Deep Down the Rabbit Hole, The first all-purpose computer. Seventy-five years ago, the world was presented to ENIAC, the first electronic, programmable, and universally usable digital computer – a demonstration that shaped not only the first glimmers of the computer age but also popular notions of computers that remain to this day. Eniac was a mammoth machine credited with contributing to the dawn of the computer age, stimulating the public’s imagination about the science of computers, and revolutionizing the world.
On February 14, 1946, the world’s first universal electronic computer was introduced. The ENIAC’s ability to surpass 75 years of advances in electronic computers during its development was critical to triggering a revolution in computer science and electrical engineering that continues today. The public barely realized how different an early computer would be from the one built only fifty years later.
This long-lasting legacy is due in part to a team of female programmers recognized for their significant contributions to the success of ENIACs. A recent documentary called Inside the Computer reminds today’s viewers that the original programmers of Eniacs themselves were women. A page called the Eniac Programmers Project gives a short overview of the documentary and further information.
During World War II, the US military assembled a team of 100 women trained in mathematics to calculate complex ballistic trajectory equations. In 1941, the US Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory, which was responsible for the production of shooting tables, made the Moore School addition to its computer department.
The Moore School conducted its work with analog numerical methods (analog based on the use of differential analyzers), while numerical methods were performed by separate groups of people and computers compiled within the Moore School. Work on computers began in June 1943 with Eckert as chief engineer and Goldstein as his consultant. From the outset, key roles were played in defining initial ideas, and leadership was transferred between Eckert and Goldstein, who were appointed representatives of the army to maintain mathematical and organizational tasks.
Six women were selected from several hundred human computers to work on ENIAC, making them the world’s first female computer programmers. During the Second World War, computers were the people of war, and the job was a low-status job designed to free men from combat service so that it could be done by women.
Take the physicist Dr John W. Mauchly, who had the idea of building an electronic computer that could analyze the weather and perform high-speed calculations. The American physicist John Mauchley, American engineer J. Presper Eckert Jr., and their colleagues from Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania led a government-funded project to build such an electronic computer.
In June 1942, a contract with the US Army for the PX project was signed for the building of what would become ENIAC at Moore School. Mauchly’s young electronics engineer J. Prepper Eckert, Jr. was responsible for the design.
While scientists around the world developed large, universally applicable calculators such as calculators, the ENIAC was unique in that it could be reprogrammed for different tasks. In 1947 it was converted into an elementary memory and programming computer with the help of a function table.
The title of the forefather of today’s electronic digital computers goes to ENIAC, which stands for Electronic Numerical Integrator Calculator. It was built between 1943 and 1945 at the University of Pennsylvania by two professors, John Mauchly and 24-year-old J. Presper Eckert, who were sponsored by the Department of War with the promise of building a machine that would replace the women’s computer used to calculate the firing tables for Army artillery guns. On the day they did, Eckert saw the first small parts of the machine at work, and when the person they were running was taken to their lab to show them the progress of the computer, it was noticed that he was amazed that all these devices were needed to multiply 5 by 1000.
It was designed by John Presper Eckert and John William Mauchly and funded by the Research and Development Command of the United States Army Ordnance Corps under the leadership of Major General Radeon M. Barnes. ENIAC was a secret World War II military project led by John Mauchley, a 32-year professor at the Penns Moore School of Electrical Engineering, and John “Presper” Eckert Jr., a 24-year-old ingenious inventor and lab assistant.
The report contains a detailed description of ENIAC, the world’s first large-scale electronic digital computer for all-purpose applications, with chapters on the need for a high-speed calculator, the advantages of digital electronic machines, and the design principles for their reliability and verification, as mentioned in the title. In the end, three appendices address arithmetical operations of machines, programming methods, and the general design of data.
Although ENIAC, the world’s first large general-purpose electronic digital computer, did not store programs on the machine, its design and functionality included many programmers for the first time, this report provides information on plans to store programs at EDVAC during the early design phase. This is the first published report on the first digital computer programs.
Developed during World War II in Philadelphia, the Electronic Numerical Integrator Computer (ENIAC) went down as the world’s first universal, non-mechanical computer in history. The ENIAC, unveiled in 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering, consisted of 40 1.50 meter high cabinets with 18,000 vacuum tubes, 10,000 capacitors, 6,000 switches, and 1,500 relays.
Unlike other computer devices of its time, ENIAC was not restricted to one type of calculation but was able to solve many different kinds of problems. As the first automatic, electronic, digital calculator, it marked the beginning of the information age.