Letters; January 2010; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 2 Page(s)
In “Origin of Computing,” Martin Campbell-Kelly writes that the first digital computer was J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly’s ENIAC, finished in 1945 as part of the war effort. But the first person to build and operate an electronic digital computer was a physics professor, as noted in “Dr. Atanasoff’s Computer,” published in the August 1988 Scientific American. John Vincent Atanasoff’s first computer was a 12-bit, two-word machine running at 60-hertz wall-plug frequency and could add and subtract binary numbers stored in a logic unit built with seven triode tubes. This was 1937. There was no war, no Pearl Harbor, just a theoretical physicist trying to solve problems in quantum mechanics with his students at Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa.
Department of Physics
Iowa State University
In one of the longest cases—lasting almost five years—in the history of the U.S. federal courts, Honeywell v. Sperry Rand, Judge Earl R. Larson concluded in the 1973 verdict that Eckert and Mauchly’s patent for the ENIAC was invalid. Judge Larson declared that Eckert and Mauchly “did not themselves first invent the automatic electronic digital computer but instead derived that subject matter from one Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff.”
Edward B. Watters