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John Vincent Atanasoff
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Computer Tech
    (October 4, 1903-June 15, 1995)
    Born in Hamilton, New York
    Professor of physics and mathematics at Iowa State University
    With graduate student Clifford Berry, developed the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC; 1939-41)
    Legally declared inventor of the digital computer in the patent suit Honeywell v. Sperry Rand (1973)
    Received the National Medal of Technology (1990)
    The ABC was not a programable computer, but was built for one specific function (solving simultaneous linear equations).
    The ABC was never put to practical use, thanks to an error-prone input-output system.
    The original ABC was dismantled with the parts, except one memory drum, discarded when Iowa State converted Atanasoff's old basement lab to classrooms.
    Computer pioneer J. Presper Eckert said of Atanasoff's status as inventor of the computer, 'It's a complete joke.... He did some little thing which he never finished and which wouldn't have worked if he had finished it.'
    At age nine, he found and repaired faulty electrical wiring in a back porch light at the family home.
    He was inspired to work on a computer because of the tedium of performing complex math on mechanical calculators.
    During WWII, he worked at the Naval Ordinance Lab and after the war designed acoustic systems for monitoring atomic bomb tests.
    Eckert's comments may have been sour grapes since his patents for the ENIAC and UNIVAC computers were invalidated in Honeywell v. Sperry Rand.

Credit: C. Fishel


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