Konrad Zuse

Konrad Zuse

1999 Fellow

For his invention of the first program-controlled, electromechanical, digital computer and the first high-level programming language, "Plankalkul."

Biography

Zuse Z1 in living room, Germany, 1938
Zuse Z1 in living room, Germany, 1938

Konrad Zuse was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1910. In 1935, he graduated from the Technische Hochschule Berlin-Charlottenburg in civil engineering.

After graduating, he went to work for the Henschel Aircraft Company, but spent his weekends building a computer (the ZI) in his parents' living room. He completed the ZI, for which instructions were punched on used movie film, in 1938.

Zuse worked throughout WWII on other designs, culminating in his Z3 computer, the world's first fully operational stored-program electromechanical computer. He was able to sell one to the German aircraft bureau, which needed it to solve aerodynamic problems. ZI-Z3 were ultimately destroyed in an Allied bomb attack on Berlin in 1945, but Zuse persisted and completed a relay-based version, the Z4. He sold this to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH-Zurich)-it was at the time the only working computer in continental Europe.

Zuse's reputation grew, and he founded Zuse kg to build his machines as well as developing one of the earliest high-level programming languages, Plankalkul.

Zuse's story is one of success over adversity, as he independently conceived and implemented the principles of modern digital computers in complete isolation. He passed away in 1995.