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Fascinating facts about John Vincent Atanasoff inventor of the electronic digital computer in 1939...

John Atanasoff
AT A GLANCE:
In 1939, John Vincent Atanasoff developed the Atanasoff Berry Computer (ABC) with Clifford Berry. The ABC used binary math to solve differential equations. The ABC had no central processing unit (CPU), but it did employ vaccuum tubes and other components similar to those used in later electronic computers.
THE STORY
RELATED INFO
BOOKS
WEB SITES

DID YOU KNOW?
Inventor: John Vincent Atanasoff
John Vincent Atanasoff photo courtesy Iowa State University
Criteria; Modern prototype.
Birth: October 4, 1903 in Hamilton, New York
Death: June 15, 1995 in Frederick, Maryland
Nationality: American (of Bulgarian descent)
Invention: Atanasoff-Berry Computer in 1939
Replica of ABC computer Photo courtesy Iowa State University
Function: noun / named after its inventors
Definition: The machine was instrumental in the development of the electronic digital computer.
Patent: Court declares that the ENIAC is a copy of the ABC computer
Milestones:
1903 Born October 4, 1903 in Hamilton, New York
1939 Atanasoff developed the Atanasoff Berry Computer (ABC) with Clifford Berry
1973 U.S. Court declares that the ENIAC computer is a copy of the ABC computer
1995 Died June 15, 1995 in Frederick, Maryland
CAPs: Atanasoff, John Vincent Atanasoff, ABC Computer, Atanasoff Berry Computer, Clifford Berry, ENIAC, John Mauchly, J Presper Eckert, ARYS, computer, history, biography, inventor, ABC computer, electronic digital computer, SIPS: inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating facts.
The Story:
In 1925, Atanasoff received his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida. He held the distinction of receiving this grade with straight A's as an undergraduate. He continued his education at Iowa State College and in 1926 earned a master's degree in mathematics. He completed his formal education in 1930 by earning a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of Wisconsin with his thesis, The Dielectric Constant of Helium.

Upon completion of his doctorate, Atanasoff accepted an assistant professorship at Iowa State College in mathematics and physics. At Iowa, Atanasoff was interested in a method by which many computations could be made in a robust manner. Atanasoff's interest in this topic was reportedly developed in responce to the inadequate computation aids available to him while he was writing his doctoral thesis, a computationally-intensive paper. To this end, in 1939 he developed the Atanasoff Berry Computer (ABC) with Clifford Berry. The ABC used binary math to solve differential equations. The ABC had no central processing unit (CPU), but it did employ vaccuum tubes and other components similar to those used in later electronic computers.

In 1941 John Mauchly came to visit Atanasoff in Iowa to see the ABC. John Mauchly's construction of ENIAC, the first Turing-complete computer, with J. Presper Eckert in the mid 1940s has has led to controversy over who was the actual inventor of the computer. This controversy was partially resolved on October 19, 1973, when U.S. District Judge Earl R. Larson overturned the patent of the ENIAC held by Mauchly and Eckert ruling that the ENIAC derived many basic ideas from the Atanasoff Berry Computer. While a legal victory, Atanasoff's victory was incomplete as the ENIAC, rather than the ABC, is still widely regarded as the first computer.

In 1970, Atanasoff was invited to Bulgaria by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, so the Bulgarian Government could confer upon him the Cyrille and Methodius Order of Merit First Class. Having always emphasized his Bulgarian roots, he was very proud that Bulgaria was the first country to recognize his work. In 1981, he received the Computer Pioneer Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Finally, in 1990, President George H. W. Bush awarded Atanasoff the United States National Medal of Technology.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
History of Computing    from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
100 Inventions That Shaped World History
by Bill Yenne, Morton, Dr. Grosser (Editor) / Paperback - 112 pages / Bluewood Books  (1983)
This book contains inventions from all around the world from microchips to fire. This is a really good book if you are going to do research on inventions.
American Computer Pioneers
by Mary Northrup / Library Binding - 112 pages / Enslow Publishers, Inc.  (July 1998)
This entry in the Collective Biographies series covers major players in the development of the computer, from Herman Hollerith, the inventor of punch cards, through the inventors of ENIAC and UNIVAC, as well as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Marc Andreessen of Netscape.
Atanasoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer
by Clark R. Mollenhoff / Hardcover: 274 pages / Iowa State Pr; Reprint edition (May 1, 1988)
Atanasoff accepted an assistant professorship at Iowa State College in mathematics and physics. At Iowa, Atanasoff was interested in a method by which many computations could be made in a robust manner.
Dream Machine: Exploring the Computer Age
by Jon Palfreman, Doron Swade / Paperback / Bbc Pubns (October 1993)
The Dream Machine provides a plethora of information to the reader. It gives specific detials of the
evolution of the computer. Including: many people, companies (IBM, Remington Rand), the
languages of programming, the personal computer and more.
ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer
by Scott McCartney / Hardcover - 262 pages / Walker & Co
Eckert and Mauchly later lost the patent on their machine when it was claimed that another early experimenter, John Atanasoff, had given them all the ideas about ENIAC that mattered.
The First Electronic Computer: The Atanasoff Story
by Alice R. Burks, Arthur W. Burks / Paperback: 400 pages / Univ of Michigan Pr (October 1989)
This book traces the ENIAC lineage directly to the ABC and J.V.Atansoff. If there are any Atanasoff skeptics out there, this book is the definitive prescription to win their minds.

ON THE WEB:
The Man Who Invented Computers
In the relatively short span of time that has elapsed since the world's first electronic digital computer was invented in 1939, computers have become universal tools that are an integral part of modern life.
(URL: www.johnatanasoff.com/)
John Atanasoff Biography
It was recognized early that John Atanasoff had both a passion and talent for mathematics. His youthful interest in baseball was quickly forgotten once his father showed him the logarithmic slide rule he had bought for facilitating engineering calculations.
(URL: www.johnatanasoff.com/biography.php?sub=basic_facts)
The Birth of the Computer
It was built by John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry at Iowa State University during 1937-42. It incorporated several major innovations in computing including the use of binary arithmetic, regenerative memory, parallel processing, and separation of memory and computing functions.
(URL: www.cs.iastate.edu/jva/jva-archive.shtml)
John V. Atanasoff: Obituary
John V. Atanasoff, 91, who invented the first electronic computer in 1939 and later saw others take credit for his discovery, died of a stroke June 15, 1995 at his home in Monrovia, Md.
(URL: archive.comlab.ox.ac.uk/other/museums/computing/atanasoff.html)
Atanasoff-Berry Computer
Atanasoff and graduate student Clifford Berry built a prototype ABC (Atanasoff-Berry Computer) in 1939, and a full-scale model in 1942. Like the Bell Labs Model I, the ABC was not a computer in the modern sense, since it lacked program control and was not general purpose.
(URL: www.thocp.net/hardware/abc.html)
Atanasoff Berry Computer
It is sometimes referred to by its initials, ABC. The Atanasoff-Berry Computer, constructed in the basement of the Physics building at Iowa State University, took over two years to complete. It was first demonstrated in November of 1939. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
(URL: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atanasoff_Berry_Computer)

DID YOU KNOW?

  • In 1973, U.S. District Judge Earl R. Larson overturned the patent of the ENIAC held by Mauchly and Eckert ruling that the ENIAC derived many basic ideas from the Atanasoff Berry Computer. While a legal victory, Atanasoff's victory was incomplete as the ENIAC, rather than the ABC, is still widely regarded as the first computer.
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Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised May 3, 2006.
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