A brief history of data storage and processing, based on the life of NEMO Kennislink visitor Cees den Hoedt

The development of the computer easily fits into one human life, just like that of many other means of communication. This timeline covers the life of NEMO Kennislink visitor Cees den Hoedt (93) and shows how quickly the means of communication and the processing of information change.

“I speak to my grandchildren via Zoom, use Whatsapp, read the newspaper online and do my banking digitally. The internet is a panacea”, says Cees den Hoedt, who was born in 1927. You can safely say that he has moved with the times. Probably no one could have guessed at the time of his birth the ways in which he would communicate with friends, family and strangers via the Internet almost a century later.

The computer was invented in the 1940s, when Den Hoedt was a teenager. It was not until more than thirty years later, at the end of the 1970s, that he himself came into contact with it at work as a consultant for socio-cultural work. Thirty years later, he had a mobile phone that technologically surpassed the first man-sized ‘calculating machines’. Den Hoedt says that he has ‘the world in his hand’.

Scroll through the timeline using the arrows and browse through the developments in the field of telecommunications and computers since the birth of Cees den Hoedt in 1927.

1927 (Cees: 0 years old)

A photo from a 1927 newspaper report about the first wireless telephone link between London and America.

The newspaper / The news of the day

Cees den Hoedt was born in 1927. At that time, there are almost 340,000 kilometers of telephone lines worldwide (source: CBS).

1930 (Cees: 3 years old)

On a punched card, information is stored by punching holes in a paper card at specific positions.

The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) uses punch cards for the first time to process data from, among other things, census data. Machines with punched cards can process data much faster than people with forms. The Netherlands now has more than 300,000 connected telephones (source: CBS).

1930s (Cees: 3 – 13 years old)

Chief forester C. Japing behind his desk (with telephone) in Sumatra around 1930.

Cees den Hoedt: “In those days, people mainly maintained contacts within walking or cycling distance. Telephone belonged to the elite, companies and doctors. We could only call the grocer on the corner. We used the telegram to inform acquaintances of ‘fatal circumstances’. We did not receive letters every day, they often came from authorities.”

1940s (Cees: 13 – 23 years old)

Two people operate a Colossus, the first electronic computer, in 1943.

The first computers are under development in Germany, Great Britain and the United States, among others. They are bulky and slow compared to today’s computers. They mainly serve military applications, such as calculating torpedo courses and missile trajectories or cracking encrypted messages.


A transistor radio from the 1950s.

Cees den Hoedt: “We got the first radio after the liberation. I can remember ‘Hiltermann’, a current affairs program that we listened to during the hot Sunday meal in the 1950s. This was followed by reports about new rail connections and the timetable. After the war, people also used the telephone more for ‘normal conversations’.”

1950s (Cees: 23 – 33 years old)

A presentation by the Delta Committee.

Wikimedia commons, National Archives/Anefo via public domain

Engineers use a computer to calculate the Delta Works.

In 1952 the Rijkstelegraaf celebrates its centenary. People use the telegram to quickly send short written messages. From stock exchange reports to train departure times, but also personal messages such as congratulations and obituaries. Messages were settled by length and distance traveled. This excerpt is from the cinema news. Cees dan Hoedt is then 25 years old.

1953 (Cees: 26 years old)

A computer can calculate the distortion of the image through a lens.

In 1953, the Dutch state-owned company PTT started using a calculator for scientific and technical calculations, including the calculation of lenses. It can do a series of complicated calculations fully automatically and can remember up to 2048 digits.

1959 (Cees: 32 years old)

A queue in front of the telephone booth in the early 1960s.

In 1959 Cees den Hoedt works as a community worker. Den Hoedt: “For the first time, as a community worker, I couldn’t do without a phone.”

1960s (Cees: 33 – 43 years old)

Some so-called train letter stamps with which you could quickly send a letter by train.

Philatelic training “NOVIOPOST”

In the 1960s, the first generation of fax machines appeared on the market. They can send documents via the telephone line. Cees den Hoedt still remembers that time well: “In the 1950s and 60s I sometimes used express extra delivery for the post. A letter that I personally gave to a train conductor in the evening was delivered to the office the next morning. With normal mail it took much longer.”

1970s (Cees: 43 – 53 years old)

The American ARPANET in 1974.

In the 1970s the first ‘Microcomputers’ appeared: hobbyists tinkered together DIY kits for computers at home. The first large-scale computer network ARPANET connects several American universities. Cees den Hoedt: “If I wanted to reach people on the road, I often used a phone booth. At the beginning of the week, I left a list for my wife and the office of where they could reach me.”

1978 (Cees: 51 years old)

Computer equipment late 1970s. The person depicted is not Cees den Hoedt.

Cees den Hoedt: “We got a computer on our desk, for which the secretaries received special training. We used it to keep minutes of meetings, or notes from work advisers. We could also print there, which gradually made the duplicating machine (a predecessor of the copier, ed.) unnecessary.”

1980s (Cees: 53 – 63 years old)

In the 1980s, the first so-called car telephone networks became active in the Netherlands. People can make phone calls on the go. The first network had a capacity of 2,500 subscribers. Cees den Hoedt: “We had computers at work, but the filing cabinets for paper had certainly not disappeared. I often lost my glasses in it. We did not use punched cards, tapes or microfilm. I used a dictaphone for a while, it was not successful because the secretary hated to work out dictation material.”

1990s (Cees: 63 – 73 years old)

In 1991 the world wide web was ‘born’: a series of agreements that allow computers all over the world to communicate with each other. This will eventually be the breakthrough of the internet. Cees den Hoedt: “In 1993 I bought a second-hand computer that could use the internet. You had to dial in using the phone line. My son worked in Indonesia, so I was able to keep him informed about things in the Netherlands by e-mail. It also saved a lot of expensive phone calls to Indonesia with the grandchildren.”

1997 (Cees: 70 years old)

A closed Maeslant barrier.

The last part of the Delta Works, the Maeslantkering, is being completed. A computer shuts it down – without human intervention – based on predicted water levels.

People on the street don’t seem to be warm to a mobile phone in 1998. ‘Why do I always have to be available?’, they wonder. Cees den Hoedt is then 71 years old.

2001 (Cees: 74 years old)

Wikimedia commons, Nohat via CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2001 Wikipedia is founded, an encyclopedia compiled by users themselves.

2004 (Cees: 77 years old)

Sign at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Facebook is founded in 2004. Social networks will leave an increasingly large mark on the internet in the years to come.

2007 (Cees: 80 years old)

An iPhone (not the first model).

In 2007 the iPhone entered the consumer market: one of the first smartphones to be operated almost entirely via the screen. Almost all mobile phones now use this principle.

2010 (Cees: 83 years old)

Different apps for a mobile phone.

Cees Den Hoedt: “Around 2010 I bought my first mobile phone. That was relatively late, because I was critical at first. I think people give it too much of an important place in their lives. With the increasing possibilities, the thing won my sympathy. It takes over the work of so many other devices.”

2013 (Cees: 86 years old)

Former CIA operative Edward Snowden reveals in 2013 the way in which US intelligence collects illegal data on a large scale worldwide.

2016 (Cees: 89 years old)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect in 2016, European regulations for the processing of personal data. From that moment on, companies must clearly indicate what they do with customer data and the customer also has the right to be forgotten.

2020 (Cees: 93 years old)

A video call with several participants.

The corona pandemic that will overtake the world in 2020 will cause an increase in online encounters such as meetings and face-to-face conversations. According to some providers, data usage increases in one go by about fifteen to twenty percent. Cees den Hoedt, now 93, has embraced the digital age with both arms: “I speak to my grandchildren via Zoom, use Whatsapp, read the newspaper online and arrange my banking digitally. The Internet is a panacea.”

In the theme Your data and you, NEMO Kennislink collaborates with NEMO in the exhibition Bits of You. This exhibition for adults, in which you experience how the data traces we leave behind influence our lives, can be seen until January 9, 2022 in De Studio van NEMO on the Marineterrein in Amsterdam.

Source: Kennislink by www.nemokennislink.nl.

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