Iowa State Assistant Professor Invented First Computer

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 24, 2011 | Go to article overview

Iowa State Assistant Professor Invented First Computer


After examining the facts, it took a judge to decide who should be credited with inventing the first computer 32 years after the first one was constructed.

Patent holders' questions about identifying the first person to design such an important device led to a lawsuit. The judge's decision named John Atanasoff, an Iowa State assistant professor, as the originator of the first computer, the ABC (Atanasoff-Berry computer) built in 1941.

Born in 1903, Atanasoff was a mathematician and physicist. He wanted to solve high-level math problems that mechanical calculators couldn't complete accurately or efficiently.

The complex equations he used in his doctoral thesis on theoretical physics drove him to design a machine that would tackle the math.

With a grant from Iowa State, Atanasoff hired Clifford Berry, an electrical engineering graduate student, and they built the ABC, which would solve up to 29 linear equations at a time. The monster math decoder weighed 700 pounds and was the size of a desk.

This computer established three important features that future computers would use it used a binary system, it contained electronic switches instead of mechanical ones, and it separated the memory from the calculations. …

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