August in computing history
J.A.N. Lee, Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech., Blacksburg, VA 24061-0106, phone (540) 231-5780, fax (540) 231-6075, e-mail email@example.com
The August 1944 dedication of the Harvard Mark I calculator, otherwise known as the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), was the culmination of several years' effort. Howard Hathaway Aiken conceived the plans for a large-scale calculator in 1937 as a machine to assist Harvard University researchers in their computational undertakings. IBM agreed to implement his ideas, and Clair D. Lake was put in charge of the project with Francis E. (Frank) Hamilton and Benjamin Durfee. In January 1943, the Harvard machine was completed at Endicott, New York, and in December 1943 the machine demonstrated to members of the Harvard faculty. The machine was then disassembled and shipped to Harvard, where it was housed in a large basement room in the Physics Research Laboratory..
Preparing for the Monday, August 7, 1944, dedication, the Harvard News Office prepared a news release titled "World's Greatest Mathematical Calculator," followed by the bold, unqualified statement that "In charge of the activity . . . is the inventor, Commander Howard H. Aiken, USNR," who "worked out the theory which made the machine possible."
It is said that when Thomas J. Watson Sr. saw the news story, he became so irate over Aiken's stealing the spotlight that he planned to skip the ceremonial luncheon and the formal dedication. Fortunately, his intended hosts persuaded him to stay, and he played his part in the ceremonies magnificently. However, a rift remained between the university and IBM for many years. As great a contribution to the development of computers as was the Harvard Mark I (ASCC), Aiken and Watson never really resolved their differences, Aiken refusing to sign a non-disclosure agreement some years later when Watson's son provided the opportunity to make amends by hiring Aiken as a consultant.
The Harvard Mark I (IBM ASCC) was the first of a series of four computers that Aiken was associated with. Mark I and Mark II were electromagnetic and used relays, but Mark III and Mark IV had various electronic components, including vacuum tubes and solid-state transistors. Of the four, Mark I was the most memorable because it produced such reliable results and could run continuously for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The Mark III was the first computer to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
Two other machines were unveiled in August. One was the Binac, the first product of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp. (by then absorbed into Remington-Rand). It was intended for use by Northrop Aircraft as an airborne machine, but unfortunately it never flew--literally or figuratively.
The second machine, the Standards Western Automatic Computer (SWAC), built under the leadership of Harry Douglas Huskey, was more successful. Huskey brought considerable experience to the task. In 1946 he had accepted a visiting position with the National Physical Laboratory in England. There, on the basis of his US experience with ENIAC, he created the basic implementation plan for the Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), which was the prototype of Turing's postwar concept. After returning to the National Bureau of Standards in the US, he moved on to the Institute for Numerical Analysis in Los Angeles, where he built the SWAC, which was dedicated on August 17, 1950, by the NBS at UCLA. Huskey also designed the Bendix G-15 drum computer. He received the IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award in 1982 for his work on SWAC.
August 15, 1955 was the date of the first meeting of the SHARE Users group, an association of users of large IBM systems, that was to have a considerable influence on the further development of IBM machines. Though rarely in conflict with IBM, SHARE presented the customer's needs to the company as had never been considered before and undertook the collaborative development of software to support each other's applications. From this beginning the concept of user groups and more direct input on the trends in computer development took off. While many groups have come and gone over the years SHARE, Inc. still exists in 1996.. .
Tom Kilburn, born August 11, 1921, and involved in computing since the mid-1940s, built the first machine (the Manchester Mark I) that put programs and data in the same store (1948). He developed the cathode-ray store in the early 1940s with Frederic Williams. Later he was central to development of the influential Atlas system, which was designed from the outset as a multiprogrammed system based on virtual memory (paging) and which exploited programmed operators (extracodes) residing either in read-only or alterable main store for extensibility. Kilburn received the IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award in 1980 for his "paging computer design."
Chester Gordon Bell, born August 19, 1934, spent 23 years at Digital Equipment Corp. as vice president of research and development, where he was responsible for Digital's products. He was the architect of various mini- and time-sharing computers and led the development of DEC's VAX and its computing environment. Like Kilburn, he was a charter recipient of the IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award in 1980.
Bob Overton (Bo) Evans, born August 19, 1927, joined IBM in 1951 as a junior engineer working on the IBM 701 (Defense Calculator). In 1961 he almost single-handedly persuaded management to abandon a less ambitious product plan for one that resulted in the IBM System/360. Evans received the IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award in 1992.
John William Mauchly was born August 30, 1907. His New York Times obituary described him as a "co-inventor of the first electronic computer," but his accomplishments were far greater. Mauchly not only conceived of the idea for the ENIAC but also understood how it might be applied to problems in ballistics as well as meteorology. Indeed, this vision was in large part responsible for the Moore School contract to build ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer. ENIAC, an acronym for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, was begun in April 1943 and completed in 1946. It had 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 6,000 switches, and 10,000 capacitors. While other machines before ENIAC could be classified as computers, ENIAC was the machine that caught the imagination of the world and gave the impetus for other institutions to copy the idea of building a computer. Mauchly died shortly before he could receive the IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award in 1980.
Willis Howard Ware was born August 31, 1920. During World War II, he designed then-secret radar beacons and IFF (identification friend or foe) equipment with the Hazeltine Electronics Corp. In 1946 he joined the engineering group at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, where he helped design the first parallel and asynchronous digital computer--IAS--for John von Neumann. Ware joined Rand Corp. in 1952 and led Rand's development of the Johnniac computer, which was derived from the IAS machine. Ware received the IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award in 1983.
| Computer magazine page | Publications page | Computer Society home page |
Copyright (c) 1996 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved.
Personal use of this material is permitted. However, permission to reprint/republish this material for advertising or promotional purposes or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution must be obtained from the IEEE. For information on obtaining permission, send a blank email message to firstname.lastname@example.org
By choosing to view this document, you agree to all provisions of the copyright laws protecting it.