- Atanasoff, John Vincent
▪ 1996U.S. physicist (b. Oct. 4, 1903, Hamilton, N.Y.—d. June 15, 1995, Frederick, Md.), was belatedly credited (1973) with developing the first electronic digital computer. That acknowledgment followed a lawsuit that resulted in a judge's voiding a patent owned by Sperry Rand Corp. on the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), an invention that had been recognized as the first electronic digital computer. Though Atanasoff gained legal stature for his achievement, many historians continued to credit ENIAC's inventors, J. Presper Eckert, Jr. (q.v.), and John W. Mauchly, as the founding fathers of the modern computer. With Clifford Berry, Atanasoff developed (1937-42) a fragile prototype, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), at Iowa State University. The limited-function vacuum-tube device lacked a central processing unit and was not programmable but could solve differential equations using binary arithmetic. The machine was historically important because it contained design components of what would become the basic architecture of a computer, and the computer controversy stemmed from a 1941 visit that Mauchly made to Atanasoff and their discussion about the design of the ABC. Atanasoff abandoned his computer work to become chief of the acoustics division of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Washington, D.C., and later headed two engineering firms. His contributions to computing were detailed in two 1988 books, The First Electronic Computer: The Atanasoff Story and Atanasoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer. He was the recipient in 1981 of the Computer Pioneer Medal and was honoured in 1990 with the National Medal of Technology.
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