ENIAC TURNS 60

14. February 2006, 21:12 | by WD Milner | Full Article |

On 14 February 1946, the digital revolution bagan as the previously top-secret Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer was introduced to the public for the first time.

ENIAC was the brainchild of John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania, and built by engineers at the university’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering with funding from the Army Ordnance Department for whom it was originally designed to do calculations for artillery firing tables.

Internally named Project PX by the military, ENIAC weighed 30 tons, covered 1800 square feet, consumed 150 kilowatts a day and ran on 17,000 vacuum tubes. It had a clock speed of 5000 cycles per second for operations on 10-digit numbers (it did not originally use binary). ENIAC could write a number to a register, read a number from a register, or add or subtract two numbers per cycle. All of ENIAC’s original programmers were women who programmed the device at the machine level by manipulating thousands of switches.

ENIAC soon found applications in weather prediction, cosmic-ray studies, atomic-energy calculations, random-number studies, thermal ignition, wind-tunnel design and other scientific endeavors in addition to ballistics. In 1948 ENIAC was upgraded to enable the use of an early form of read-only memory and subsequent improvements in the early 1950’s, gave it greater processing speed and better memory but by 1955 the first “big iron” machine was shut down. Today, ENIAC resides at the ENIAC Museum at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The New York Times marvelled at its unveiling 60 years ago: “Leaders who saw the device in action for the first time heralded it as a tool with which to begin to rebuild scientific affairs on new foundations.

If they had only known!

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Keywords: eniac,big iron,mainframe,computer,digital

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