by Asaf Goldschmidt and Atsushi Akera
Department of History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
|The year 1996 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the ENIAC computer, the first large-scale general-purpose electronic computer. Built at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering, ENIAC is an acronym for "Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer," but its birth lay in World War II as a classified military project known only as Project PX. The ENIAC is important historically, because it laid the foundations for the modern electronic computing industry. More than any other machine, the ENIAC demonstrated that high-speed digital computing was possible using the then-available vacuum tube technology.|
|We attempt in this exhibition to portray a history of the emergence of modern computing as seen through the eyes of one of its two principal inventors, John W. Mauchly (1907-1980), who worked at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering between 1941 and 1946. In focusing on Mauchly, we do not claim that he was the principal or sole inventor of this machine. At the very least, this credit would have to be shared with J. Presper Eckert (1919-1995), who at the time of the ENIAC's inception in 1942 had barely completed his Master's degree. If Mauchly had initially conceived of ENIAC's architecture, it was Eckert who possessed the engineering skills to bring the idea to life. We chose in this exhibit to focus on the career of John Mauchly, partly to reveal the historical complexities of the process of invention that can only be seen through close attention to a single individual. More pragmatically, we chose John Mauchly in order to introduce scholars to the John Mauchly Papers, held by the Department of Special Collections, Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania.|
Recommended texts, currently in print, to learn more about ENIAC and the development of the personal computer:
Paul Freiberger & Michael Swaine. Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.
Scott McCartney. ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer. New York: Walker & Company, 1999.
Table of Contents:
and the Legacy
of the ENIAC
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