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Howard H. Aiken

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Howard Hathaway Aiken
Howard Aiken
Born(1900-03-08)March 8, 1900
DiedMarch 14, 1973(1973-03-14) (aged 73)
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison
Harvard University (doctorate)
Known forAutomatic Sequence Controlled Calculators Harvard Mark I – IV
  • Louise Mancill
    (m. 1939⁠–⁠1942)
  • Agnes Montgomery
    (m. 1943⁠–⁠1961)
  • Mary McFarland
    (m. 1963⁠–⁠1973)
AwardsHarry H. Goode Memorial Award (1964)
Edison Medal (1970)
Scientific career
FieldsApplied mathematics, computer science
InstitutionsHarvard University, University of Miami
Doctoral advisorEmory Leon Chaffee
Doctoral studentsGerrit Blaauw
Fred Brooks
Kenneth E. Iverson
Anthony Oettinger
Gerard Salton
Harvard Mark I / IBM ASCC, left side.

Howard Hathaway Aiken (March 8, 1900 – March 14, 1973) was an American physicist and a pioneer in computing, being the original conceptual designer behind IBM's Harvard Mark I computer.[1]


Aiken studied at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and later obtained his Ph.D. in physics at Harvard University in 1939.[2][3] During this time, he encountered differential equations that he could only solve numerically. Inspired by Charles Babbage's difference engine, he envisioned an electro-mechanical computing device that could do much of the tedious work for him. This computer was originally called the ASCC (Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator) and later renamed Harvard Mark I. With engineering, construction, and funding from IBM, the machine was completed and installed at Harvard in February 1944.[4] Richard Milton Bloch, Robert Campbell and Grace Hopper joined the project later as programmers.[5] In 1947, Aiken completed his work on the Harvard Mark II computer. He continued his work on the Mark III and the Harvard Mark IV. The Mark III used some electronic components and the Mark IV was all-electronic. The Mark III and Mark IV used magnetic drum memory and the Mark IV also had magnetic-core memory.

Aiken accumulated honorary degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Wayne State University and Technische Hochschule, Darmstadt. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1947.[6] He received the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Engineering Engineers Day Award in 1958, the Harry H. Goode Memorial Award in 1964, the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1965,[7] the John Price Wetherill Medal in 1964, and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Edison Medal in 1970 "For a meritorious career of pioneering contributions to the development and application of large-scale digital computers and important contributions to education in the digital computer field."

In addition to his work on the Mark series, another important contribution of Aiken's was the introduction of a master's program for computer science at Harvard in 1947,[8] nearly a decade before the programs began to appear in other universities. This became a starting ground to future computer scientists, many of whom did doctoral dissertations under Aiken.

Personal life[edit]

Howard Aiken was born to Daniel Aiken and Margaret Emily Mierisch[9] and married three times: to Louise Mancill in June 1937, then later to Agnes Montgomery, and lastly to Mary McFarland. He had two children; one with his first wife, and one with his second.[10] His mother was of German descent.[11]

Howard Aiken was also a Commander in the United States Navy Reserve.[4]

After he retired at age 60 to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Aiken continued his contributions to technology. He founded Howard Aiken Industries Incorporated, which was a consulting firm that helped failing businesses recover. During his years in Florida, he joined the University of Miami as a Distinguished Professor of Information. In addition, Aiken became a consultant for companies such as Lockheed Martin and Monsanto. On the morning of March 14, 1973, Aiken died in his sleep during a consulting trip to St. Louis, Missouri.[12][13] His widow, Mary, died in 2013.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The original concept was certainly Aiken's. There is no doubt about that," stated Robert V. D. Campbell Oral history interview Archived August 12, 2002, at the Wayback Machine, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota.
  2. ^ The History of Computing Project – Howard Hathaway Aiken
  3. ^ History of Computers and Computing – Biography of Howard Aiken
  4. ^ a b Cohen, I. Bernard (1999). Howard Aiken: Portrait of a Computer Pioneer. MIT Press. pp.73–114. ISBN 0-262-03262-7
  5. ^ Williams, Kathleen Broome (2004). Grace, Admiral of the Cyber Sea. Naval Institute Press. p.31. ISBN 1-55750-952-2
  6. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 6, 2011.
  7. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  8. ^ "A tookit of 0s and 1s". October 15, 2013.
  9. ^ Cohen, I. Bernard (2000). Aiken, Howard Hathaway. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1302051. ISBN 978-0-19-860669-7. Retrieved November 13, 2022. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  10. ^ "Howard Aiken (1900-1973)". mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  11. ^ Cohen, I. Bernard (2000). Howard Aiken: Portrait of a Computer Pioneer. MIT Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-262-53179-5. Retrieved May 25, 2024. His mother, Margaret Emily Mierisch Aiken, was a child of German immigrants
  12. ^ "Howard H. Aiken, Built Computer. The developer of the Mark I Dies. Was Harvard Professor. Taught Until 1961". New York Times. March 16, 1973. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  13. ^ "Former Professor Howard Aiken Dies; Invented Large-Scale Digital Computer | News | The Harvard Crimson". www.thecrimson.com. Retrieved April 15, 2024.

External links[edit]