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Back in America, with the success of Aiken's Harvard Mark-I as the first major American development in the computing race, work was proceeding on the next great breakthrough by the Americans. Their second contribution was the development of the giant ENIAC machine by John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert at the University of Pennsylvania. ENIAC (Electrical Numerical Integrator and Computer) used a word of 10 decimal digits instead of binary ones like previous automated calculators/computers. ENIAC also was the first machine to use more than 2,000 vacuum tubes, using nearly 18,000 vacuum tubes. Storage of all those vacuum tubes and the machinery required to keep the cool took up over 167 square meters (1800 square feet) of floor space. Nonetheless, it had punched-card input and output and arithmetically had 1 multiplier, 1 divider-square rooter, and 20 adders employing decimal "ring counters," which served as adders and also as quick-access (0.0002 seconds) read-write register storage.

The executable instructions composing a program were embodied in the separate units of ENIAC, which were plugged together to form a route through the machine for the flow of computations. These connections had to be redone for each different problem, together with presetting function tables and switches. This "wire-your-own" instruction technique was inconvenient, and only with some license could ENIAC be considered programmable; it was, however, efficient in handling the particular programs for which it had been designed. ENIAC is generally acknowledged to be the first successful high-speed electronic digital computer (EDC) and was productively used from 1946 to 1955. A controversy developed in 1971, however, over the patentability of ENIAC's basic digital concepts, the claim being made that another U.S. physicist, John V. Atanasoff, had already used the same ideas in a simpler vacuum-tube device he built in the 1930s while at Iowa State College. In 1973, the court found in favor of the company using Atanasoff claim and Atanasoff received the acclaim he rightly deserved.

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Computers: From the Past to the Present
ENIAC: Last modified July 30, 2006
©1994-2006 by Michelle A. Hoyle