The Funny Side of Early Computing


The early days of computing are a fascinating period in history. Beside the giant machines themselves, we are thankfully left with the photographs, scientific papers, advertising, newspaper reports and technical manuals that were all created as a natural by-product of this emerging industry. These extensive primary sources can offer a great insight into the academic and technological impact that computers made, but they don’t always help us understand the more subtle effects that computers were to have on the common man.

The other day I was pleased to come across a small archive of original 1950s-mid 1960s computer-related cartoons by an English artist named Albert Edgar Beard. Beard was a successful and well-respected commercial illustrator and cartoonist working through the middle years of the 20th Century. He was published in some of the best newsstand publications of the time including Punch, Evening Standard, Daily Sketch and the New Scientist. With an observant eye and keen wit, Beard was an adroit social commentator and his cartoons reflect lightheartedly both the challenges and absurdities of his time.

Although Beard would take inspiration from any situation, this particular group of cartoons all relate to the introduction of computers and computer systems into the business environment and were probably all drawn up around the same time. From his informed yet neutral vantage-point, Beard’s cartoons are both funny and fascinating snap-shots. They tell of how some computers were little more than meaningless trophies, of the transition both workers and management had to go through to adapt to these new machines, and of the obviously rapid pace of change and obsolescence that was even comical back then.

Today some of Beard’s cartoons remain timeless and still laugh-out-loud funny, while in others the punch-lines have become so common-place and matter-of-fact for our own lives as to lose their humour.  Even so, from the 1950s point of view, these were the daily absurdities of computing that people must have laughed about.

Each image can be clicked to enlarge it.

I hope you enjoy them too…………..

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