Each system of animal, human or technical communication is based on signs of some sort: gestures, sounds, language, writing, light signals etc. Each of these signs is visible or audible, and thus perceivable to the senses. Every message has to be implemented in certain signs - i.e. coded. Conventions are necessary in advance to ensure that communications are understood properly.
In the 19th century, office technology in the widest sense of the term and communications technology made up what we now call information technology. The age of rapid communication began with the introduction of electromechanical telegraphs shortly before the middle of the 19th century. Initial steps to mechanize office work had been taken in the 1850s. From the 1880s, more and more mechanical machines were to be found in offices. They were used to handle tasks which had previously been done manually or by means of mental arithmetic, and had therefore been time-consuming and tiring.
There is not just one inventor of the computer, as the ideas of many scientists and engineers led to its invention. These ideas were developed in the 1930s and 1940s, mostly independently of each other, in Germany, Great Britain and the USA, and were turned into working machines.
In previous times, the examples set by the life stories of famous celebrities were the key motivation for writing biographies. "Men make history", as the historian Heinrich von Treitschke put it at the end of the 19th century, indicating the esteem in which outstanding personal achievements were held at the time and the conviction that the deeds of individuals drove the progress of society. Following a phase of a more critical approach to this principle and of research into structures in history, biographies now again raise interest. However, the focus has changed. It is now the social context that is approached through the activities of individuals in biographical research. This is based on the belief that, in the interplay between individuals and society, both living social structures and imminent economic and technological changes become visible. Under this aspect, the life stories shown in HNF's Hall of Fame will help people to understand the history of information technology.
A 1970 manual on workplace design refers to the modern office as an "information factory" - a phrase that was presumably coined as a result of the advance of electronic data processing into modern life. Computer centres, magnetic tape drives, visual display units, hitherto inconceivable memory capacity and data processing speeds heralded a new age in business and government offices. No matter how modern the machines and the organization seemed to be, it was not really new at all. The office has always been the place where people collect, process and file information, receiving it from others and passing it on to others. The cultural techniques of arithmetic and writing are just as necessary as PC skills for today's case workers.
Probably around 1949, Thomas J. Watson Sr. estimated that there was a market for no more than a dozen computers and decided that IBM had no place in that business. Considering the purpose for which the first machines were built, his prediction was sound. But, in a very short time, the areas in which computers were used had extended well beyond the calculation of tables and computation of trajectories.
Computers had entered business, industry and trade in the 1960s, but it was at the beginning of the 1970s that this process gathered momentum. One reason for this was the great leap forward in microelectronics, which led to an enormous increase in performance coupled with far smaller, cheaper computer systems. The increase in the use of computers was accompanied by major technical, organizational and social change at the workplace, which caused existing business processes to be largely adapted to electronic data processing, resulting in rapid growth in requirements for new work qualifications in offices and in manufacturing.
When computers became widely used at the workplace in the 1970s, users worked at 'dumb' terminals, which were simply attachments to a mainframe. The 1980s, however, saw the victory of an idea which only a few visionaries had dared to entertain: they brought the computer to every desk - the personal computer, or PC.
In the field of information and communication technology, the early years of the 21st century have been shaped by the global networking of millions of computer systems, the extensive use of multimedia applications and the increasing prevalence of virtual, i.e. artificially generated worlds.
Nixdorf Computer AG (NCAG) - founded as Labor für Impulstechnik in 1952 - wrote business history in post-war Germany. When the German computer industry was just taking off, Heinz Nixdorf, the founder of NCAG, seized the opportunity to open up new markets in a new industry.
The HNF's focus in its efforts to impart technological knowledge is on people. The museum does this not just because this policy is in line with its way of thinking, but also because biographical descriptions help to make historical processes more accessible: People are, by their very nature, curious about other people.