In 1942, physicist John Mauchly proposed an all-electronic calculating machine. The U.S. Army, meanwhile, needed to calculate complex wartime ballistics tables. Proposal met patron.
The result was ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), built between 1943 and 1945—the first large-scale computer to run at electronic speed without being slowed by any mechanical parts. For a decade, until a 1955 lightning strike, ENIAC may have run more calculations than all mankind had done up to that point.
Designing the correct configuration for each new problem, and then connecting the wires and setting the switches, took many days.View Artifact Detail
After WWII, ENIAC was declassified and widely publicized. Operating the machine in this photo are Cpl. Irwin Goldstein, PFC Homer Spence, Betty Jean Jennings, and Frances Bilas.View Artifact Detail
18,000 Chances to Fail
ENIAC glowed with an unprecedented 18,000 vacuum tubes. How do you keep so many working simultaneously?
Engineers created strict circuit design guidelines to maximize reliability. They ran extensive tests on components and avoided pushing them to their limits, which included operating vacuum tubes well below their maximum voltages to prolong their life.
On February 15, 1946, the existence of the previously classified ENIAC became front-page news in The New York Times. To many, this marks the start of the electronic computer age.View Artifact Detail
ENIAC team member Harry Huskey at the machine’s Cycling Unit, which supplied the timing signals for the functional units and synchronized the machine.View Artifact Detail