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Inventors of the Modern Computer
J. Presper Eckert & John W. Mauchly

 "...With the advent of everyday use of elaborate calculations, speed has become paramount to such a high degree that there is no machine on the market today capable of satisfying the full demand of modern computational methods." - from the ENIAC patent (U.S.#3,120,606), filed on June 26, 1947.

U.S. Army Photo, from K. Kempf, Historical Monograph: Electronic Computers Within the Ordnance Corps
U.S. Army Photo
The ENIAC, in BRL building 328

computer inventionsIn 1946, John Mauchly and John Presper Eckert developed the ENIAC I (Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator). The U.S. military sponsored their research; they needed a calculating device for writing artillery-firing tables (the settings used for different weapons under varied conditions for target accuracy). The Ballistics Research Laboratory, or BRL (the branch of the military responsible for calculating the tables), heard about John Mauchly's research at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering. Mauchly had previously created several calculating machines, some with small electric motors inside. He had begun designing (1942) a better calculating machine based on the work of John Atanasoff that would use vacuum tubes to speed up calculations.

army photo of ENIAC

computer inventionsOn May 31, 1943, the military commission on the new computer began; Mauchly was the chief consultant and Eckert was the chief engineer. Eckert was a graduate student studying at the Moore School when he met John Mauchly in 1943. It took the team about one year to design the ENIAC and 18 months and 500,000 tax dollars to build it. By that time, the war was over. The ENIAC was still put to work by the military doing calculations for the design of a hydrogen bomb, weather prediction, cosmic-ray studies, thermal ignition, random-number studies and wind-tunnel design.

computer inventionsThe ENIAC contained 17,468 vacuum tubes, along with 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 1,500 relays, 6,000 manual switches and 5 million soldered joints. It covered 1800 square feet (167 square meters) of floor space, weighed 30 tons, consumed 160 kilowatts of electrical power, and, when turned on, caused the city of Philadelphia to experience brownouts.

U.S. Army Photo A technician changes a tube.computer inventionsIn one second, the ENIAC (one thousand times faster than any other calculating machine to date) could perform 5,000 additions, 357 multiplications or 38 divisions. The use of vacuum tubes instead of switches and relays created the increase in speed, but it was not a quick machine to re-program. Programming changes would take the technicians weeks, and the machine always required long hours of maintenance. As a side note, research on the ENIAC led to many improvements in the vacuum tube.

computer inventionsIn 1948, Dr. John Von Neumann made several modifications to the ENIAC. The ENIAC had performed arithmetic and transfer operations concurrently, which caused programming difficulties. Von Neumann suggested that switches control code selection so pluggable cable connections could remain fixed. He added a converter code to enable serial operation.

computer inventionsIn 1946, Eckert and Mauchly started the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. In 1949, their company launched the BINAC (BINary Automatic) computer that used magnetic tape to store data.

computer inventionsIn 1950, the Remington Rand Corporation bought the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and changed the name to the Univac Division of Remington Rand. Their research resulted in the UNIVAC (UNIVersal Automatic Computer), an important forerunner of today's computers.

computer inventionsIn 1955, Remington Rand merged with the Sperry Corporation and formed Sperry-Rand. Eckert remained with the company as an executive and continued with the company as it later merged with the Burroughs Corporation to become Unisys.

computer inventionsEckert and Mauchly both received the IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award in 1980.

computer inventionsAt 11:45 p.m., October 2, 1955, with the power finally shut off, the ENIAC retired.

computer inventionsFurther Reading:
Find biographies, interviews and photographs of J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly. Find more history and photographs of the ENIAC computer.

Inventors of the Modern Computer
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