is known today. The first floppy was an 8-inch flexible plastic disk coated with magnetic iron oxide. Computer data was written to and read from the disk's surface.

The nickname "floppy" came from the disk's flexibility. The floppy disk was considered a revolutionary device throughout the history of computers for its portability, which provided a new and easy means of transporting data from computer to computer.

The "floppy" was invented by IBM engineers led by Alan Shugart. The original disks were designed for loading microcodes into the controller of the Merlin (IBM 3330) disk pack file (a 100 MB storage device).

So, in effect, the first floppies were used to fill another type of data storage device.

The Computer Keyboard

The invention of the modern computer keyboard began with the invention of the typewriter. Christopher Latham Sholes patented the typewriter that we commonly use today in 1868. The Remington Company mass marketed the first typewriters starting in 1877.

A few key technological developments allowed for the transition of the typewriter into the computer keyboard. The teletype machine, introduced in the 1930s, combined the technology of the typewriter (used as an input and a printing device) with the telegraph. Elsewhere, punched card systems were combined with typewriters to create what was called keypunches. Keypunches were the basis of early adding machines and IBM was selling over one million dollars worth of adding machines in 1931.

Early computer keyboards were first adapted from the punch card and teletype technologies. In 1946, the Eniac computer used a punched card reader as its input and output device. In 1948, the Binac computer used an electromechanically controlled typewriter to both input data directly onto magnetic tape (for feeding the computer data) and to print results. The emerging electric typewriter further improved the technological marriage between the typewriter and the computer.

The Computer Mouse

Technology visionary Douglas Engelbart changed the way computers worked, turning them from specialized machinery that only a trained scientist could use to a user-friendly tool that almost anyone can work with. He invented or contributed to several interactive, user-friendly devices such as the computer mouse, windows, computer video teleconferencing, hypermedia, groupware, email, the Internet and more.

Engelbart conceived of the rudimentary mouse when he started thinking about how to improve interactive computing during a conference on computer graphics. In the early days of computing, users typed codes and commands to make things happen on monitors. Engelbart came up with the idea of linking the computer’s cursor to a device with two wheels—one horizontal and one vertical. Moving the device on a horizontal surface would allow the user to position the cursor on the screen.

Engelbart’s collaborator on the mouse project, Bill English, built a prototype—a hand-held device carved out of wood, with a button on the top. In 1967, Engelbart’s company SRI filed for the patent on the mouse, although the paperwork identified it as "x,y position indicator for a display system." The patent was awarded in 1970.

Like so much in computer technology, the mouse has evolved significantly. In 1972 English developed the “track ball mouse” that allowed users to control the cursor by rotating a ball from a fixed position. One interesting enhancement is that many devices are now wireless, a fact that makes this Engelbart’s early prototype almost quaint: “We turned it around so the tail came out the top. We started with it going the other direction, but the cord got tangled when you moved your arm. 

The inventor, who grew up on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, hoped his achievements would add to the collective intelligence of the world. "It would be wonderful,” he once said, “if I can inspire others, who are struggling to realize their dreams, to say 'if this country kid could do it, let me keep slogging away'." 


In 1953, the first high-speed printer was developed by Remington-Rand for use on the Univac computer. In 1938, Chester Carlson invented a dry printing process called electrophotography that’s now commonly called a Xerox, the foundation technology for laser printers to come.

The original laser printer called EARS was developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center beginning in 1969 and completed in November 1971. Xerox Engineer, Gary Starkweather adapted Xerox copier technology adding a laser beam to it to come up with the laser printer. According to Xerox, "The Xerox 9700 Electronic Printing System, the first xerographic laser printer product, was released in 1977. The 9700, a direct descendent from the original PARC "EARS" printer which pioneered in laser scanning optics, character generation electronics, and page-formatting software, was the first product on the market to be enabled by PARC research."

According to IBM, "the very first IBM 3800 was installed in the central accounting office at F. W. Woolworth’s North American data center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1976." The IBM 3800 Printing System was the industry’s first high-speed, laser printer and operated at speeds of more than 100 impressions-per-minute.

It was the first printer to combine laser technology and electrophotography, according to IBM.

In 1992, Hewlett-Packard released the popular LaserJet 4, the first 600 by 600 dots per inch resolution laser printer. In 1976, the inkjet printer was invented, but it took until 1988 for the inkjet to become a home consumer item with Hewlett-Parkard's release of the DeskJet inkjet printer, which was priced at a whopping $1000. 

Computer Memory

Drum memory, an early form of computer memory that actually did use a drum as a working part with data loaded to the drum. The drum was a metal cylinder coated with recordable ferromagnetic material. The drum also had a row of read-write heads that wrote and then read the recorded data.

Magnetic core memory (ferrite-core memory) is another early form of computer memory. Magnetic ceramic rings called cores stored information using the polarity of a magnetic field.

Semiconductor memory is computer memory we are all familiar with. It’s basically a computer memory on an integrated circuit or chip. Referred to as random-access memory or RAM, it allowed data to be accessed randomly, not just in the sequence it was recorded.

Dynamic random access memory (DRAM) is the most common kind of random access memory (RAM) for personal computers. The data the DRAM chip holds has to be periodically refreshed. In contrast, static random access memory or SRAM doesn't need to be refreshed.