|WHO INVENTED THE ELECTRONIC DIGITAL COMPUTER?|
by Dr. Dale Rummer
believe the story in many digital computer books, the answer is John von Neumann, because
of references to the "von Neuman architecture." The von Neumann architecture
refers to a digital system that executes a series of instructions extracted from a digital
memory. This architecture describes essentially all digital computers from the beginning
of time to the present.
The digital computer literature from the late 1940s describes a series of electronic
digital computers beginning with the ENIAC developed at the University of Pennsylvania
under contract with the US Army Ballistics Research Laboratory at Aberdeen, MD. A major
bottleneck had developed in the deployment of new field artillery weapons because of the
need to calculate firing tables by hand. In an effort to speed up this process, the US
Army had given a contract to Penns Moore School of Engineering to make these
calculations using the schools mechanical differential analyzer. A Captain Hermann
Goldstine was in charge of this project for the US Army. A graduate student acquainted
with the firing table project in early 1943 introduced Capt. Goldstine to Prof. John
Mauchly, who had an idea for an electronic differential analyzer that would solve problems
much faster than the mechanical differential analyzer. Out of this encounter grew the
project to build the ENIAC, Electronic Numerical Integrator And Calculator.
The book by Scott McCartney, ENIAC-The
Triumphs and Tragedies of the Worlds First (electronic digital) Computer,
provides a most readable and interesting account of this project together with subsequent
important events in the history of electronic digital computers. After 200,000 man-hours
and an expenditure of approximately $500,000 the project was completed in the fall of 1945
in less than thirty months. The ENIAC contained approximately 18,000 vacuum tubes and
consumed 174 kW of electric power.
The filaments operated at reduced voltage dc and were
never turned off because when the machine was turned on, the heaters of some tubes were
certain to fail. The ENIAC was able to calculate an artillery trajectory in 30 seconds
compared to 15 minutes on the mechanical differential analyzer and twenty man-hours on a
desk calculator. After a public demonstration at the Moore School, the ENIAC was moved to
the Aberdeen Proving Grounds where it operated successfully for eight years. The three key
players in the development of the ENIAC were John Mauchly, Presper Eckert and Hermann
Thus the definitive answer to the question above is: John Mauchly and Presper Eckert
invented the first electronic digital computer.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST COMPANY IN THE ELECTRONIC DIGITAL COMPUTER BUSINESS?
Before the ENIAC was completed, in January 1944, Eckert and Mauchly were planning for
the next electronic digital computer. The Army signed a contract in late 1945 for initial
work on the design of the Electronic Discrete Variable Calculator, the EDVAC. The
University of Pennsylvania had agreed at the beginning of the ENIAC project that Eckert
and Mauchly owned any and all patent rights to the ENIAC. After the ENIAC project was
successful however, they had second thoughts and strongly refused to grant Eckert and
Mauchly the patent rights on the EDVAC.
Because of this disagreement, Eckert and Mauchly resigned and formed the first company
organized to design and build electronic digital computers. Later they applied for and
were granted a broad ranging patent on the ENIAC technology. Eckert and Mauchly were
better engineers than businessmen and eventually their company, EMCC, Eckert Mauchly
Computer Company was bought up and survived as a component of what became Sperry Rand
UNIVAC. This company inherited their ENIAC patent.
By the early 1970s, the electronic digital computer business was dominated by
International Business Machines, IBM, who "shared" this market with the
"seven dwarfs." Sperry Rand UNIVAC and Honeywell were two of the dwarfs. Sperry
Rand UNIVAC signed a secret cross licensing agreement on patents with IBM and then sought
to collect royalties from the other six dwarfs. Honeywell balked and sued Sperry alleging
that the Eckert-Mauchly patent was invalid. In an effort to invalidate the ENIAC patent,
Honeywell attorneys tracked down John Atanasoff--who had worked on a special purpose
electronic computer at Iowa State University before World War II.
John Mauchly had visited Atanasoff once and had seen a demonstration of the
Atanasoff-Berry computer as it has become known in later times. Judge Earl Larson ruled
that Eckert and Mauchly were indeed the inventors of the ENIAC, but that their patent was
invalid because information about the ENIAC was public knowledge more than one year before
they filed their patent application.
In closing, the answer to the question "what was the first company in business to
design and manufacture electronic digital computers" is not IBM, but rather EMCC,
Eckert Mauchly Computer Company.