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Before There Was ENIAC . . .

February 29, 1996

Re "When Computers Were Born" (Feb. 7): ENIAC in 1946 was not the world's first electronic computer. British military intelligence built one in December 1943, called the Colossus to decipher German military codes produced by [the coding machine] Enigma.

Colossus, not ENIAC, was the "granddaddy of the Macs and PCs." This may be verified in "The Guinness Book of Records."


Thousand Oaks


According to your article, ENIAC, developed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert between 1942 and 1945, was the world's first electronic computer.

Between 1939 and 1941, Dr. J.V. Atanasoff and Clifford E. Berry (my father) invented, designed and built the world's first electronic computer at Iowa State College. It was later named the ABC or Atanasoff Berry Computer. In a major patent litigation between Sperry Rand and Honeywell in the early 1970s, a U.S. district court conclusively found that the ABC was actually the first working electronic computer.

Unfortunately, the war effort took both Atanasoff and Berry away from continuing their work and achieving their patent in 1941, and the people left in charge of the computer at Iowa State failed to realize the importance of the machine that these two brilliant inventors left in the basement of the physics building.


Eagle River, Alaska


The article on ENIAC brings back memories of the good old days. I was trained as a computer programmer by the U.S. Air Force in 1965. We ran an entire Air Force base--accounting, supply, aircraft maintenance--with an IBM 1401. No tapes, no hard drive--all processing was on those IBM cards--now antiques.

Tempus sure does fugit.


Los Angeles


The history leading up to ENIAC was also remarkable. In 1822, an English genius, Charles Babbage, produced thousands of detailed drawings projecting the fundamentals upon which today's computers operate.

Even in the 20th century, astute individuals were saying the need for such an invention was imaginary. Babbage displayed remarkable vision in the use of computers by saying, "The whole of chemistry, and with it crystallography, would become a branch of mathematical analysis." About 115 years later, the SWAC computer was used to determine the crystal structure of vitamin B-12.

Though the means did not exist to transform Babbage's dream of a computer into reality in his time, he succeeded with many other major contributions: the speedometer, the cowcatcher, a uniform postage rate, submarine navigation and the cause of magnetic and electric rotations.



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