Atanasoff, John V. (John Vincent)

Alternative names
Birth 1903-10-04
Death 1995-06-15

Biographical notes:

Inventor of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer.

From the description of Oral history interview with John V. Atanasoff, 1985 March 19. (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis). WorldCat record id: 62685206

Inventor of the first electronic digital computer. J.V. Atanasoff was born in Hamilton, New York in 1903, and graduated from the University of Florida in 1925 with a B.S. in electrical engineering. He began graduate studies in mathematics at Iowa State College in 1925. Between 1925 and 1928 he taught mathematics while continuing graduate work in mathematics and physics, receiving an M.S. in mathematics in 1926 from ISC. He became an instructor in 1928. In March 1929 he went to the University of Wisconsin to continue doctorate work in physics, receiving his Ph. D. in physics in July 1930. He returned to ISC as an assistant professor holding his appointment in both mathematics and physics within what was then known as the Division of Science. He became an associate professor in 1939 and a professor in 1942. While at Iowa State, he turned to the study of computing machines because of the work his graduate students were doing in the approximate solution of linear differential and integral equations; Atanasoff began thinking for an improvement in computing methods.

With the help of Clifford Berry, a graduate student in physics, he transformed his ideas into a model of the ABC (Atanasoff-Berry Computer) by 1939, and into a working prototype which was completed in the basement of Physics Hall in 1942. The ABC embodied four innovative concepts: serial calculation, regenerative memory, logic circuits, and the digital approach to calculating. This was the beginning of today's computers as was established in extensive litigation between Sperry Rand and Honeywell companies settled by the decision of District Judge Earl H. Larson in Minneapolis, October 1973. The court ruled that most of the ideas in ENIAC, built by Dr. John Mauchly and Dr. J. Presper Eckert between 1943 and 1945 and previously held to be the first electronic digital computer, were contained in the ABC. The ENIAC patents were declared invalid.

Dr. Atanasoff left Iowa State in 1942 to join the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Washington, D.C., but remained a professor in absentia until 1945. He left government work in 1952 to establish a consulting firm, Ordinance Engineering Corp., which he sold to Aerojet General in 1957, and became a vice president of Aerojet General. He retired in 1963 to a farm near Monrovia, Maryland.

From the description of Papers, 1930-1989. (Iowa State University). WorldCat record id: 27797949

John Vincent Atanasoff was born in 1903 in New York State. He graduated with a B.S. (1921) in Electrical Engineering from the University of Florida, an M.S. (1926) in mathematics from Iowa State College, and a Ph. D (1930) in theoretical physics from the University of Wisconsin. He was an Assistant (1930-1936) and Associate (1936-1942) Professor of Mathematics at Iowa State. While in Ames, with graduate student, Clifford Berry, Atanasoff developed the ABC Computer. The patent was never completed, and Atanasoff left Ames during World War II to work in Washington, D.C.

Atanasoff worked for the Naval Ordnance Laboratory through 1951, and then started his own company, which was later purchased by Aerojet Corporation. Although the ABC was never patented, it was part of a major court case in the 1960s and 1970s, between Honeywell, Inc. and Sperry Rand. The judge determined that the ENIAC computer was based in ideas established by Atanasoff in the ABC. Atanasoff received numerous awards including the National Medal of Technology (1990). He died in 1995.

From the description of Papers, 1925-1995. (Iowa State University). WorldCat record id: 44753158


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  • Computer industry--History
  • Computer engineering
  • Electronic digital computers--History
  • Computer scientists--Biography
  • Electronic data processing--Biography
  • Patent suits
  • Computers--History
  • Atanasoff--Berry computer
  • Computer organization
  • Computer architecture
  • Electronic digital computers


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  • Minnesota (as recorded)