ABC Computer

By: Dusty Arlia
Published on October 14, 2011
Last updated on Friday, July 03, 2015 at 12:15 PM
Total Updates: 4

Since 1935 Dr. John V. Atanasoff had been interested in mechanizing the process of calculation. Then on a long drive in the winter of 1937-1938 he conceived many of the key principles of the ABC Computer.

The ABC computer is given its name from its inventors Dr. John V. Atanasoff and Clifford Berry. You might also find the computer being called the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, A-B Computer, Atanasoff Machine, Atanasoff Computer, or just ABC to name a few.

A grant application to build a proof of concept prototype was submitted in March, 1939 to the Agronomy department which was also interested in speeding up computation for economic and research analysis.

The initial funds were released in September, 1939. The research grant was for $650. An additional $5,000 of further funding to complete the machine came from the nonprofit Research Corporation of New York City.

Atanasoff along with graduate student Clifford Berry developed the first working prototype. The prototype reportedly cost a total of $1,460 to make. The 11-tube prototype was first demonstrated in October, 1939. This was the first proof of an electronic digital computer. Before this time, computing devices had been either mechanical, electromechanical, or analog based. A December demonstration prompted a grant for construction of the full-scale machine.

The ABC computer, as it was later called, was built in the basement of the physics building at Iowa State College during 1939-1942. It was built by Dr. Atanasoff and graduate student Clifford Berry. The ABC computer was the first electronic digital computer. It was designed for solving linear equations.

It made several astonishing breakthroughs and is now credited with being the first computer that was both digital (not analog) and electronic (not mechanical). It was a landmark invention that helped pave the way for modern scientific computing.

The ABC computer implemented many critical ideas that are still part of every modern computer:

  • Using binary digits to represent all numbers and data
  • Performing binary arithmetic
  • Performing all calculations using electronics rather than wheels, ratchets, or mechanical switches
  • Making use of logic circuits
  • Organizing a system in which computation and memory are separated
  • Using regenerative capacitor memory (DRAM which stands for dynamic RAM or dynamic random access memory)

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