In 1957, Frank Rosenblatt came up with the perceptron. The perceptron is a simple neural network that was able to recognize simple shapes. Unfortunately, Rosenblatt got a little over excited, and made over inflated statements about what his perceptron would be able to do. After the 1969 publication of Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert’s book, “Perceptron,” which debunked many of Rosenblatt’s claims and pointed out some of the inherent limitations of the perceptron algorithm, interest and funding for neural networks dropped drastically.
Here are a couple of articles about the perceptron and the early history of neural network design.