John Vincent Atanasoff's efforts to improve
on his calculating machine were met with frustration until one bitter
cold evening in the winter of 1937-38 when he drove his car for hours
to clear his mind. He stopped in a roadhouse in Rock Island and wrote
down the four key concepts of the electronic digital computer on a
In his own words, Atanasoff described the events
of this winter evening: "I went out to my automobile, got in
and started driving over the good highways of Iowa at a high rate
I remember the pavement was clean and
dry, and I was forced to give attention to my driving, and as a consequence
of that, I was less nervous, and I drove that way for several hours.
Then I sort of became aware of my surroundings. I had, of course,
been aware of the road before, but then I became aware of where I
was and I had reached the Mississippi River, starting from Ames and
was crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois at a place where
there are three cities, one of which is Rock Island.
I drove into Illinois and turned off
the good highway into a little road, and went into a roadhouse there
which had bright lights. It was extremely cold and I took my overcoat.
I had a very heavy coat, and hung it up, and sat down and ordered
a drink, and as the delivery of the drink was made, I realized that
I was no longer so nervous and my thoughts turned again to computing
Now, I don't know why my mind worked
then when it had not worked previously, but things seemed to be good
and cool and quiet. There were not many people in the tavern, and
the waitress didn't bother me particularly with repetitious offers
of drinks. I would suspect that I drank two drinks perhaps, and then
I realized that thoughts were coming good and I had some positive
During that evening in the Illinois roadhouse,
I made four decisions for my computer project.