Kids' computers through the ages

The evolution of toy computers for children mirrors that of real-world systems for adults. We look at some of the changes the play-along versions have undergone in the past 70 years.

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Edmund C. Berkeley Geniac (1955) 

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In the 1950s, computers entered the American consciousness in a big way. Enterprising companies soon found ways to scale down the "electric brain" experience and bring it to the home in kit form. The Geniac was one of the first kits to do so, retailing for a mere $20 in 1955 (that's about $167 in today's dollars).

The Geniac kit shipped with a wooden frame and a set of six predrilled Masonite discs that served as rotary switches. The user programmed the computer by wiring the switches in a certain way, and then gave the computer input by positioning the discs. Assuming that the program was set up correctly, the user would see the result flash on a series of miniature light bulbs. Believe it or not, the Geniac could play an unbeatable game of Tic-Tac-Toe if wired correctly.

Photo: Edmund C. Berkeley

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