Sunday, February 14, 2021

ENIAC 75 -- February 14, 2021


Washington Evening Star, 14-February-1946

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was a general-purpose computer that was digital, programmable and fully electronic. It may have been the first device to meet all those criteria. It was not a complete modern computer because it was programmed at least in part by configuring cables and switches boards. A group of women, called operators, did all the programming. It took weeks to enter and then debug complex problems. 

30-Ton Electronic Calculator 
Uses Ancient Abacus Principle 

By The Associated Press 

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 15.—By combining the centuries-old abacus with the latest in electronics, the Army came up today with a 30-ton monster it calls “the world’s fastest calculating machine.”

It cost $400,000, including research and development work, but future models can be built “much more cheaply,” the Army said.

Known as the “eniac”—for “electronic numerical integrator and computer”—it was designed and constructed for the Army by scientists of the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering. It will be formally dedicated tonight.

Military and university engineers said the contraption, which virtually fills a large-size room, can solve in hours problems that “would take years” on any other machine.

It can compute in one second the sum of a five-digit number added to itself 5,000 times. It subtracts, divides, multiplies, extracts square roots and does complex equations. The machine originally was intended to furnish faster means of computing complicated problems in ballistics, the mathematics of weapons.

But the scientists said it might assist weather forecasters, industrial designers,' construction engineers, astronomers, medical research scientists and atomic physicists.

The machine was invented by Dr. J. W. Mauchly and J. P. Eckert, Jr. While it operates entirely by electronics and contains no moving mechanical parts it employs the basic principle of the "abacus”—a counting board still in use by some Chinese laundrymen in this country.

The “abacus” utilizes beadlike counters strung on parallel rods or wires. The “eniac” has thousands of tiny neon light bulbs, arranged in rows of 10 like the beads of an abacus.

When punched cards containing holes corresponding to arithmetical numbers are fed into the "eniac” the light bulbs flash on and off in proper combinations.

Fast-moving electrons, fed at the rate of 5,000 a second, activate the machine and an arrangement of electrical circuits determines whether a problem in addition, subtraction, division, multiplication or square rooting is to be done. Answers to problems pop out of the machine on other punched cards.

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