John Vincent Atanasoff built the first electronic
digital computer in 1939, with the assistance of Clifford Berry. They
continued to improve on their working prototype until America's entry
into World War II, when both men left their project for the war effort.
Atanasoff worked on his ideas over the next
year. In March 1939, he received a grant of $650 from Iowa State University
that allowed him to hire an electrical engineering student, Clifford
E. Berry to serve as his assistant.
As he said, We started actual work at
the beginning of the fall quarter of 1939. Our first effort was to
try to prove the feasibility of this new method of computing that
I had developed using theory only.
-from Atanasoff's transcript of testimony given in federal court on
June 15, 1971.
By December, they had created a working prototype.
For the next two years, Atanasoff and Berry worked at developing and
improving their computer - which he later named the ABC, Atanasoff-Berry
Computer. The computer introduced the ideas of binary arithmetic,
regenerative memory, and logic circuits. These ideas were communicated
to John Mauchly, who used them in the design of the ENIAC built years
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December
1941, the work on the computer came to a halt. Atanasoff left Iowa
State on leave for a defense-related position, Chief of the Acoustics
Division at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington, D.C. In 1945,
he was awarded the U.S. Navy Distinguished Service Award, the Navy's
highest honor awarded to civilians. Berry accepted a defense-related
job in California.
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