Konrad Zuse was born on June 22, 1910 in the Wilmersdorf district of Berlin. In 1936, Konrad Zuse quit his job in airplane construction to build the Z1. At the age of 28, Konrad Zuse invented the world's first mechanical binary computer, the Z1, in Berlin, and he did so in the kitchen of his parents' home. It was built between 1936 and 1938. His project was privately funded. Konrad Zuse received money from his parents, his sister Lieselotte, some students of the Akademischer Verein Motiv and Kurt Pannk, an entrepreneur in Berlin. He completed the Z1 in 1938. This was Konrad Zuse's first computer of many to come.
The Z1 is more specifically a mechanical calculator. It is considered the first binary computer. Zuse used it to explore several groundbreaking technologies in calculator development: floating-point arithmetic, high-capacity memory and modules or relays operating on the yes/no principle. Zuse's ideas were not fully implemented in the Z1. Zuse developed his ideas in each succeeding computer he developed. After the Z1 came the Z2, Z3, Z4, and Z5 in that order.
Today, the Z1 is considered the first freely programmable computer of the world. The Z1 computer used Boolean logic and binary floating point numbers. It contained most of the parts of a modern computer. It had a control unit, memory, micro sequences, and floating point logic. It was only missing a logical unit.
The Z1 was a remarkable machine in many ways. The Z1 was constructed of thin metal sheets. There were no relays in it. The only one electrical unit was an electrical engine in order to give the clock frequency of one Hertz to the machine. The Z1 was freely programmable via a punch tape and a punch tape reader. There was a clear separation of the punch tape reader, the control unit for supervising the whole machine and the execution of the instructions, the arithmetic unit, and the input and output devices.
The Z1 was destroyed in the December of 1943 by allied air raids in the bombardment of Berlin in World War II. The computer was destroyed along with its construction plans. . In 1986, Konrad Zuse reconstructed the Z1. He reconstructed thousands of elements of the Z1. In 1989, the rebuilt Z1 was finished and can be visited in the Deutsche Technik Museum Berlin-Kreuzberg.
Konrad Zuse passed away in 1995. There may soon be a new museum in Berlin devoted solely to Zuse. Supporters are hoping to get a large donation from Bill Gates to help things along.
To see where the Z1 computer falls in the history of technology, visit White Root Media's Technology Timeline.