. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . kamagra utan recept . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This web site is devoted to ENIAC — “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer”. ENIAC was the first general-purpose electronic computer. It was made at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering during World War II under the code name "Project PX". Physics professor John W. Mauchly and electrical engineer J. Presper Eckert led the team. Both were civilian employees whose computer work was funded by the United States Army Ballistics Research Laboratory. This is a collection of the best online information about the ENIAC and the people that created it. (The information is divided into these categories - Select a link or scroll down to read the blog.)

History and technology

People and stories

Was it the first computer?

UNIVAC and beyond

The ENIAC patent trial

Myths about ENIAC

ENIACtion on Facebook

ENIAC/UNIVAC tourism

Where to learn more


John Mauchly: Stored Programs long before von Neumann “helped”



Feb 15 will be ENIAC Day in Philadelphia.  City Council will decree.   There will be computers dancing in the streets.  iPhones will be gathered around the older desktops as they tell stories of the good old days.

ENIAC, search the biggest bucket of vacuum tubes ever shipped, the machine that changed the world, is celebrating its 65th birthday.

Q&A: A lost interview with ENIAC co-inventor J. Presper Eckert

ampoule 10801, check 108568,00.html" target="_blank">Alexander Randall 5th shares his lost interview with ENIAC co-inventor J. Presper Eckert. February 14, 2006

There are two epochs in computer history: Before ENIAC and After ENIAC. The first practical, all-electronic computer was unveiled on Feb. 14, 1946, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electronics. While there are controversies about who invented what, there is universal agreement that the ENIAC (Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator) was the watershed project that showed electronic computing was possible. It was a masterpiece of electrical engineering, with unprecedented reliability and speed. The two men most responsible for its success were J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly.

I recorded two days of interviews with “Pres” Eckert in 1989. He was 70 years old. My father was Pres’ best friend from childhood and I’d spent my childhood playing with his children. I visited him regularly as an adult. On that day, we spoke in his living room in Gladwyne, Pa. — most of the time sitting on the floor. We stopped talking about computers only to fiddle with his Nova Chord electronic organ, which predated ENIAC, and we fiddled with stereo speakers. On a second occasion I recorded a conversation at his daughter’s home in western Massachusetts. Eckert died in 1995. I’ve had the interview tapes for many years, but decided to transcribe them for ENIAC’s 60th anniversary.

How did calculating machines work before ENIAC?

Well, a person with a paper and pencil can add two 10-digit numbers in about 10 seconds. With a hand calculator the time is down to 4 seconds. The Harvard Mark 4 was the last of the electromechanical computers — it could add two 10-digit numbers in 0.3 seconds, about 30 times faster than paper and pencil.

When I was a graduate student, the Moore School of Electronics had two analyzers that were essentially copies of Vannevar Bush’s machine from MIT.

What could that machine do?

It could solve linear differential equations, but only linear equations. It had a long framework divided into sections with a couple dozen shafts buried through it. You could put different gears on the shafts using screwdrivers and hammers and it had “integrators,” that gave [the] product of two shafts coming in on a third shaft coming out. By picking the right gear ratio you should get the right constants in the equation. We used published tables to pick the gear ratios to get whatever number you wanted. The limit on accuracy of this machine was the slippage of the mechanical wheels on the integrator.

That made me say, “Let’s built electronic integrators and stick them into this machine instead of those wheel things.” We added several dozen motors and amplifiers and circuits using over 400 vacuum tubes, which, as electronic things go, is not trivial. The radio has only five or six tubes, and television sets have up to 30. The Nova Chord organ was built prior to this and it has about 170 tubes. The Bush Analyzer was still essentially a mechanical device.

ENIAC, which debuted 60 years ago, had 18,000 vacuum tubes.
ENIAC, which debuted 60 years ago, had 18,000 vacuum tubes.

That led me to examine if I could find some way to multiply pulse numbers together so I didn’t need gears — then I could do the whole thing electrically. There’s a theorem in calculus where you can use two integrators to do a multiplication. I talked with John Mauchley about it. Just who put in which part is hard to tell, but the idea of doing the integrations by counters was mine.

The ENIAC was the first electronic digital computer and could add those two 10-digit numbers in .00002 seconds — that’s 50,000 times faster than a human, 20,000 times faster than a calculator and 1,500 times faster than the Mark 1. For specialized scientific calculations it was even faster.

So it’s a myth that ENIAC could only add, subtract, multiply and divide.

No, that’s a calculator. ENIAC could do three-dimensional, second-order differential equations. We were calculating trajectory tables for the war effort. In those days. The trajectory tables were calculated by hundreds of people operating desk calculators — people who were called computers. So the machine that does that work was called a computer.

So what did they give you? Did they say, “Here’s a room, here are some tools, here are some guys — go make it?”

Uh-huh. Pretty much.

What did ENIAC’s room look like?

We built ENIAC in a room that was 30 feet by 50 feet, at the Moore School in West Philadelphia on the first floor.

There’s a story that ENIAC dimmed the lights in Philadelphia when it was in use.

That story is total fiction, dreamed up by some journalist. We took power off of the grid. We had voltage regulators to provide 150 kilowatts of regulated supply.

Did the military guys working on ENIAC salute the machine?

Another ENIAC myth.

You said the largest tube gadget in 1943 was the Nova Chord electronic organ. What did ENIAC use?

ENIAC had 18,000 vacuum tubes. The tubes were off the shelf; we got whatever the distributor could supply in lots of a thousand. We used 10 tube types, but could have done it with four tube types; we just couldn’t get enough of them. We decided that our tube filaments would last a lot longer if we kept them below their proper voltage. Not too high or too low. A lot of the circuits were off the shelf, but I invented a lot of the circuits as well. Registers were a new idea. So were integrator circuits.

The function of the machine was split into eight basic circuit components: the accumulator, initiator, master programmer, multiplier, divider/square-root, gate, buffer, and the function tables. The accumulator was the basic arithmetic unit of the ENIAC. It consisted of 20 registers, each 10 digits wide, which performed addition, subtraction and temporary storage. The accumulator can be compared to the registers in today’s central processing units.

Are there any of your circuits still in use in today’s personal computers?

No, but that’s true of any first invention. Edison’s original light bulb bears no resemblance to a modern bulb. They do the same thing but with totally different components. Same with the computer. What did survive were the concepts, not the hardware. The idea of a subroutine was original with ENIAC. Mauchly had this idea based on his knowledge of the inner workings of desk calculators and introduced me to his idea for a subroutine in the machine. On Mark-1, if they wanted to do a calculation over and over they had to feed the same tape in over and over. We invented ways to run the same subroutine without any mechanical input. The idea of using internal memory was also original with ENIAC.

There’s a story that some guy was running around with a box of tubes and had to change one every few minutes.

Another myth. We had a tube fail about every two days and we could locate the problem within 15 minutes. We invented a scheme to build the computer on removable chassis — plug-in components — so when tubes failed we could swap them out in seconds. We carried out a very radical idea in a very conservative fashion.

How many people were working on ENIAC?

Total count was about 50 people, 12 of us engineers or technical people. Mauchley was teaching part-time, others had part-time jobs. I was on it full-time as chief engineer.

How old were you?

We signed the contract on my 24th birthday: May 9, 1943.

Was ENIAC programmable?

Yes and no. We programmed the machine by plugging wires in from place to place. That’s not hard-wired; it’s not software; it’s not memory. It’s pluggable programming. And we had switches to set the functions.

What was the first thing you did with ENIAC?

It was designed to calculate trajectory tables, but it came too late to really help with the war effort. The first real use was Edward Teller using ENIAC to do calculations for the hydrogen bomb.

What’s the zaniest thing you did while developing ENIAC?

The mouse cage was pretty funny. We knew mice would eat the insulation off the wires, so we got samples of all the wires that were available and put them in a cage with a bunch of mice to see which insulation they did not like. We only used wire that passed the mouse test.

What prepared you for building an electronic computer?

Remember, in that era, Philadelphia was “Vacuum Tube Valley.” Radios and televisions were predominantly made in Philadelphia. I worked on primitive television at Farnsworth back as a teenager, and at Penn I had been working on various radar problems trying to measure the time for a pulse to go out and come back. I figured that out with counters. All this is a good lead-in for building an electronic computer.

Was it you or was it the times?

Well, I may have been uniquely prepared. I was very good in math and I was fascinated with all electronics. I was designing electronic gadgets as a kid and I not only did academic math, I studied business math. Maybe I had the right fusion of interests. But every inventor stands on the pedestals built by other people. If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have. All that any inventor does is accelerate the process. The main thing was we made a machine that didn’t fail the first time. If it had failed, we might have discouraged this line of work for a long time. People usually build prototypes, see their errors and try again. We couldn’t do that. We had to make it work the first time out.

You have dozens of patents for your inventions. What motivates you?

I am happiest when I am working on the edge of something — where there are not many people who have done it. When nobody has done it, it is pretty tough. That gets me excited.

When you were working on ENIAC, did you have any inkling these things would be laptop-size and everyone would own one?

Mauchley thought the world would need maybe six computers. No one had any idea the transistor and chip technologies would come along so quickly. It is shocking to have your life work reduced to a tenth of a square inch of silicon.

A lot of people have claimed they invented the first computer. What about John Atanasoff?

In the course of a patent fight, the other side brought up Atanasoff and tried to show that he built an electronic computer ahead of us. It’s true he had a lab bench tabletop kind of thing and John [Mauchly] went out to look at it and wrote a memo, but we never used any of it. His thing didn’t really work. He didn’t have a whole system. That’s a big thing with an invention: You have to have a whole system that works.

John and I not only built ENIAC. It worked. And it worked for a decade doing what it was designed to do. We went on to build BINAC and UNIVAC and hundreds of other computers. And the company we started is still in operation after many name changes as Unisys, and I am still working for that company. Atanasoff may have won a point in court, but he went back to teaching and we went on to build the first real electronic programmable computers, the first commercial computers. We made a lot of computers, and we still are.

And John Von Neumann?

He came and looked at our stuff and went back to Princeton and wrote a long document about the principles. He gets a lot of credit but the inventions were ours. Someday I’ll write a book on who really invented the computer. It wasn’t Atanasoff or Von Neumann. We did it.

Randall, former head of the Boston Computer Exchange and the East West Education Development Foundation, currently teaches communication at the University of the Virgin Islands.

Until now, I thought Von Neuman was the father of this great ENIAC..,
We aim to dispel some popular myths with a simple refutation and encourage the reader to conduct  research to their own satisfaction.  Everyone involved is named John, look so it can be confusing. (J. Presper Eckert, buy you guessed it... John)

Before ENIAC

John Atanasoff - Iowa
Myth
: John Atanasoff is the {forgotten} father of the first electronic computer.
Refuted
: First he would have to build a working electronic computer. Electronic would imply electronic speeds which it has not (60 Hz compared to ENIAC's 100, cialis 000 Hz).
Accepted
: He is the father of his own creation, the Atanasoff Berry Computer (ABC) which could be considered partially electronic. This was an electro-mechanical hybrid, not automatic, single purpose, never put to work, back from the scrap heap to be used as a Patent breaker in a Lawsuit 25 years later. A valiant but unsuccessful attempt at electronic computing. Very popular for 'Forgotten Underdog' theme in sensationalist computer dramas.

After ENIAC

John von Neumann - Mathematician
Myth
: John von Neumann is the father of digital computing/ the stored program/ von Neumann architecture /von Neumann Machine etc...
Refuted
: The ENIAC was designed, built and running before von Neumann knew of its existence. Fascinated with it, he then wrote a summation with only his name attached called First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC. Read this account by John W. Mauchly.

Myth: ENIAC was based on Atanasoffs computer.
Refuted
: one was electronic and worked

Myth: Patent Trial proved derivation/ inventorship.
Refuted
: it was ruled, not proven, big difference.

Myth: Mauchly saw Atanasoff's computer and therefore must have  acquired the secret idea of how to built a computer.
Refuted
: To this day no one knows what this idea is.
Accepted
: Mauchly saw Atanasoff's computer. Mauchly even offered him advice on how to speed it up. Atanasoff didn't think Mauchly's idea would work*. Mauchly and Atanasoff were friends and when the ENIAC was unveiled Atanasoff was invited to see it. He didn't mention any similarity to his own device.
[*an interesting gem from Burks book p 152;
According to Mrs Lura Atanasoff,
Atanasoff, referring to Mauchly, says...   " 'I don't think his [machine] will work.' "]

other:
Nominees for the Cult of Atanasoff hall of fame:

Clark R Mollenhoff   (Iowa)--  Atanasoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer (1988), ISBN 0-8138-0032-3

The editor's forward starts,"This is a fast-moving account of a triumph of justice over fraud..." The book is indeed a well written, fast moving story that tells about how Atanasoff designed and built an electronic computer, how the villainous Mauchly stole his computer ideas and claimed they were his own, and how the gallant Honeywell attorneys brought Mauchly to justice.

[and later]

Mollenhoff is a professional writer, not a computer scientist or a historian.

--------------- Saul Rosen criticizing  Mollenhoff's book.

Jane Smiley (Iowa)  same book ... see comments below

Allan R Mackintosh (Iowa)  Publicist

Arthur and Alice Burks  (Iowa)  The first electronic computer: the Atanasoff story
excerpt from p.226         trial notes (pp 2,652-32)

Ferrill: Did you ever design a digital electronic computer?
Atanasoff:   I think I did, yes.
Ferrill:   When did you do that, Dr. Atanasoff?
Atanasoff:  I think this machine is a digital electronic computer, the machine herein discussed.
Ferrill: Dr. Atanasoff---
Atanasoff: If it is not, why, I did not design a digital electronic computer, but I am certain this is a digital electronic computer.

(  hmmmm he doesn't sound so sure....)

Comments on the Smiley book:

from; http://www.cjr.org/page_views/number_cruncher.php

There are major problems with taking this book as history. As you point out, most of her sources are already published. Note that though she writes at length about Mauchly and his supposed subterfuge, ill intentions, etc., she utlizes but one source that was written about him; all the rest of her "information" comes from sources that were written in support of Atanasoff, and those sources, or Smiley herself, do a lot of "filling in the gaps" with speculation. E.g., she questions how Mauchly gained access to Atanasoff's lab at NOL in the 1940s. Noting that Mauchly's father was an "emininent scientist in D.C." she insinuates that the elder Mauchly somehow arranged for his son to get clearance. Without much research, she could have discovered that 1) Mauchly was hired by von Neumann to be a consultant on the project, and 2) Mauchly's father died in 1928, leaving one to wonder how he could have arranged security clearance for his son during a War that started 13 years after his death. In Smiley's book, Mauchly is indeed a villain, because she made him one, relying on her Iowa State sources and her own imagination. If she had consulted a variety of sources, we might consider this a history. Instead, it is "historical fiction" kind of like the things we've seen lately about Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth ... only not as well researched.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Wed 24 Nov 2010 at 05:50 PM

Smiley has not done her homework. This book is a rehash of several biased accounts, which do not square well with the historical record. The available primary sources would support a much more even-handed treatment. Such a treatment has in fact been written by Rocco Martino, but has so far aroused no interest among publishers.

One serious flaw is that Smiley glosses over Atanasoff's abject failure to build a digital computer when he was actually put in charge of a very well funded Navy project to do just that, in 1945-46. According to eyewitness accounts, he provided no effective leadership, technical or otherwise, and the project was canceled after 18 months for lack of progress. That does not sound to me like the expected behavior of the "real inventor of the computer".

It is too bad that the legend of the honest farm boy inventor duped by evil tricksters from the big city has so much popular appeal. It is hardly appropriate in this case, at least as applied to Eckert and Mauchly as the bad guys -- it would be nearer the mark to say that Atanasoff was a dupe of Honeywell's lawyers.

The real story is even more interesting than Smiley's fictional one, and awaits an investigative journalist who is prepared to do it justice.

Posted by Tom Sharpless on Thu 25 Nov 2010 at 01:19 PM

Gini Calcerano should identify herself--her name in Gini Mauchly Calcerano. Since the publication of The Man Who Invented the Computer, she has been attacking Atanasoff's claims once again, as the Mauchly-ites have attacked those claims since the court case was decided in 1973. They have said over and over for 37 years that they have material that proves Mauchly developed his ideas independently of his visit to Ames and Atanasoff's computer, but they have never produced that material. not even for Scott McCartney, who wrote ENIAC, a book conceived and written to defend Mauchly. And perhaps Tom Sharpless should get to work on his investigative journalism, since he knows the real story.

Posted by Jane Smiley on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 01:28 PM

I have no problem owning my name, but please don't call me a "Mauchly-ite" as if we were a camp dedicated to trying to crush Atanasoff and his claims. In response to your points, I would note:
1 - Scott McCartney's book was not "conceived and written to defend Mauchly." In fact, Mr. McCartney started with an open question, "Who invented the computer" and did voluminous research before even deciding that he wanted to focus on Mauchly and Eckert. His book reflects his well-researched and thought-out conclusion that the ENIAC was the machine that really brought the world into the computer age. It was never intended to be a defense of Mauchly; it was intended to be fair and even-handed. If that ends up making Mauchly a sympathetic character instead of charlatan and thief, it is not because Mr. McCartney was aiming to prove as much.
2 - No one is saying the ABC was not an extraordinary effort for its time. However, I beg you to show me what items of the ABC show up in the ENIAC. While ABC is binary, ENIAC was decimal. ABC used electronic components, but not in a way to make use of their electronic speeds; it was electro-mechanical in its functioning, and was proved to be so through exhaustive testimony from 3rd party expert witnesses in the Honeywell Trial. The ABC was no faster than anything else at the time. The ENIAC, taking advantage of electronic pulses WITHIN the vacuum tubes, was 5,000 times faster than any other machine at the time. The "smoking gun" capacitor drum ... there wasn't any in the ENIAC, so what's all that about?
I am not trying to dismiss Atanasoff. I am trying to understand why Mauchly has to be made into a villain and a cad for your story to work. The people in Iowa have been yelling loudly and repeatedly about this for a long while, and each time around, the voices become more shrill, and Mauchly becomes more evil.
In fact, Mauchly was a gentle person, an inspirational teacher, and constitutionally incapable of deception. This whole thing with Atanasoff saddened and confused him, as Mauchly thought of him as a scientific colleague.
Any legitimate history of an important subject should include more sources from a wider spectrum of thought than you have consulted. Beyond that, it should not include speculation, insinuation or acts of imagination. Why e.g. do you say that Mauchly's presence at the NOL was a "mystery" and the "visits went on for years"? Consulting the records would have answered that for you without all the nefarious speculation that Mauchly was spying on Atanasoff.
I go on too long. Feel free to contact me personally. I would love to understand why you wrote what you did.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:26 PM

As a follow-up to Ms. Smiley’s post, she should identify herself – she received two degrees from the University of Iowa (according to Wikipedia), the same place where Atanasoff (The Man Who Invented the Computer) developed his machine. Had she attended the University of Pennsylvania, as I did, when there were still people around who actually knew the kind of man Mauchly was…would she have cast him as a thief? Doubtful. My major objection to Ms. Smiley’s book (and it seems the objection of several others) is the bias in her references and her cavalier characterization of Eckert and Mauchly as villains. You can do this in novels, but not in a biography. Bravo to Ms. Calcerano for sticking up for her family. I am disappointed in Ms. Smiley’s choice to try to discredit Ms. Calcerano (because she is a Mauchly) rather than address the points she raises.

Additionally, I don’t think Mr. Sharpless, in his post, was claiming he knows some secrets about the invention of the computer (as Ms. Smiley implied in her post), rather I believe he was referring to the wealth of literature in computer history (e.g. the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing) that Ms. Smiley seemed to ignore in her book. I believe his point was that if an investigative journalist, as opposed to a novelist, were to write the story, it would be quite different from Ms. Smiley’s book but equally as interesting.

Posted by D Moberg on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:42 PM

With respect to the Atansoff-Mauchly controversy, an even-handed and thorough treatment may be found in Saul Rosen's 1990 paper, which may be found by Googling "origins of modern computing saul rosen" if the below hyperlink is filtered out.

http://www.cs.purdue.edu/research/technical_reports/1990/TR%2090-1013.pdf

Rosen's simple and elegant refutations are 20 years old, yet Smiley does not address them in her book, but instead copies ham-handedly and affectively from other long-available secondary sources. Smiley's re-rendition is not a useful complement to the history of computing scholar's shelf, and she has done a disservice to lay readers by corrupting the story to a melodrama and reducing real people to thin stereotypes. It is unfitting of them, and no more befitting of her talents as a writer.

Posted by Robert K S on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:49 PM

I grew up on Jolly Road with the Univac building in my front yard. Many of my parent's friends worked there. In the past weeks I've had the chance to share some of Smiley's prose with them. While I wasn't there, they were. The consensus is her knowledge of technology is, at best lacking. As if she was trying to say the inventor of the cathode ray tube stole the idea from the inventor of the Etch-a-Scetch. Sure they both draw lines across a screen but this is a far a one can draw the comparison. ENIAC was not based on a slow capacitor drum, it functioned at electronic speeds and was programable. Her comparison is not only in error, akin to comparing a helicopter to a fixed wing aircraft, she comes off sounding as a shrill, the Ann Coulter of technology.

Posted by richard babillis on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:58 PM

I grew up on Jolly Road with the Univac building in my front yard. Many of my parent's friends worked there. In the past weeks I've had the chance to share some of Smiley's prose with them. While I wasn't there, they were. The consensus is her knowledge of technology is, at best lacking. It is as if she was trying to say the inventor of the cathode ray tube stole the idea from the inventor of the Etch-a-Scetch. Sure they both draw lines across a screen but this is a far a one can draw the comparison. ENIAC was not based on a slow capacitor drum, it functioned at electronic speeds and was programable. Her comparison is not only in error, akin to comparing a helicopter to a fixed wing aircraft, she comes off sounding as a shrill, the Ann Coulter of technology.

Posted by richard babillis on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:59 PM

Dear Ms. Smiley,

I congratulate you on your ability to use the internet to find out who these "attackers " might be. However, it really doesn't matter WHO is pointing out your glaring errors. The main point everyone has been making is that you haven't tried to use primary sources, and instead rely on your imagination which has served you so well in your fiction writing. You have come under attack previously for your inability to get history right , so you would think Random House would try to get you to be more careful. I am sorry that Random House didn't think to provide you with a fact checker, or access to primary sources, such as the transcripts of depositions, or the artifacts of Mauchly's projects at Ursinus.

I am not a scientist, but I can understand the difference between electro- mechanical speeds and electronic speeds. If you are not capable of understanding the technology, or of understanding the difference between history and historical fiction you shouldn't have written the book.

Posted by Eva Mauchly Moos on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 09:38 PM

I'm shocked that Jane Smiley knew how my book "ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer'' was conceived when she has never contacted me or inquired. I'm equally surprised that she tries to discount my reporting and analysis with her own false assumptions.

My book was based on extensive reporting with surviving participants, personal papers of participants, the extensive federal court record, company archives, Army records, previous books, academic articles and oral histories. It began with a simple question when I was covering the computer industry for The Wall Street Journal: Who invented the computer? I believe the book presents a fair and important history. For Jane Smiley to suggest otherwise is simply wrong.

--Scott McCartney
The Wall Street Journal

Posted by Scott McCartney on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 11:26 PM

(To Lauren Kirchner))In the above review, you mention "his (Atanassoff's) legal battles with his peers."
I can't find mention of any such legal battles on wikipedia or in the book you describe. The trial described in the book is one in which Atanassoff was used as a witness by Honeywell. Whether or not he was paid for his testimony, Honeywell compensated him by creating the first working model of the machine.(His had never been completed ) It was not HIS legal battle, nor that of Mauchly or any other witness.. It was a battle between two large corporations in which this man was used as a pawn (and possibly compensated) for the strategy of the big corporation with the most to lose or gain by the outcome.
If, as you say, the book is an important piece of history, you also should be accurate in writing about it.

Posted by Eva M Moos on Mon 29 Nov 2010 at 09:05 AM

Smiley's book makes much of the trial between Sperry and Honeywell. She relies heavily on the rulings of Judge Larson as evidence of the invention of computers by John Atanasoff. That reliance is incorrect. Had she studied the trial in detail, she would have realized that the trial is a travesty of injustice.

In 1972, Honeywell launched a countersuit on Sperry Rand in an attempt to avoid paying significant royalties based on the ENIAC patents assigned to Sperry Rand by Eckert and Mauchly. Through a series of strange convolutions, the trial was moved to Minnesota, a state where Honeywell was one of the largest employers. The ten-month trial was heard in Federal Court without a jury by Judge Earl R. Larson, who had no knowledge of computers and who apparently asked no questions during the proceedings. Judge Larson declared John Atanasoff the inventor of the computer, invalidated the Sperry Patents, and dismissed Honeywell’s complaint against Sperry for unfair trade practices.

As plaintiff rather than defendant, and as the largest employer in the State of Minnesota, Honeywell could present itself as the seriously aggrieved party before a judge who would look beyond the law for factors more in the line of his notion of “justice” than in the letter of the law. In that regard, Honeywell opted for a strategy of characterizing itself as the hapless victim of a blatant attempt at monopoly by Sperry Rand. This allegation cited an earlier cross-licensing agreement between Sperry and IBM as a conspiracy to control the fledgling industry. Honeywell further opted for a strategy of inundating the court with a myriad of documents that would both smother Sperry’s documents and inhibit the ability to extract the truth from the avalanche of material. Judge Larson was presented with over 32,000 exhibits, 26,000 from Honeywell. Some of these documents contained several hundred pages. The trial transcript was over 20,000 pages.

One byproduct of Honeywell’s victory was the unfortunate pall cast upon invention that has affected the computer industry to this day.

Larson's final ruling was well crafted. He dismissed the anti-trust charges which satisfied Sperry; and he cancelled the ENIAC patents which satisfied Honeywell. Mauchly and Atanasoff were collateral aspects to both.

None of this is covered in Smiley's book. That is unfortunate. She wrote a fine novel. It is not completely factual history.

These comments are copyright 2010 by Rocco Leonard Martino, and contain excerpts from his book "People, Machines and Politics of the Cyber Age Creation"

Posted by Rocco Martino on Mon 29 Nov 2010 at 10:10 AM

As a member-by-marriage of the Mauchly family I am perhaps biased, but two points should be made that have not. First, Dr. Mauchly never really profited from his invention in any significant financial sense. If he were such a villain, wouldn't he have seen to that? Second, I have read Jane Smiley's other books and found them to be contrived and silly. That her "biography" is such should not be a surprise to anyone.

Posted by Bill moos on Mon 29 Nov 2010 at 11:44 AM

The story of Atanasoff was first reported in Clark Mollenhoff's biography, Atanasoff, the forgotten father of the computer, twenty two years ago,(Ames, Iowa State University Press, 1988) Since nobody has mentioned this book, I would like it noted.

Clark Mollenhoff was both an investigative reporter and a lawyer. He was one of the few reporters to win the Pulitzer Prize twice.

Posted by David Reno on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 03:40 PM

In fact, Mr. Mollenhoff's biography of Atanasoff is one of the books upon which Ms. Smiley based hers. One wonders why another had to be written. I have heard, though I cannot verify this, that Mr. Mollenhoff wrote this book at the request of the City of Ames, IA, and or Iowa State Univ. Not exactly "investigative."

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 06:52 PM

Indeed, Mollenhoff is an Iowa native, and his book on Atanasoff was published by the Iowa State University Press. May I presume that other publishers thought it was not well enough researched, biased, or bordering on libel?

Posted by Gini Mauchlyite Calcerano on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 06:58 PM

Mollenhoff also publishes with Doubleday. Is this getting incestuous yet?

Posted by Gini Mauchlyite Calcerano on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 07:00 PM

For the record, D. Moberg is right: though my father helped build ENIAC, I don't have any secret information. Indeed I knew very little about l'affaire Atanasoff until I started getting Bill Mauchly's e-mails about Jane Smiley. Had read Alice Burks' book, of course, but was not much convinced by it. Have since learned more, from the many sources available online.

The investigative journalist I had in mind would not be writing about Atanasoff vs Mauchly, but about Honeywell vs Sperry, the Travesty of the Century.

Posted by Tom Sharpless on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 09:49 PM

In case it isn't obvious, I am the John Gustafson who led the reconstruction of the ABC, just to indicate which "camp" I fall in. As long as this discussion sticks to facts, I think it can be constructive.

Jane Smiley obtained her M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. That is not the school where Atanasoff developed the computer (Iowa State College, now Iowa State University). Equating the University of Iowa with Iowa State University (D Moberg's posting) is like equating USC and UCLA, since both have California in their names.

Computer historians are in broad agreement that many people contributed to the invention of the computer. That point is made throughout Smiley's book; the 1930s and 1940s had a flurry of activity by many people in many countries, and she gives credit to all of them, using primary sources.There is no shortage of primary source material, and perhaps the most revealing are the letters and writings of the inventors themselves. Mollenhoff did an excellent job of bringing those to light to show the ABC-ENIAC part of the story. Smiley's book brings in Turing, Zuse, Aiken, Flowers, von Neumann and thus completes the picture. It does not vilify Mauchly, but it certainly makes obvious that anyone claiming that Mauchly and Eckert deserve all the credit for developing electronic computing is seeing only a very small and carefully selected part of the history.

Posted by John Gustafson on Mon 6 Dec 2010 at 02:21 AM

John Gustafson writes that "anyone claiming that Mauchly and Eckert deserve all the credit for developing electronic computing is seeing only a very small and carefully selected part of the history." I agree. But the title of Smiley's book suggests that Atanasoff deserves all the credit -- a claim even more myopic.

Posted by Ken McLean on Mon 6 Dec 2010 at 01:16 PM

Ken McLean's comment confirms one of my suspicions: That many people who are posting have read only the title of Jane Smiley's book, and not its contents. The contents do not give sole credit to Atanasoff as the title implies.

Posted by John Gustafson on Tue 7 Dec 2010 at 01:06 AM

John Gustafson suspects that many critics of the book have read only the title. I for one have read the entire book. I have also read the Burks' book and Alice Burk's later book, Scott McCartney's book, Nancy Stern's history, Saul Rosen's paper and many other more general works on computer history. I believe most of the critical posts have got it right -- the book grossly exaggerates Atanasoff's contributions to computing. The title of a book is usually indicative of its purpose. If Smiley did not intend to annoint Atanasoff as THE inventor of the computer why did't she call her book "The Men Who Invented the Computer" and remove Atanasoff's picture from its cover?

Posted by Ken McLean on Tue 7 Dec 2010 at 04:36 PM

John Gustafson makes many good points. I agree that the 1930s and 1940s were a time that was ripe for electronic invention, and that many people made contributions on the road to modern computing. I admired the way Smiley brought in the stories of so many people doing that early work, whether or not the work was known at the time.

But he says the book "does not vilify Mauchly," I am sorry to say that it DOES. Mauchly is the only one of the computer pioneers about whom it is said he was "unable" to have any original ideas, and must have taken everything from Dr. Atanasoff. The book relies heavily on the transcripts of the Honeywell Trial, as if all the facts were presented in it, when in fact, much was withheld from the testimony because it wouldn't not have helped one side or the other.

Sperry had no interest in showing the variety of sources that influenced Mauchly, from his own need for high-speed computing to process his sun-spot data, to his visits to Swarthmore to see how electronic tubes could be utilized, to other influences at Penn, professional conferences, G. Stibitz, etc..

Honeywell certainly had no interest in airing the fact that Art Burks was extremely unhappy that he was not included in the ENIAC patents, and had told Mauchly in the 1960s that bad things would happen to him and his reputation in the future, if he didn't agree to adding his name.

Neither side was interested in showing that Dr. Atanasoff and Dr. Mauchly enjoyed a collegial friendship for years....that is before Honeywell decided that they could save themselves millions of dollars by making a case out of Atanasoff's early work.

Every review I have read refers to this book as a "gripping read" or even "techno-thriller" citing the "villain in the story" as John Mauchly. Smiley herself (following Mollenhoff) makes a "plot" out of the fact that Mauchly is a deceptive and nefarious character. (See my comments above.) Why is he the ONLY computer pioneer who can't have his own thoughts, but must steal them from others?

Gustafson also says Smiley used primary sources, but the bibliography of the book shows hardly any. Is he counting her interview with Kirwan Cox, not a primary source, but at least someone who has done some poking around into sources beyond those that come out of Iowa? There is plenty of data at Iowa State, but it appears she took it "pre-packaged" from Mollenhoff and Burks. There is also plenty of data and the complete Mauchly papers at the University of Pennsylvania archives. But it does not appear she consulted that at all.

Indeed, she uses basically one or two sources per pioneer. That's fine for individuals about whom she writes a few pages. That is not sufficient in the case of Mauchly, who is cited more times in the book than anyone but Atanasoff himself, and about whom unfounded claims are made about his character, intentions and personality. If half the book is about Mauchly, then half her research should have been as well.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Wed 8 Dec 2010 at 10:20 AM

Indeed, Mr. Gustafson, re: villifying Mauchly, the very review we are commenting on says: "The young and ambitious physicist John Mauchly serves as the book’s villain." Okay right off the bat, Mauchly was only 4 years younger than Atanasoff, and not really an ambitious type, as anyone who knew him would attest. But Smiley has made him somehow a young guy with no ideas, rather than a Johns Hopkins PhD; made him ambitious for fame and fortune, rather than keenly interested in solving problems that required loads of data to be processed.

The reviewer continues, "After listening to Atanasoff describe his early experiments, and studying a prototype he had constructed in 1941, Mauchly (in Smiley’s account of events) secretly built upon those innovations for his own work." The reviewer knows nothing of John Mauchly's other preparation for building a computer, because Smiley didn't describe it, except to refer to the trial where it was mentioned in dismissive terms and never really explored.

Thus is Mauchly made into a thief and a villain. One review even had him caricatured as a bandit with a sack of loot.

I am not trying to say Mauchly and Eckert operated in a vacuum. But I am saying they were ethical, hard working, and smart. Jane Smiley's saying otherwise in a national forum, where her well-known name will attract readers who don't know any better than to believe her, is a serious problem.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Wed 8 Dec 2010 at 10:34 AM

I am happy to see Dr. Gustafson the ABC expert, in the conversation. After watching the demonstration of the reconstructed ABC on youtube, I am curious to hear an opinion on this aspect. Comparing the ABC to the ENIAC seems to be like comparing a wringer washer to an automatic one. A person is required to enter each item one by one, then process each thing one by one, then complete the process, item by item. There is no time saving. Using a program and electronic (rather than electromechanical) speeds are BIG ideas that were not in the ABC. Can someone name something in the ENIAC that WAS taken from the ABC? And doesn't 5000 times faster count as a pretty important innovation? No one is discounting that Atanasoff was brilliant, or that he had a great idea. He just isn't the only one.

Posted by Eva Mauchly Moos on Wed 8 Dec 2010 at 01:14 PM

We're drifting a bit both from Smiley's book and the review of it, but I'm happy to answer this technical questions. The Youtube example uses such small integers that it's easy to forget that the ABC did everything in 50-bit precision, equivalent to about 15 decimals on a base ten computer. If you've ever tried multiplying two 15-decimal numbers by hand, I think you'd be doing well to finish one such operation in under 20 minutes and lucky to get the right answer. The ABC did a multiply-add on 30 15-decimal numbers in less than a minute, and very reliably. That's hundreds of times faster than a human, or even a human with a desk calculator of that era, and maybe it's modest compared with later computers but it was pretty spectacular at the time. Atanasoff used the 60 Hz clock cycle of AC line current to simplify his design, since after all he was cost-constrained and didn't have 18,000 vacuum tubes like the ENIAC. He used only a few hundred vacuum tubes.

Like other computers, then and now, someone has to enter the data and someone has to receive the result. I'm typing this note into a computer by pushing buttons on a laptop that contains a motor that spins its hard disk... I guess that means my MacBook Pro is an "electromechanical computer." So the ABC is in pretty good company, don't you think? The term "electromechanical" is usually applied to relays, where an electrical signal is converted into mechanical motion as part of the operation. There was no such use of mechanics in the ABC; the logic was 100% electronic, and the motor simply kept the memory spinning just like it does on a hard disk. Aiken's Mark I, Zuse's Z3, and Alt's Bell Labs machine were electromechanical.

The ENIAC used punch cards also, and it required that constants be entered manually by rotating decimal dials. Setting up a computation required manually setting three thousand switches on the function tables! (See J. Kopplin's "Illustrated History of Computers, Part 4" at http://www.computersciencelab.com/ComputerHistory/HistoryPt4.htm for more details of the vast amount of manual work needed to use the ENIAC). That doesn't count roughly seventy hours to "program" the ENIAC by removing and reattaching wires between functional units. Once set up with all that manual effort, it could compute ballistic tables in a few seconds that would have taken single person twenty hours to do with a hand calculator.

I would love to see an equivalent Youtube of the ENIAC used for solving two equations in two unknowns like in the ABC video, showing all the manual steps needed. The manual steps would similarly make the overall speed unimpressive.

To answer your question about what in the ENIAC was taken from the ABC, it was the concept of electronic digital computing. Primary sources make quite clear that Mauchly only was thinking of analog computing until he met Atanasoff. Driving vacuum tubes to saturation to represent logic states that could be composed to represent arithmetic operations to any precision needed... that was Atanasoff's innovation.

To come back to the subject at hand, Smiley's book credits Atanasoff with that concept, and she also credits Mauchly and Eckert for commercializing electronic digital computing. And she credits Flowers and Turing with inventing code-cracking electronics that helped win World War II. Somehow, we have to get this discussion away from arguments about whose computer was better or faster or bigger or less primitive. Smiley's book is about dramatic events, fascinating personalities, and how they interplay and ultimately have led to the computing technology we enjoy today. I hope people read her book, not these posts, and make up their own minds about Smiley's work.

Posted by John Gustafson on Wed 8 Dec 2010 at 11:40 PM

Dr. G: You say "Primary sources make quite clear that Mauchly only was thinking of analog computing until he met Atanasoff." Apparently some primary sources are being ignored. Evidence (that either was not entered into the Honeywell Trial testimony or that has been deliberately ignored) shows that Mauchly was already thinking about digital devices in the mid-1930s at Ursinus. People point to his Harmonic Analyzer as if it were the only thing he worked on before meeting Atanasoff. But Mauchly was already investigating digital solutions utilizing electronic counting before the two met. Mauchly's comments on same were the reason Atanasoff went up to him at the AAAS meeting in Phila. (cf Mauchly's visits to Swarthmore in 1938 and Dartmouth in 1940, e.g.)

Lastly, about the "fascinating personalities." Fascinating, but not historical. How she has portrayed Mauchly's personality is so far off-base, I hesitate to take her word on anyone else's character. Even Atanasoff was not the curmudgeon she makes him out to be.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Thu 9 Dec 2010 at 12:33 AM

Dr. Gustafson is correct in pointing out my error attributing Jane Smiley’s “potential for bias” to her time at the University of Iowa. Her “potential for bias” would more correctly be attributed to the 15 years she spent teaching at Iowa State University (according to Wikipedia) where Atanasoff worked and where Dr. Gustafson led the reconstruction of the ABC.

I apologize for this incorrect fact in my prior post, however, I believe the intent of the post is still valid.

Posted by D Moberg on Thu 9 Dec 2010 at 08:37 AM

==============================================

http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=who-built-the-first-computer-2009-09-21
-
We asked Campbell-Kelly, a professor of computer science at the University of Warwick in England and the author (along with William Aspray) of Computer: A History of the Information Machine, for his views on the Atanasoff controversy. He replies:
Computer historians are cautious about asserting priorities to inventors. I did not state that Eckert and Mauchly invented the electronic computer, but rather that they invented a particular computer, the ENIAC. I also said that “computing entered the electronic age with the ENIAC” which is true in the sense of a practical computing instrument of fairly broad application.
There were several electronic computing developments during World War II, both preceding and contemporaneous with the ENIAC, of which the Atanasoff machine was one—others included the NCR code-breaking machines, the Zuse Z4 computer in Germany, and the Colossus code breaking computer in the U.K. In a short article I could not acknowledge them all.
Atanasoff’s machine was a little-known computer that was restricted to a narrow class of problem, was not programmable, and was never fully functional. Atanasoff discontinued development in 1942. The Atanasoff computer was virtually unknown until 1971 when it was uncovered in a patent suit brought by Honeywell against Sperry Rand to invalidate the ENIAC patent. During the trial it was revealed that Mauchly had visited Atanasoff and saw his computer in June 1941. What he learned from this visit cannot be known, but the design of the ENIAC bore no resemblance to the Atanasoff computer. Mauchly himself claimed that he took away “no ideas whatsoever.” Although the judge gave priority of invention to Atanasoff, this was a legal judgment that surprised many historians.
In the article, Campbell-Kelly goes on to emphasize that the most important innovation—and one generally overlooked by casual observers—was the development of the stored-program computer concept by John von Neumann and collaborators in 1945. He writes that “this layout, or architecture, makes it possible to change the computer’s program without altering the physical structure of the machine. Moreover, a program could manipulate its own instructions. This feature … would confer a powerful flexibility that forms the very heart of computer science.”
What do you think? Should Eckert and Mauchly continue to receive credit for inventing the first electronic computer? Or Atanasoff? Or have von Neumann’s contributions to computing theory been overlooked in favor of less important but more tangible physical machines?
We aim to dispel some popular myths with a simple refutation and encourage the reader to conduct  research to their own satisfaction.  Everyone involved is named John, treatment so it can be confusing. (J. Presper Eckert, you guessed it... John)

Before ENIAC

John Atanasoff - Iowa
Myth
: John Atanasoff is the {forgotten} father of the first electronic computer.
Refuted
: First he would have to build a working electronic computer. Electronic would imply electronic speeds which it has not (60 Hz compared to ENIAC's 100,000 Hz).
Accepted
: He is the father of his own creation, the Atanasoff Berry Computer (ABC) which could be considered partially electronic. This was an electro-mechanical hybrid, not automatic, single purpose, never put to work, back from the scrap heap to be used as a Patent breaker in a Lawsuit 25 years later. A valiant but unsuccessful attempt at electronic computing. Very popular for 'Forgotten Underdog' theme in sensationalist computer dramas.

After ENIAC

John von Neumann - Mathematician
Myth
: John von Neumann is the father of digital computing/ the stored program/ von Neumann architecture /von Neumann Machine etc...
Refuted
: The ENIAC was designed, built and running before von Neumann knew of its existence. Fascinated with it, he then wrote a summation with only his name attached called First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC. Read this account by John W. Mauchly.

Myth: ENIAC was based on Atanasoffs computer.
Refuted
: one was electronic and worked

Myth: Patent Trial proved derivation/ inventorship.
Refuted
: it was ruled, not proven, big difference.

Myth: Mauchly saw Atanasoff's computer and therefore must have  acquired the secret idea of how to built a computer.
Refuted
: To this day no one knows what this idea is.
Accepted
: Mauchly saw Atanasoff's computer. Mauchly even offered him advice on how to speed it up. Atanasoff didn't think Mauchly's idea would work*. Mauchly and Atanasoff were friends and when the ENIAC was unveiled Atanasoff was invited to see it. He didn't mention any similarity to his own device.
[*an interesting gem from Burks book p 152;
According to Mrs Lura Atanasoff,
Atanasoff, referring to Mauchly, says...   " 'I don't think his [machine] will work.' "]

other:
Nominees for the Cult of Atanasoff hall of fame:

Clark R Mollenhoff   (Iowa)--  Atanasoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer (1988), ISBN 0-8138-0032-3

The editor's forward starts,"This is a fast-moving account of a triumph of justice over fraud..." The book is indeed a well written, fast moving story that tells about how Atanasoff designed and built an electronic computer, how the villainous Mauchly stole his computer ideas and claimed they were his own, and how the gallant Honeywell attorneys brought Mauchly to justice.

[and later]

Mollenhoff is a professional writer, not a computer scientist or a historian.

--------------- Saul Rosen criticizing  Mollenhoff's book.

Jane Smiley (Iowa)  same book ... see comments below

Allan R Mackintosh (Iowa)  Publicist

Arthur and Alice Burks  (Iowa)  The first electronic computer: the Atanasoff story
excerpt from p.226         trial notes (pp 2,652-32)

Ferrill: Did you ever design a digital electronic computer?
Atanasoff:   I think I did, yes.
Ferrill:   When did you do that, Dr. Atanasoff?
Atanasoff:  I think this machine is a digital electronic computer, the machine herein discussed.
Ferrill: Dr. Atanasoff---
Atanasoff: If it is not, why, I did not design a digital electronic computer, but I am certain this is a digital electronic computer.

(  hmmmm he doesn't sound so sure....)

Comments on the Smiley book:

from; http://www.cjr.org/page_views/number_cruncher.php

There are major problems with taking this book as history. As you point out, most of her sources are already published. Note that though she writes at length about Mauchly and his supposed subterfuge, ill intentions, etc., she utlizes but one source that was written about him; all the rest of her "information" comes from sources that were written in support of Atanasoff, and those sources, or Smiley herself, do a lot of "filling in the gaps" with speculation. E.g., she questions how Mauchly gained access to Atanasoff's lab at NOL in the 1940s. Noting that Mauchly's father was an "emininent scientist in D.C." she insinuates that the elder Mauchly somehow arranged for his son to get clearance. Without much research, she could have discovered that 1) Mauchly was hired by von Neumann to be a consultant on the project, and 2) Mauchly's father died in 1928, leaving one to wonder how he could have arranged security clearance for his son during a War that started 13 years after his death. In Smiley's book, Mauchly is indeed a villain, because she made him one, relying on her Iowa State sources and her own imagination. If she had consulted a variety of sources, we might consider this a history. Instead, it is "historical fiction" kind of like the things we've seen lately about Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth ... only not as well researched.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Wed 24 Nov 2010 at 05:50 PM

Smiley has not done her homework. This book is a rehash of several biased accounts, which do not square well with the historical record. The available primary sources would support a much more even-handed treatment. Such a treatment has in fact been written by Rocco Martino, but has so far aroused no interest among publishers.

One serious flaw is that Smiley glosses over Atanasoff's abject failure to build a digital computer when he was actually put in charge of a very well funded Navy project to do just that, in 1945-46. According to eyewitness accounts, he provided no effective leadership, technical or otherwise, and the project was canceled after 18 months for lack of progress. That does not sound to me like the expected behavior of the "real inventor of the computer".

It is too bad that the legend of the honest farm boy inventor duped by evil tricksters from the big city has so much popular appeal. It is hardly appropriate in this case, at least as applied to Eckert and Mauchly as the bad guys -- it would be nearer the mark to say that Atanasoff was a dupe of Honeywell's lawyers.

The real story is even more interesting than Smiley's fictional one, and awaits an investigative journalist who is prepared to do it justice.

Posted by Tom Sharpless on Thu 25 Nov 2010 at 01:19 PM

Gini Calcerano should identify herself--her name in Gini Mauchly Calcerano. Since the publication of The Man Who Invented the Computer, she has been attacking Atanasoff's claims once again, as the Mauchly-ites have attacked those claims since the court case was decided in 1973. They have said over and over for 37 years that they have material that proves Mauchly developed his ideas independently of his visit to Ames and Atanasoff's computer, but they have never produced that material. not even for Scott McCartney, who wrote ENIAC, a book conceived and written to defend Mauchly. And perhaps Tom Sharpless should get to work on his investigative journalism, since he knows the real story.

Posted by Jane Smiley on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 01:28 PM

I have no problem owning my name, but please don't call me a "Mauchly-ite" as if we were a camp dedicated to trying to crush Atanasoff and his claims. In response to your points, I would note:
1 - Scott McCartney's book was not "conceived and written to defend Mauchly." In fact, Mr. McCartney started with an open question, "Who invented the computer" and did voluminous research before even deciding that he wanted to focus on Mauchly and Eckert. His book reflects his well-researched and thought-out conclusion that the ENIAC was the machine that really brought the world into the computer age. It was never intended to be a defense of Mauchly; it was intended to be fair and even-handed. If that ends up making Mauchly a sympathetic character instead of charlatan and thief, it is not because Mr. McCartney was aiming to prove as much.
2 - No one is saying the ABC was not an extraordinary effort for its time. However, I beg you to show me what items of the ABC show up in the ENIAC. While ABC is binary, ENIAC was decimal. ABC used electronic components, but not in a way to make use of their electronic speeds; it was electro-mechanical in its functioning, and was proved to be so through exhaustive testimony from 3rd party expert witnesses in the Honeywell Trial. The ABC was no faster than anything else at the time. The ENIAC, taking advantage of electronic pulses WITHIN the vacuum tubes, was 5,000 times faster than any other machine at the time. The "smoking gun" capacitor drum ... there wasn't any in the ENIAC, so what's all that about?
I am not trying to dismiss Atanasoff. I am trying to understand why Mauchly has to be made into a villain and a cad for your story to work. The people in Iowa have been yelling loudly and repeatedly about this for a long while, and each time around, the voices become more shrill, and Mauchly becomes more evil.
In fact, Mauchly was a gentle person, an inspirational teacher, and constitutionally incapable of deception. This whole thing with Atanasoff saddened and confused him, as Mauchly thought of him as a scientific colleague.
Any legitimate history of an important subject should include more sources from a wider spectrum of thought than you have consulted. Beyond that, it should not include speculation, insinuation or acts of imagination. Why e.g. do you say that Mauchly's presence at the NOL was a "mystery" and the "visits went on for years"? Consulting the records would have answered that for you without all the nefarious speculation that Mauchly was spying on Atanasoff.
I go on too long. Feel free to contact me personally. I would love to understand why you wrote what you did.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:26 PM

As a follow-up to Ms. Smiley’s post, she should identify herself – she received two degrees from the University of Iowa (according to Wikipedia), the same place where Atanasoff (The Man Who Invented the Computer) developed his machine. Had she attended the University of Pennsylvania, as I did, when there were still people around who actually knew the kind of man Mauchly was…would she have cast him as a thief? Doubtful. My major objection to Ms. Smiley’s book (and it seems the objection of several others) is the bias in her references and her cavalier characterization of Eckert and Mauchly as villains. You can do this in novels, but not in a biography. Bravo to Ms. Calcerano for sticking up for her family. I am disappointed in Ms. Smiley’s choice to try to discredit Ms. Calcerano (because she is a Mauchly) rather than address the points she raises.

Additionally, I don’t think Mr. Sharpless, in his post, was claiming he knows some secrets about the invention of the computer (as Ms. Smiley implied in her post), rather I believe he was referring to the wealth of literature in computer history (e.g. the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing) that Ms. Smiley seemed to ignore in her book. I believe his point was that if an investigative journalist, as opposed to a novelist, were to write the story, it would be quite different from Ms. Smiley’s book but equally as interesting.

Posted by D Moberg on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:42 PM

With respect to the Atansoff-Mauchly controversy, an even-handed and thorough treatment may be found in Saul Rosen's 1990 paper, which may be found by Googling "origins of modern computing saul rosen" if the below hyperlink is filtered out.

http://www.cs.purdue.edu/research/technical_reports/1990/TR%2090-1013.pdf

Rosen's simple and elegant refutations are 20 years old, yet Smiley does not address them in her book, but instead copies ham-handedly and affectively from other long-available secondary sources. Smiley's re-rendition is not a useful complement to the history of computing scholar's shelf, and she has done a disservice to lay readers by corrupting the story to a melodrama and reducing real people to thin stereotypes. It is unfitting of them, and no more befitting of her talents as a writer.

Posted by Robert K S on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:49 PM

I grew up on Jolly Road with the Univac building in my front yard. Many of my parent's friends worked there. In the past weeks I've had the chance to share some of Smiley's prose with them. While I wasn't there, they were. The consensus is her knowledge of technology is, at best lacking. As if she was trying to say the inventor of the cathode ray tube stole the idea from the inventor of the Etch-a-Scetch. Sure they both draw lines across a screen but this is a far a one can draw the comparison. ENIAC was not based on a slow capacitor drum, it functioned at electronic speeds and was programable. Her comparison is not only in error, akin to comparing a helicopter to a fixed wing aircraft, she comes off sounding as a shrill, the Ann Coulter of technology.

Posted by richard babillis on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:58 PM

I grew up on Jolly Road with the Univac building in my front yard. Many of my parent's friends worked there. In the past weeks I've had the chance to share some of Smiley's prose with them. While I wasn't there, they were. The consensus is her knowledge of technology is, at best lacking. It is as if she was trying to say the inventor of the cathode ray tube stole the idea from the inventor of the Etch-a-Scetch. Sure they both draw lines across a screen but this is a far a one can draw the comparison. ENIAC was not based on a slow capacitor drum, it functioned at electronic speeds and was programable. Her comparison is not only in error, akin to comparing a helicopter to a fixed wing aircraft, she comes off sounding as a shrill, the Ann Coulter of technology.

Posted by richard babillis on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 08:59 PM

Dear Ms. Smiley,

I congratulate you on your ability to use the internet to find out who these "attackers " might be. However, it really doesn't matter WHO is pointing out your glaring errors. The main point everyone has been making is that you haven't tried to use primary sources, and instead rely on your imagination which has served you so well in your fiction writing. You have come under attack previously for your inability to get history right , so you would think Random House would try to get you to be more careful. I am sorry that Random House didn't think to provide you with a fact checker, or access to primary sources, such as the transcripts of depositions, or the artifacts of Mauchly's projects at Ursinus.

I am not a scientist, but I can understand the difference between electro- mechanical speeds and electronic speeds. If you are not capable of understanding the technology, or of understanding the difference between history and historical fiction you shouldn't have written the book.

Posted by Eva Mauchly Moos on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 09:38 PM

I'm shocked that Jane Smiley knew how my book "ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer'' was conceived when she has never contacted me or inquired. I'm equally surprised that she tries to discount my reporting and analysis with her own false assumptions.

My book was based on extensive reporting with surviving participants, personal papers of participants, the extensive federal court record, company archives, Army records, previous books, academic articles and oral histories. It began with a simple question when I was covering the computer industry for The Wall Street Journal: Who invented the computer? I believe the book presents a fair and important history. For Jane Smiley to suggest otherwise is simply wrong.

--Scott McCartney
The Wall Street Journal

Posted by Scott McCartney on Sun 28 Nov 2010 at 11:26 PM

(To Lauren Kirchner))In the above review, you mention "his (Atanassoff's) legal battles with his peers."
I can't find mention of any such legal battles on wikipedia or in the book you describe. The trial described in the book is one in which Atanassoff was used as a witness by Honeywell. Whether or not he was paid for his testimony, Honeywell compensated him by creating the first working model of the machine.(His had never been completed ) It was not HIS legal battle, nor that of Mauchly or any other witness.. It was a battle between two large corporations in which this man was used as a pawn (and possibly compensated) for the strategy of the big corporation with the most to lose or gain by the outcome.
If, as you say, the book is an important piece of history, you also should be accurate in writing about it.

Posted by Eva M Moos on Mon 29 Nov 2010 at 09:05 AM

Smiley's book makes much of the trial between Sperry and Honeywell. She relies heavily on the rulings of Judge Larson as evidence of the invention of computers by John Atanasoff. That reliance is incorrect. Had she studied the trial in detail, she would have realized that the trial is a travesty of injustice.

In 1972, Honeywell launched a countersuit on Sperry Rand in an attempt to avoid paying significant royalties based on the ENIAC patents assigned to Sperry Rand by Eckert and Mauchly. Through a series of strange convolutions, the trial was moved to Minnesota, a state where Honeywell was one of the largest employers. The ten-month trial was heard in Federal Court without a jury by Judge Earl R. Larson, who had no knowledge of computers and who apparently asked no questions during the proceedings. Judge Larson declared John Atanasoff the inventor of the computer, invalidated the Sperry Patents, and dismissed Honeywell’s complaint against Sperry for unfair trade practices.

As plaintiff rather than defendant, and as the largest employer in the State of Minnesota, Honeywell could present itself as the seriously aggrieved party before a judge who would look beyond the law for factors more in the line of his notion of “justice” than in the letter of the law. In that regard, Honeywell opted for a strategy of characterizing itself as the hapless victim of a blatant attempt at monopoly by Sperry Rand. This allegation cited an earlier cross-licensing agreement between Sperry and IBM as a conspiracy to control the fledgling industry. Honeywell further opted for a strategy of inundating the court with a myriad of documents that would both smother Sperry’s documents and inhibit the ability to extract the truth from the avalanche of material. Judge Larson was presented with over 32,000 exhibits, 26,000 from Honeywell. Some of these documents contained several hundred pages. The trial transcript was over 20,000 pages.

One byproduct of Honeywell’s victory was the unfortunate pall cast upon invention that has affected the computer industry to this day.

Larson's final ruling was well crafted. He dismissed the anti-trust charges which satisfied Sperry; and he cancelled the ENIAC patents which satisfied Honeywell. Mauchly and Atanasoff were collateral aspects to both.

None of this is covered in Smiley's book. That is unfortunate. She wrote a fine novel. It is not completely factual history.

These comments are copyright 2010 by Rocco Leonard Martino, and contain excerpts from his book "People, Machines and Politics of the Cyber Age Creation"

Posted by Rocco Martino on Mon 29 Nov 2010 at 10:10 AM

As a member-by-marriage of the Mauchly family I am perhaps biased, but two points should be made that have not. First, Dr. Mauchly never really profited from his invention in any significant financial sense. If he were such a villain, wouldn't he have seen to that? Second, I have read Jane Smiley's other books and found them to be contrived and silly. That her "biography" is such should not be a surprise to anyone.

Posted by Bill moos on Mon 29 Nov 2010 at 11:44 AM

The story of Atanasoff was first reported in Clark Mollenhoff's biography, Atanasoff, the forgotten father of the computer, twenty two years ago,(Ames, Iowa State University Press, 1988) Since nobody has mentioned this book, I would like it noted.

Clark Mollenhoff was both an investigative reporter and a lawyer. He was one of the few reporters to win the Pulitzer Prize twice.

Posted by David Reno on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 03:40 PM

In fact, Mr. Mollenhoff's biography of Atanasoff is one of the books upon which Ms. Smiley based hers. One wonders why another had to be written. I have heard, though I cannot verify this, that Mr. Mollenhoff wrote this book at the request of the City of Ames, IA, and or Iowa State Univ. Not exactly "investigative."

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 06:52 PM

Indeed, Mollenhoff is an Iowa native, and his book on Atanasoff was published by the Iowa State University Press. May I presume that other publishers thought it was not well enough researched, biased, or bordering on libel?

Posted by Gini Mauchlyite Calcerano on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 06:58 PM

Mollenhoff also publishes with Doubleday. Is this getting incestuous yet?

Posted by Gini Mauchlyite Calcerano on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 07:00 PM

For the record, D. Moberg is right: though my father helped build ENIAC, I don't have any secret information. Indeed I knew very little about l'affaire Atanasoff until I started getting Bill Mauchly's e-mails about Jane Smiley. Had read Alice Burks' book, of course, but was not much convinced by it. Have since learned more, from the many sources available online.

The investigative journalist I had in mind would not be writing about Atanasoff vs Mauchly, but about Honeywell vs Sperry, the Travesty of the Century.

Posted by Tom Sharpless on Tue 30 Nov 2010 at 09:49 PM

In case it isn't obvious, I am the John Gustafson who led the reconstruction of the ABC, just to indicate which "camp" I fall in. As long as this discussion sticks to facts, I think it can be constructive.

Jane Smiley obtained her M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. That is not the school where Atanasoff developed the computer (Iowa State College, now Iowa State University). Equating the University of Iowa with Iowa State University (D Moberg's posting) is like equating USC and UCLA, since both have California in their names.

Computer historians are in broad agreement that many people contributed to the invention of the computer. That point is made throughout Smiley's book; the 1930s and 1940s had a flurry of activity by many people in many countries, and she gives credit to all of them, using primary sources.There is no shortage of primary source material, and perhaps the most revealing are the letters and writings of the inventors themselves. Mollenhoff did an excellent job of bringing those to light to show the ABC-ENIAC part of the story. Smiley's book brings in Turing, Zuse, Aiken, Flowers, von Neumann and thus completes the picture. It does not vilify Mauchly, but it certainly makes obvious that anyone claiming that Mauchly and Eckert deserve all the credit for developing electronic computing is seeing only a very small and carefully selected part of the history.

Posted by John Gustafson on Mon 6 Dec 2010 at 02:21 AM

John Gustafson writes that "anyone claiming that Mauchly and Eckert deserve all the credit for developing electronic computing is seeing only a very small and carefully selected part of the history." I agree. But the title of Smiley's book suggests that Atanasoff deserves all the credit -- a claim even more myopic.

Posted by Ken McLean on Mon 6 Dec 2010 at 01:16 PM

Ken McLean's comment confirms one of my suspicions: That many people who are posting have read only the title of Jane Smiley's book, and not its contents. The contents do not give sole credit to Atanasoff as the title implies.

Posted by John Gustafson on Tue 7 Dec 2010 at 01:06 AM

John Gustafson suspects that many critics of the book have read only the title. I for one have read the entire book. I have also read the Burks' book and Alice Burk's later book, Scott McCartney's book, Nancy Stern's history, Saul Rosen's paper and many other more general works on computer history. I believe most of the critical posts have got it right -- the book grossly exaggerates Atanasoff's contributions to computing. The title of a book is usually indicative of its purpose. If Smiley did not intend to annoint Atanasoff as THE inventor of the computer why did't she call her book "The Men Who Invented the Computer" and remove Atanasoff's picture from its cover?

Posted by Ken McLean on Tue 7 Dec 2010 at 04:36 PM

John Gustafson makes many good points. I agree that the 1930s and 1940s were a time that was ripe for electronic invention, and that many people made contributions on the road to modern computing. I admired the way Smiley brought in the stories of so many people doing that early work, whether or not the work was known at the time.

But he says the book "does not vilify Mauchly," I am sorry to say that it DOES. Mauchly is the only one of the computer pioneers about whom it is said he was "unable" to have any original ideas, and must have taken everything from Dr. Atanasoff. The book relies heavily on the transcripts of the Honeywell Trial, as if all the facts were presented in it, when in fact, much was withheld from the testimony because it wouldn't not have helped one side or the other.

Sperry had no interest in showing the variety of sources that influenced Mauchly, from his own need for high-speed computing to process his sun-spot data, to his visits to Swarthmore to see how electronic tubes could be utilized, to other influences at Penn, professional conferences, G. Stibitz, etc..

Honeywell certainly had no interest in airing the fact that Art Burks was extremely unhappy that he was not included in the ENIAC patents, and had told Mauchly in the 1960s that bad things would happen to him and his reputation in the future, if he didn't agree to adding his name.

Neither side was interested in showing that Dr. Atanasoff and Dr. Mauchly enjoyed a collegial friendship for years....that is before Honeywell decided that they could save themselves millions of dollars by making a case out of Atanasoff's early work.

Every review I have read refers to this book as a "gripping read" or even "techno-thriller" citing the "villain in the story" as John Mauchly. Smiley herself (following Mollenhoff) makes a "plot" out of the fact that Mauchly is a deceptive and nefarious character. (See my comments above.) Why is he the ONLY computer pioneer who can't have his own thoughts, but must steal them from others?

Gustafson also says Smiley used primary sources, but the bibliography of the book shows hardly any. Is he counting her interview with Kirwan Cox, not a primary source, but at least someone who has done some poking around into sources beyond those that come out of Iowa? There is plenty of data at Iowa State, but it appears she took it "pre-packaged" from Mollenhoff and Burks. There is also plenty of data and the complete Mauchly papers at the University of Pennsylvania archives. But it does not appear she consulted that at all.

Indeed, she uses basically one or two sources per pioneer. That's fine for individuals about whom she writes a few pages. That is not sufficient in the case of Mauchly, who is cited more times in the book than anyone but Atanasoff himself, and about whom unfounded claims are made about his character, intentions and personality. If half the book is about Mauchly, then half her research should have been as well.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Wed 8 Dec 2010 at 10:20 AM

Indeed, Mr. Gustafson, re: villifying Mauchly, the very review we are commenting on says: "The young and ambitious physicist John Mauchly serves as the book’s villain." Okay right off the bat, Mauchly was only 4 years younger than Atanasoff, and not really an ambitious type, as anyone who knew him would attest. But Smiley has made him somehow a young guy with no ideas, rather than a Johns Hopkins PhD; made him ambitious for fame and fortune, rather than keenly interested in solving problems that required loads of data to be processed.

The reviewer continues, "After listening to Atanasoff describe his early experiments, and studying a prototype he had constructed in 1941, Mauchly (in Smiley’s account of events) secretly built upon those innovations for his own work." The reviewer knows nothing of John Mauchly's other preparation for building a computer, because Smiley didn't describe it, except to refer to the trial where it was mentioned in dismissive terms and never really explored.

Thus is Mauchly made into a thief and a villain. One review even had him caricatured as a bandit with a sack of loot.

I am not trying to say Mauchly and Eckert operated in a vacuum. But I am saying they were ethical, hard working, and smart. Jane Smiley's saying otherwise in a national forum, where her well-known name will attract readers who don't know any better than to believe her, is a serious problem.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Wed 8 Dec 2010 at 10:34 AM

I am happy to see Dr. Gustafson the ABC expert, in the conversation. After watching the demonstration of the reconstructed ABC on youtube, I am curious to hear an opinion on this aspect. Comparing the ABC to the ENIAC seems to be like comparing a wringer washer to an automatic one. A person is required to enter each item one by one, then process each thing one by one, then complete the process, item by item. There is no time saving. Using a program and electronic (rather than electromechanical) speeds are BIG ideas that were not in the ABC. Can someone name something in the ENIAC that WAS taken from the ABC? And doesn't 5000 times faster count as a pretty important innovation? No one is discounting that Atanasoff was brilliant, or that he had a great idea. He just isn't the only one.

Posted by Eva Mauchly Moos on Wed 8 Dec 2010 at 01:14 PM

We're drifting a bit both from Smiley's book and the review of it, but I'm happy to answer this technical questions. The Youtube example uses such small integers that it's easy to forget that the ABC did everything in 50-bit precision, equivalent to about 15 decimals on a base ten computer. If you've ever tried multiplying two 15-decimal numbers by hand, I think you'd be doing well to finish one such operation in under 20 minutes and lucky to get the right answer. The ABC did a multiply-add on 30 15-decimal numbers in less than a minute, and very reliably. That's hundreds of times faster than a human, or even a human with a desk calculator of that era, and maybe it's modest compared with later computers but it was pretty spectacular at the time. Atanasoff used the 60 Hz clock cycle of AC line current to simplify his design, since after all he was cost-constrained and didn't have 18,000 vacuum tubes like the ENIAC. He used only a few hundred vacuum tubes.

Like other computers, then and now, someone has to enter the data and someone has to receive the result. I'm typing this note into a computer by pushing buttons on a laptop that contains a motor that spins its hard disk... I guess that means my MacBook Pro is an "electromechanical computer." So the ABC is in pretty good company, don't you think? The term "electromechanical" is usually applied to relays, where an electrical signal is converted into mechanical motion as part of the operation. There was no such use of mechanics in the ABC; the logic was 100% electronic, and the motor simply kept the memory spinning just like it does on a hard disk. Aiken's Mark I, Zuse's Z3, and Alt's Bell Labs machine were electromechanical.

The ENIAC used punch cards also, and it required that constants be entered manually by rotating decimal dials. Setting up a computation required manually setting three thousand switches on the function tables! (See J. Kopplin's "Illustrated History of Computers, Part 4" at http://www.computersciencelab.com/ComputerHistory/HistoryPt4.htm for more details of the vast amount of manual work needed to use the ENIAC). That doesn't count roughly seventy hours to "program" the ENIAC by removing and reattaching wires between functional units. Once set up with all that manual effort, it could compute ballistic tables in a few seconds that would have taken single person twenty hours to do with a hand calculator.

I would love to see an equivalent Youtube of the ENIAC used for solving two equations in two unknowns like in the ABC video, showing all the manual steps needed. The manual steps would similarly make the overall speed unimpressive.

To answer your question about what in the ENIAC was taken from the ABC, it was the concept of electronic digital computing. Primary sources make quite clear that Mauchly only was thinking of analog computing until he met Atanasoff. Driving vacuum tubes to saturation to represent logic states that could be composed to represent arithmetic operations to any precision needed... that was Atanasoff's innovation.

To come back to the subject at hand, Smiley's book credits Atanasoff with that concept, and she also credits Mauchly and Eckert for commercializing electronic digital computing. And she credits Flowers and Turing with inventing code-cracking electronics that helped win World War II. Somehow, we have to get this discussion away from arguments about whose computer was better or faster or bigger or less primitive. Smiley's book is about dramatic events, fascinating personalities, and how they interplay and ultimately have led to the computing technology we enjoy today. I hope people read her book, not these posts, and make up their own minds about Smiley's work.

Posted by John Gustafson on Wed 8 Dec 2010 at 11:40 PM

Dr. G: You say "Primary sources make quite clear that Mauchly only was thinking of analog computing until he met Atanasoff." Apparently some primary sources are being ignored. Evidence (that either was not entered into the Honeywell Trial testimony or that has been deliberately ignored) shows that Mauchly was already thinking about digital devices in the mid-1930s at Ursinus. People point to his Harmonic Analyzer as if it were the only thing he worked on before meeting Atanasoff. But Mauchly was already investigating digital solutions utilizing electronic counting before the two met. Mauchly's comments on same were the reason Atanasoff went up to him at the AAAS meeting in Phila. (cf Mauchly's visits to Swarthmore in 1938 and Dartmouth in 1940, e.g.)

Lastly, about the "fascinating personalities." Fascinating, but not historical. How she has portrayed Mauchly's personality is so far off-base, I hesitate to take her word on anyone else's character. Even Atanasoff was not the curmudgeon she makes him out to be.

Posted by Gini Calcerano on Thu 9 Dec 2010 at 12:33 AM

Dr. Gustafson is correct in pointing out my error attributing Jane Smiley’s “potential for bias” to her time at the University of Iowa. Her “potential for bias” would more correctly be attributed to the 15 years she spent teaching at Iowa State University (according to Wikipedia) where Atanasoff worked and where Dr. Gustafson led the reconstruction of the ABC.

I apologize for this incorrect fact in my prior post, however, I believe the intent of the post is still valid.

Posted by D Moberg on Thu 9 Dec 2010 at 08:37 AM

In 1979, stuff just a few months before he died, John Mauchly had a letter published in DATAMATION.  Examples of his writing are rare, but here he clearly wanted to have his say.  In this short piece he describes how he and Pres Eckert, in the wee hours of 1944, worked out the stored-program architecture of EDVAC, the successor to ENIAC.  Later they told John von Neumann, who published it as his own work, and who never repented for it.

Mauchly also brings up the little-known fact that 25% of the ENIAC's electronic storage was dedicated to programming.  Perhaps it deserves some consideration as a stored-program computer?  The letter also describes some features of BINAC, an under-appreciated innovation.  This was at the time that Burks and Goldstine were trying to drain as much credit away from Eckert and Mauchly and towards Atanasoff and von Neumann as they possible could.  It turned out to be Mauchly's last published words.

Stored Programs by John W. Mauchly

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

Leave a Reply