What the first computer in history looked like and why it was not recognized for a decade

Although there are a lot of disputes about the history of the origin of computers on the net, it can still be argued that the real first computer was created in 1942, since it was the first actually digital machine. Its authors were John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry, who worked at the Iowa State College, which is now known as the University of Iowa.

GLOBAL HAPPENINGS talks about the invention and why it was rejected for decades as the first computer.

The human computer and the Turing machine

Formally, the history of the appearance of the computer can be traced back to 1613, when the word was first used in a book by Richard Braithwaite. True, then it was not about a miracle of technology, but about a person who performed calculations or calculations.

In this sense, the word was used for the next 200 years, until the industrial revolution led to the appearance of the first mechanical machines, the main purpose of which was calculations. Someone believes that they were the first computers, but this, as they say, is more a matter of taste. The machines of that time were rather the ancestors of calculators.

The basis for modern computers was laid by the imaginary Turing Machine, first proposed by Alan Turing in 1936.

In Turing’s theory, the Machine was a device that printed characters on a paper tape, imitating a person following several logical instructions.

First digital computer

The first digital computer was ABC (short for Atanasoff-Berry Computer), physics professor John Vincent Atanasoff and his graduate student Cliff Berry began to develop in 1937. Five years later, they brought their plan to life.

The ABC was an electrical computer that weighed over 317 kilograms and used over 300 vacuum tubes for digital calculations, including binary mathematics and boolean logic (1 or 0 or true or false). The ABC did not have a central processing unit, so it could not be programmed. But he could do tasks with 29 variables.

ABC replica in 1997.

This allowed him to help scientists solve complex problems in physics and other sciences that were too difficult to solve by hand.

ABC performed one operation approximately every 15 seconds. Of course, this is nothing compared to the computing properties of even your smartphone, but at the time it was a real breakthrough.

However, the problem was that the ABC had a fixed program designed to perform one task. After it was resolved, the operator had to write down the intermediate answer and then enter it back into the ABC.

Atanasov subsequently improved the method of data storage, depriving the operator of the need to re-enter intermediate results, but he did this after leaving his position and without doing ABC.

Shortly after Atanasoff left the college, for one reason or another, they decided to dismantle his invention. The physicist himself did not apply for a patent for his invention, so a limited circle of people knew about the existence of a working computer.


In 1947, Pressper Eckert and John Mauchly of the University of Pennsylvania introduced their own invention, an electronic digital integrator and computer known as the ENIAC. It covered over 167 square meters, used about 18,000 vacuum tubes, and weighed about 50 tons.

ENIAC weighed about 50 tons.

Eckert and Mauchly applied for a patent on their device, and for the next decade it was believed that the ENIAC was the first modern computer.

But justice has been done. In October 1973, US federal judge Earl R. Larson recognized Atanasov as the sole inventor of the computer.

As it turned out, one of the creators of ENIAC 1941 met with Atanasov and saw his development, which was at the final stage of creation.

The owners of the ENIAC patent argued in court that ABC never worked and it was quite difficult to prove the opposite, since all that was left of it at that time was one of the drum memory units.

ABC memory drums

However, the judge did not take into account these arguments and canceled the patent for ENIAC.

Justice was finally restored in 1997, when a team of Iowa State University teachers, researchers, and students created a copy of the ABC and proved that the computer actually worked.

This single copy is currently held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Earlier, GLOBAL HAPPENINGS also told how the world’s first microwave looked like and who invented it.

Source: Obozrevatel

Share this article:

Leave a Reply

most popular