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People, Machines, and Politics of the Cyber Age Creation | ENIAC - The first general-purpose electronic computer
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

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People, Machines, and Politics of the Cyber Age Creation

Amending the ENIAC Story, viagra John W. Mauchly, Datamation, Vol. 25, No. 11, 1979.


A Letter to the Editor of DATAMATION, from John W. Mauchly
[address] , Ambler PA, 19002

In the May 1979 DATAMATION, you published some highlights from Nancy Stern’s doctoral dissertation, in part relating to the “stored program”.  I would like to add further material which may interest some of your readers.
The EDVAC was the outcome of lengthy planning in which Eckert and I deliberately tried to overcome many problems of storage and control which were evident in the hasty “state-of-the-art” ENIAC System.  Much of this planning took place in the early months of 1944, when most of the ENIAC design had been frozen.  (See, e.g. “Disclosure of a Magnetic Drum Calculator”, Jan. 1944, U. Penna. Archives).
The principle which guided these “POST-ENIAC” efforts was that of trying, in the next computer, to use the same device for all situations requiring the same function (such as storage).  What had been out of the question with ring-counter storage suddenly appeared within reach because of the economies estimated as possible with the acoustic delay line storage.  It was not until October, 1944, that an Army Ordnance contract authorized work on EDVAC (without any specification as to just what an EDVAC might be).  We were still building ENIAC, and had to be sure that it was properly completed.  That took over a year more.
But all through 1944, and in 1945 as well, we were leading a “double life”.  For much of two shifts, 8 AM to Midnight, both ENIAC construction and testing needed supervision.  Then as hourly workers went home and project engineers “thinned out”, Eckert and I were left time to consider that “next machine”.  Naturally, “architecture” or “logical organization” was the first thing to attend to.  Eckert and I spent a great deal of thought on that, combining a serial delay line storage with the idea of a single storage for data and program.  From January, 1944, (the Magnetic Calculator Disclosure), followed by the delay line ideas of a month or so later, on through the Summer, Eckert and I were very busy in these dual roles — switching from ENIAC jobs to thinking of what that new machine might be like.
During part of this time, Goldstine was hospitalized and did not have direct knowledge of the plans which were being generated so late at night.  But Harry Huskey, who came to the ENIAC project about April, 1944 (his estimate) confirmed that soon after he arrived he became aware that the “next computer plans” involved having programs and data in the very same “store”.  This was long before Goldstine met von Neumann in August, 1944.
September 7, 1944 was the first day when von Neumann had security clearance to see the ENIAC and talk with Eckert and me about the classified digital computer projects on which we worked.  When von Neumann arrived, Eckert and I were asked to tell “Johnny” what our plans were, and we did. We started with our simple basic ideas: There would be only ONE storage device (with addressable locations) for the ENTIRE EDVAC, and this would hold both data and instructions.  All needed arithmetic operations would be performed in just ONE arithmetic unit (unlike the ENIAC).  All control functions would be centralized (in contrast to the ENIAC).  Of course there would be devices to handle input and output, and these would be subject to the control module just as the other modules were.
Johnny learned instantly, of course, as was his nature.  But he chose to refer to the modules we had described as “organs” and to substitute hypothetical “neurons” for hypothetical vacuum tubes or other devices which could perform logical functions.  It was clear that Johnny was rephrasing our logic, but it was still the SAME logic.  Also, he was introducing different but equivalent symbols; nevertheless the devices still did the same things.  Johnny did NOT alter the fundamental concepts which we had already formulated for the EDVAC.
Everyone could see how fascinated Johnny was with a subject which had somehow escaped his amazingly wide interests until Goldstine told him of the Moore School project.  Like a child with a new toy, he could not put it aside.  When his consulting duties required him to visit the Manhattan Project, he took off for New Mexico, hut his mind was on our EDVAC architecture.
He must have spent considerable time at los Alamos writing up a report on our design for an EDVAC.  This MSS he sent to Goldstine, with a letter stating that he had done this as an accommodation for the Moore School group who had met with him.  But Goldstine mimeographed it with a title page naming only one author — von Neumann.  There was nothing to suggest that ANY of the major ideas had come from the Moore School Project!
Without our knowledge, Goldstine then distributed the “design for the EDVAC” outside the project and even to persons in other countries.
Small wonder, then, that computer history gave von Neumann the credit.  Eckert and I, who left the Univ. of Penna. In 1946, no longer had access to the documents which might have helped to show “who did what, when.”  But after many years, litigation has unearthed some of those documents, and historians can read what was once classified.  But, even after declassification, those reports are not accessible to most people, since they were reproduced in such small quantities.  Nevertheless, we hope that more historians will refer to them.
Of those who did check our ENIAC and EDVAC reports, Metropolis and Worlton published “A Trilogy of Errors in the History of Computing” (USA – Japan Computer Conf. 1972 AFIPS).  Metropolis of los Alamos was in an excellent position to notice such errors, for he knew von Neumann and Eckert and me and the history recounted above.  But on “historians” who merely copy from popular sources, that paper had no influence.
Before moving on to the BINAC, it is important to note that the ENIAC really did have a stored program, but not in the sense in which that word is currently used.  The ENIAC was much more than an analog of a mechanical desk computer.  Control of the calculations was more important than “just doing arithmetic fast”.  And that control had to be fast enough so that it did not lose all the time gained by doing the arithmetic fast.  That meant that any element of the program which changed fast had to be “in fast storage”.  Each of the 20 “accumulators” had a ring counter for “repeat operations”, but more important were the electronic counters and stepping switches in the Master Programmer.  These made possible immediate change from one program sequence to another, enabling the use of nested subroutines and other program variations.
Altogether, about 25% of the ENAIC “fast electronic storage” was devoted to such internal storage of those parts of the program which varied rapidly.  That is one of the important features which made the ENIAC a far more powerful instrument than an “electronic speed-up of a mechanical computing device”.

Now for a few words about the BINAC, which was not only the first stored program computer built by Eckert-Mauchly, but the fastest with delay line storage.  Its clock rate was 4 megacycles, or 8 times that of the first machine at Cambridge, England — the EDSAC.  The BINAC was really two identical machines, checking each other each clock cycle, and these “Siamese twins” were completed and amply demonstrated for an entire week to many scores of guests in Philadelphia.  These demonstrations were reported in the Journal of the Franklin Institute for October, 1949, but not much carried by the popular press.  They were very carefully noted by observers from the National Bureau of Standards, and the Bureau of the Census, because these agencies were expecting Eckert-Mauchly to build and deliver UNIVACs to the government.  Apparently these highly interested groups were satisfied that Eckert-Mauchly would indeed be able to produce UNIVACs.
Then what happened?  It would be more than a year before any computer of similar capacity and speed would be available in North America.  ENIAC, for three years the ONLY electronic computer in the whole world, now had a real rival with 512 “words” of storage any of which could be used for data or program.  Northrop, the BINAC contractor, did not see or realize the potential of what it had.  While ENIAC was kept busy on many scientific problems until 1955, this pioneer BINAC of 1949 was cast aside.
Northrop Aircraft required immediate delivery in Philadelphia.  Northrop then “took charge”.  The various modules of the BINAC were roughly crated, shipped to California, and apparently ignored.
But, for the sake of “stored program” history, the following should be recorded: The first of the two computers which became the BINAC was under test early in 1949, and ran non-stop without error in April, 1949, for 44 hours.  The test was then interrupted so that the engineers could get on with other work.  The Cambridge EDSAC, we are told, made its debut in May, 1949.
Having covered some of the main points, I shall conclude with a few minor comments.
One common misconception which Eckert and I have repeatedly tried to correct is that ENIAC technology was based on previous radar work.  There is not a shred of truth in that.  It was, to a large extent, based on the “scaling” circuits of nuclear and cosmic ray laboratories.  The acoustic delay line storage device, used in EDVAC, BINAC, and UNIVAC came from Eckert’s previous projects for radar.
There is a confusion of p.233 of Dr. Stern’s article between fixed function tables used in the multiplier unit to produce “partial products”, and the three large “portable function tables” which could be manually set up for arbitrary function values for 104 arguments.
Also, I should answer Fred Gruenberger’s remarks about my August 1942 memo.  It was never intended to explain or propose a CONTROL method for electronic computation, but merely to “sell” the reason for developing electronic devices to overcome the limitations of mechanical devices, including relays.  Fortunately it did that.  But IT DID NOT DESCRIBE even a calculator, still less a computer.
Any one who wants to read what we proposed for the ENIAC should consult the April 1943 proposal which Eckert and I and Dr. Brainerd put together and presented to the Ballistic Research Laboratory at a meeting which approved the “starting project”.  In that document was a “program chart” which I drew up to show how the iterations for a trajectory might be calculated.  Such may be the first program ever attempted for an electronic digital device.  Perhaps Brian Randall will reprint that proposal in a revision of his book on “Origin of Digital Computers”.

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.
The story of early electronic computing has many twists and turns, cheap making it a very interesting subject of study. Modern laptops, health phones, store iPods are like leaves on a giant computer tree whose branches can be traced all the way down to the roots where mechanical machines and electronics were hybridizing into special purpose computers. The main trunk of that tree is the ENIAC. (Click on the image below for a full-size version.)

Hey it really is a tree
Dr. Rocco Martino has written a new book which provides rich new insight into the birth of the Cyber Age, as he likes to call it.  It includes chapters on the ENIAC and the the Sperry-Honeywell trial.  This is the introduction to the book, order written by Bill Mauchly.

My father, viagra Dr. John W. Mauchly, with his partner J. Presper Eckert, invented ENIAC. It was the first electronic computer.  There, I said it, and it is the truth.  They not only designed that computer but a few more, an EDVAC and a BINAC and a UNIVAC, and in them developed the blueprint for all computers today.  But you would be amazed to learn, if you don’t know, how controversial my father’s role is.  He has been accused of fraud and stealing secret ideas, he was blacklisted from his own company and was even suspected of murder.  After his death in 1980, books have been published painting him as an unscrupulous villain who sponged off the intellect around him.   And yet at the same time the computer history community acknowledges that he is the one who started the computer revolution, and he is the one who has been robbed of the credit he deserves.  What is going on here?  What went on 60 years ago that still causes so much confusion, disagreement and animosity?

This is a book concerning history, but it is not a history book.  Dr. Rocco Martino is both an acute observer and a player in the story of the computer revolution.  At the heart of the matter, in Chapter 7 he presents a bold new analysis of the ENIAC patent trial, the travesty of justice that started the bizarre controversy over my father.  Dr. Martino knew him well and they founded a company together.  He has given us a rare inside view of Mauchly, and other pioneers of the digital revolution, and vividly recounts their personalities as well as their accomplishments.   Those accounts are woven into a bigger picture of the entire span of computer evolution, from the first and only computer to a world with too many billions of computers to be counted.  Finally the history is put in the context of today’s world.  The volume is further infused with Dr. Martino’s views and convictions on the need for innovation in the global marketplace.

My mother Kathleen McNulty Mauchly had also been in computers; she was one of the ENIAC programmers.  That in itself is a fascinating story that I will not attempt here.   My father and mother were terrific parents, loved by all their children.  But we weren’t the only ones who thought they were great.  There were seven of us kids, and we each seemed to have seven friends who thought our house was the best place to be because our parents made them feel welcome and so many interesting things were going on.  And then there were the various computer professionals or luminaries that would come to visit.  We would all gather around a big dinner table every night and the conversation could easily go from Abacus to Zeus in one evening.  Mom and Dad were generous with their gifts, and people felt that.

One evening Rocco Martino came to dinner.  He had been a friend of Dad’s from their first meeting at Sperry Rand a few years earlier, in the 1950’s.   We all liked him immediately; he was friendly and animated and enjoyed talking to us kids.  Dad had a great rapport with him.  We all called him Rocky.

Those were exciting times for Dad; he and Rocky were starting a new venture to use computer software to do project scheduling.  Dad was breaking away from Remington Rand, who didn’t share his view that computer companies needed to be deeply involved in software as well as hardware.

So finally he was his own boss again.  More importantly to him, I think, was that he had his own computer.  The new company bought an IBM 1620 computer (yes, IBM had been his competitor until now, but already they were pulling ahead of Sperry Rand).  The company used the computer by day, but Dad used it at night.  It was his first of many “personal” computers.  Sometimes he would bring my sisters and me to the office in the evening.  We got to be very comfortable around computers and learned to use the key punch to enter data onto punch cards.  I remember listening in as Dad was trying to teach assembly language to my older sister.   The best part was playing Blackjack against the IBM mainframe.  It was 1960.

Rocky co-founded the new company and coined the name: Mauchly Associates.  He was the Executive Vice President and also in charge of the Canadian operations.  Though I would like to say that they were friends for life, that was not the case.  They worked together for a few years but there was a falling out over business issues.  Rocky went his own way, which turned out to be a very successful way, much more so than Dad’s.  Rocky started a new company, called XRT, just as digital money transfer was starting to explode.  But throughout his illustrious career in computer security and digital banking, Rocky kept his admiration for the man who not only had given him his start, but had really given the entire computer industry its start.  And he watched with concern as the rather strange results of a patent trial triggered a series of attacks on John Mauchly’s reputation.

In 1971 Honeywell sued Sperry Rand claiming that the patent on the ENIAC was invalid.  The verdict shocked many people.   In short, the trial said that Mauchly took the idea for the electronic computer from a John Atanasoff.   This was clearly false to those who understood the technology, but it seemed that that judge did not.  In this book Dr. Rocco Martino gives a detailed rebuttal to the verdict.  He shows in several different ways that the trial was a travesty.   He shows how an unprepared and overly confident defense team lost a case they could easily have won.  It is important that this argument be made, for history is being slowly twisted by those who take the judge’s statements at face value.

The trial’s outcome was a big blow to my father.  Even though many patents come and go, and patents are rarely important in the real history of technology, this one had an extra sting.  None of it was economic; my father had no monetary gain or loss from the outcome—the patent belonged to a corporation.  But it started a legend, really: the legend of Atanasoff and Mauchly.  Judge Larson ruled that Atanasoff was the true inventor of the automatic digital computer.

The city of Ames, Iowa, where Atanasoff had made the machine, was pleasantly surprised to find that something famous had been invented there.  They commissioned a book about Atanasoff, newly crowned father of the computer.  The author, Mollenhoff, decided to turn it into a good guy–bad guy story, and Mauchly was the bad guy.  Even though the trial judge said he found no evidence of wrongful intent, Mollenhoff found lots of it.  He had at his disposal the trial transcript with hours of testimony from all the parties.  The book told the tale of the poor forgotten Atanasoff, brilliant and yet somehow naive, unjustly deprived of glory by the untalented but devious thief Mauchly.  The author seemed to think that the story was more heroic if Mauchly was cast as an antagonist.   It was filled with quotations taken out of context, surrounded by conjecture, used to “prove” downright lies about Mauchly.  The book was soundly criticized by academics in computer history, but it was out there, and people read it, and some believed it.

Mollenhoff’s book was followed by another, by Alice and Arthur Burks.  Arthur Burks, as Mauchly told in a deposition for the trial, had wanted to get his name on the ENIAC patent.  He had threatened revenge, and now he seemed to be exacting it.  Their book tries to show how ideas in ENIAC came from Atanasoff.  It is a textbook example of deceit by technical obfuscation.  Alice Burks followed with a second book peppered with select phrases of testimony from the trial, colored in such a way as to “prove” Mauchly’s guilt and deliberate bad intentions.  Most recently, Jane Smiley released a biography of Atanasoff that retells Mollenhoff’s distorted story, morphing the real people she writes about into fictionalized caricatures.

All of these books take the same slant in depicting Mauchly as a villain.  This lingering problem pained John Mauchly until his death.   It saddened us to see Dad get battered by the ugly repercussions of the patent case.  He was never one to brag, and I rarely heard him talk about his many accomplishments.  So it was very difficult for him to have some people claim he stole his way through life.  People would wonder “Why didn’t you appeal the case?”—but it was not his case to appeal.  It was between two corporations.   He was a casualty.

Dad passed away in 1980 at 72.  My mother took up the cause of defending his name and setting the record straight.  She learned public speaking and wrote an article for the Annals of the History of Computing.  All my life, really, I have been hearing  the history and the stories that revolve around the early development of computers, firsthand.  It is unjust that Dad had to suffer the slings and arrows that were aimed at him.

Today I often find myself needing to untangle the mass of misinformation that has been heaped on my father and the ENIAC.   When I get on my soapbox, I find it helpful to separate out three ideas that are usually lumped together.

1.       Who invented the computer?  For a meaningful answer, one must define “computer.”  The term computer can be very general and has been applied to many machines and even people.  The usual approach is to narrow the field down with features that are closer to a modern computer.   First programmable computer?  (Babbage?  Zuse?)  First electronic computer (Atanasoff? Colossus?)  First programmable AND electronic (ENIAC).  Today the popular meaning of computer is “a general-purpose electronic machine that runs programs and manipulates digital data.”  With such a definition, none of those older machines qualify.  ENIAC was the first.

2.       Did John Mauchly steal ideas from Atanasoff?  A great many words have been spent showing that he easily could have; he had the opportunity.  But opportunity is not evidence of theft.  What is “the idea” that was stolen?  I’ve read all the books and I still can’t find one idea or component unique to the ABC that was used in ENIAC.  The two machines are as different as a bicycle and a jet plane.

3.       Was the ENIAC patent invalid?  Probably, in my opinion; it was filed too late, and then amended much later.  These were procedural mistakes that are now hard to argue, and they were reasons why Sperry did not bother to appeal the case.  But are the actual claims of the ENIAC patent novel compared to prior art? Definitely.

In this book, Dr. Martino presents a new point, a fourth point that has never been raised and is crucial to understanding the trial.  Was the judge acting according to the legal precedents that have been set for patents and intellectual property?   He carefully deconstructs the trial using extensive references to settled rulings.  It becomes crystal clear that the judge’s decision was not based on patent law.

There are so many, too many ways to describe how profoundly the computer revolution has changed the world.  Do we care who really made it happen, or how they did it, or how those ideas grew and evolved and propelled us into tomorrow?  Dr. Martino makes a strong case for the importance of innovation.  Creativity cannot be mandated; invention does not happen on a schedule.  An idea is just the smallest seed.  It must find a place to grow; it must have an environment that supports it.  It needs the “99% perspiration,” the work to turn it into reality.  It needs special people, people that are actually on the front lines, the first ones to face the really difficult problems, the innovators.  As the saying goes, you can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs.  At least that held true for John Mauchly.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce this important work.  Dr. Martino has condensed a lifetime of adventure in technology to bring new insight and a promising outlook for our rapidly changing cyber world.

Bill Mauchly

Berwyn PA

Dec. 3, 2010

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