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The ENIAC - Part 2
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


Where to learn more

Philly vs. Iowa for the Soul of the Computer

Posted in All Posts on January 29th, 2011 by Bill

In the just-released February 2011 issue, here Philadelphia Magazine sends a wake-up call to the town: Don’t stand there and let Iowa get all the glory!  It explains that Smiley’s book is trying to give Atanasoff all the credit for the idea of the electronic computer and Philly is, find well, oblivious.

Read the whole article here:  PHILLY MAG

An excerpt:

“But a growing group of Iowans, perhaps miffed that their state is best known for a not particularly nutritious vegetable, would have you believe that it was their Midwestern home that begat this world-changing technology. In October, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and former Iowa State University professor Jane Smiley published The Man Who Invented the Computer. In it, she vilifies Mauchly and argues that he stole the intellectual property of ISU physicist John Atanasoff, who had developed a computing device of his own, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, in the late ’30s.

“But more alarming than Iowa’s attempt to claim our history is the lack of defense from the city and Penn. Thus far, our civic leaders’ collective response has been, well, nil — and indeed, our city seems perfectly content to let this momentous, revolutionary accomplishment go largely uncelebrated. To wit: While a few pieces of ENIAC sit in some room at Penn, the remainder of surviving pieces lay in some storage room.


“Think about it: Say something nasty about the Eagles, and you’ll get an earful from Ed Rendell. Declare New York City our superior in some minor respect, and watch the furor unfold. But the genesis of the computer? Eh, go ahead and take it.”

Many thanks to Victor Fiorillo for the article and the great suggestion:

Make Feb. 14 ENIAC Day!

The Computer History Museum opens its big new exhibit

Posted in All Posts on January 19th, 2011 by Bill

The world’s premier computer history museum has opened its biggest exhibit ever, site an ambitious survey of 2000 years of computing. What would be better publicity than a little controversy? They are diving right into it. The opening picture for the exhibit is none other than our favorite, malady the Atanasoff-Berry Computer. On Jan 27 they will welcome Jane Smiley, author of a new book about Atanasoff, for a “conversation” in front of a public audience.
We are not sure how much the Mountain View, California audience will know about or care about the goings on in the 1940s, back when computer memory was measured in words, not gigabytes. What is so interesting about that old battle between the Mauchly-ites and the Atanasoviets, primitive warring tribes from a distant part of the continent?
I guess we will have to wait and see. My experience with computer historians at the museum and elsewhere is that they do not like to be told what is, or what isn’t, a computer. I’m not sure why they would like it any better if it were coming from a non-technical fiction author who usually writes about horses. I guess we will have to wait and see.

Smiley Smackdown: “Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.”

Posted in All Posts on December 22nd, 2010 by Bill

Excuse me (Bill Mauchly) for being thrilled see Peter Eckstein totally demolish Jane Smiley’s The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, ed Digital Pioneer in the Columbia Journalism Review.  See the review and comments here.

The review of the book by Lauren Kirchner first appeared online Nov 24, 2010.  The entire trail of comments is very entertaining in itself.   Gini Calcerano dove in to criticize the book.  Then in a surprise visit by Jane Smiley herself, the author tries to throw the fight in a different direction by accusing a Gini Calcerano of hiding the fact that she was actually a Mauchly, and even better, a “Mauchlyite.”  Yea, the Mauchlyites were awakened and hit back with renewed force.  As Rick Moranis says in Ghostbusters: “Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!”

Today Peter Eckstein, author and historian, added a highly detailed criticism of Smiley’s factual errors and extreme bias.  Here is his post in its entirety:


I am not related to anyone in this controversy, and I never met Mauchly.  I did interview Eckert (and others) extensively and published a long article on his early life in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. My only strong bias is a belief that history should be depicted as accurately as possible.  I have read all parts of the Smiley book concerning American computer developments and found them to be superficially researched, riddled with factual errors, and totally biased—nothing short of a publishing scandal.

Smiley’s thesis is entirely borrowed from previous writers on one side of the issue.  It is that Atanasoff, a brilliant scientist at Iowa State (where Smiley taught for more than a decade), invented “the computer,” later called the ABC.  Then his ideas were stolen by Mauchly (“a space case”) who shared them with Eckert at Penn. Eckert merely “followed through,” making sure that Mauchly’s designs “were properly executed” during World War II in developing the ENIAC computer for the Army. By contrast, many serious computer historians argue that Eckert, who worked closely with Mauchly and others, should be seen as the master engineer of the computer age.

Read more »

Jane Smiley’s “Atanasoff” gets a rebuke in the New York Times

Posted in All Posts on December 21st, 2010 by Bill

Calculating a Consensus

Published: December 17, buy 2010 The New York Times

Related:    Sunday Book Review: ‘The Man Who Invented the Computer’ by Jane Smiley (November 28, sick 2010)

To the Editor:

Kathryn Schulz’s review of “The Man Who Invented the Computer,” by Jane Smiley, fails to address a basic issue: Is the book true, or at least consistent with the consensus about the development of the computer (“Binary Breakthrough,” Nov. 28)? Contrary to Smiley’s claims, most historians believe that if anyone deserves credit for the invention of the general-purpose electronic computer, it should go to J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, who developed the Eniac. Of course, there are many difficult issues over what it means to “invent” any complex technology. But a review of a work of historical biography should at least inform readers that the book challenges a general scholarly consensus, and evaluate whether the book is adequately based on research and facts.

Kalamazoo, Mich.

Think an Apple II is retro? Try programming ENIAC

Posted in All Posts on December 20th, 2010 by Bill

This desktop ENIAC simulator lets you learn about the ENIAC the way any respectable hacker does – by monkeying with it.

Our favorite 30 ton computer is turning 65 and not looking great for its age.  But although the original is currently chopped into pieces and scattered across the world like Voldemort’s horcruxes, clinic there is a working ENIAC.  It is a java applet that you can download and play with here.

The desktop version of ENIAC is by Till Zoppke, view who says he was inspired by the ENIAC-on-a-chip that was built at Penn.    It is pretty impressive; you can move patchcords, set switches, and watch it go through it’s paces on a couple of sample programs.  Try to break it, it’s only fair.  There are some tutorials posted there too, for when you get stuck.

An article about the simulation, written by Raúl Rojas and Till Zoppke, is available there, called The Virtual Life of ENIAC.” It is all hosted by our friends over at at Konrad Zuse Internet Archive.

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

Posted in All Posts on December 15th, 2010 by Bill

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

Their Machine Launched a World of Change

Posted in All Posts on December 8th, 2010 by Bill

The woman knew how to tell a story.  I just made a page for this piece, patientTheir Machine Launched a World of Change” by Kathleen Mauchly Antonelli.  It was printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer ten years ago.  Feel the love.

Hello world!

Posted in All Posts on December 3rd, 2010 by nthmost

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