The foundations for today’s calculating machines have probably been laid when the abacus replaced the method of finger counting 3000 years ago. While more recent history knows several inventions that developed further the idea of automatic calculation such as mechanical or electric pre-forms of computers, it was the keen thinker with Bulgarian roots John Atanasoff who invented the prototype of the first digital calculation machine used for the creation of the modern computer.
And yes: we are CEErious about it.
With 650 dollars grant from Iowa State College in his pocket, Bulgarian John Atanasoff develops the first model of the digital computer and presents it to the public in the early 1940s.
Born 1903 to parents of Bulgarian nationality, then belonging to the Othman Empire, John Vincent Atanasoff grows up in New York and this is also where the story of the inventor starts. When John was only nine years old, the boy finds a slide ruler in his father’s working desk and immediately is impressed by how easily it provides solutions for the basic arithmetical operations he has just learnt in school. Soon the little boy’s interest in numbers and logarithms grows and his search for the deeper meaning of mathematics begins. He decides to study electrical engineering and maths, and eventually signs up for a doctorate in theoretical physics. While experimenting with electronics, he begins to struggle with the Monroe calculator – the latest thing in computing in early 20th century – because it’s just too slow and too inefficient for the complex maths of his doctoral thesis. Out of necessity, Atanasoff takes things in his own hands and starts working on a machine that shall be efficient enough to accelerate his research. So, with one kilometre of wire, about 300 vacuum tubes, a graduate student called Clifford Berry on his side and a 650 dollars grant from Iowa State College in his pocket, Atanasoff develops the first model of the digital computer and presents it to the public in the early 1940s.
Although in 1973 the origin of the first computer was disputed in a legal patent case, today the non-programmable Atanasoff-Berry-Computer (short ABC) is appreciated as the prototype of the first digital computer and several schools, colleges, prices and even mountain tops honour the computer pioneer Atanasoff with Bulgarian roots. While nowadays, the tool that was invited to save time very often also wastes time, the computer has never been more important and that’s also thanks to John Atanasoff’s fascination for mathematics.