A 1960s Children’s Book about Computers #Computers #Literature #History @pagetable

The 1963 book “Robots and Electronic Brains” (by Robert Scharff) from the “How and Why Wonder Books” series is an early children’s book about computers. Pagetable looks at some of the interesting contents – and how the German translation “Was ist was: Roboter und Elektronengehirne,” from 1967, changed some details.

Published in 1963, this might very well be one of the first children’s books on computers ever. To put this into context, this was:

  • less than 20 years after the first workable computers
  • four years after the introduction of the IBM 1401, one of the first commercial computers based on transistors (as opposed to tubes), weighing five tons and with programs on punch cards
  • six years before the moon landings

With this context, the somewhat weird title “Robots and Electronic Brains” might be more understandable:

  • Computers are called “electronic brains”, since “computers” might not have been a common enough term (especially for children!) at the time.
  • Even though the book is mostly about computers, “robots” are mentioned first in the title, because they are a familiar concept. Robots like “Robby” (“Forbidden Planet”, 1956) were part of the pop culture.

While the original German version went with a literal translation, later editions updated the title to “Computer und Roboter” – computers and robots. They kept updating it until 1999, but it’s now out of print.

Read more here.


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