DR. JOHN V. ATANASOFF
Dr. John V. Atanasoff, physics professor at Iowa state Collage was also creative and eccentric inventor, who wanted to improve existing calculating machines, notably the IBM tabulator. After a long drive, in a Rock Island Roadhouse, over a glass of burbon, Atanasoff figured out the concept for his computer. In March 1939 he made a formal application to the college for funding a graduate assistant and for materials. Iowa State College approved a grant for $650. Atanasoff hired Clifford Berry, and they began to construct the prototype for the world’s first electronic digital computer.
In December 1939, Atanasoff and Berry demonstrated the machine to college officials, and were awarded additional funding to build the full-scale machine, which became known as the ABC.
By late spring 1940, the machine was well on its way to completion, and they submitted a manuscript describing the details of the computer for obtaining a patent which would never be filed by Iowa State College. But like most people of his generation, Atanasoff’s fate would be dictated by the events of World War II, the computer dismantled and packed in boxes and left in basement of the collage.
In late 1966, young patent lawyer Charles G. Call was summoned to the office of senior partner Dennis Allegretti and asked him if he would be interested on taking a case which might take ten years of his time. Call, eager to demonstrate his talents, accepted. The client was the Honeywell Company, and the case involved a controversy with the Sperry Rand Corporation over what was generally called the “ENIAC patent”.
In order to break the ENIAC patent, Charlie Call had to learn everything about Atanasoff’s machine. He would have to prove it was truly the first electronic computer – and that the ENIAC was based on it. Call buried himself in research and reading on the ENIAC patents.
He was given a copy of the RK Richards book “Electronics Digital Systems”. It has an introduction entitled ‘History and Introduction’ and at the very beginning there Richards hypothesize that “The ancestry of all electronic digital systems appears to be traceable to a computer which will here be called the Atanasoff Berry Computer( The ABC).”
John A. Eckert Jr. and John Mauchly were the recognized inventors of the electronic computer and the ENIAC machine was recognized to be the first electronic digital computer.
ENIAC was initially designed to calculate artillery firing tables for the United States Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory. When ENIAC was announced in 1946 it was heralded in the press as a “Giant Brain”. ENIAC’s design and construction was financed by the United States Army and was led by Major General Gladeon Marcus Barnes. The work on the computer began in secret by the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering under the code name “Project PX”. The completed machine was announced to the public the evening of February 14, 1946, having cost almost $500,000 (approximately $6,000,000 today).