Talk:Atanasoff–Berry computer

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Dimensions of the computer[edit]

"The system weighed more than seven hundred pounds (320 kg).and was 800 square feet (74 m2) in all. It contained approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) of wire, 280 dual-triode vacuum tubes, 31 thyratrons, and was about the size of a desk." Can someone explain to me how something the size of a desk is 800 square feet? I'm assuming this is a typo, but I don't want to make the call. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:36, 8 August 2010 (UTC)

Someone please fix this. (talk) 21:53, 6 December 2011 (UTC)

Must have been a really big desk, or confusion with ENIAC. I've taken out the square feet. (Notice the hallmark of Wikipedia unit conversions: no-one ever checks that the numbers are right before converting to/from metric.) --Wtshymanski (talk) 16:03, 7 December 2011 (UTC)

Picture problems[edit]

The picture here is somewhat lacking. I tried to increase the size a bit so it might be readable but it was just causing rendering problems (try it, you'll see.. works at 300px and 600px but not 450px or near there). The image at it's image page is also having some difficulty. How it is now is pretty good, but if there is anywhere we can find a better picture of this it would be better to have one where you could read the components. -SocratesJedi 10:06, 29 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I can go take a picture of the replica, and we could label it. Or someone could use it to create a better diagram. --Ben Brockert < 17:21, Dec 29, 2004 (UTC)

Separate memory and computation[edit]

User:gunter, please provide a cite for "the zuse z1 in 38' was the first to have seperate memory & control sections, not the abc."

Even the Encarta says otherwise. Thanks, —Ben Brockert (42) UE News 01:47, Jan 11, 2005 (UTC)

--Gunter 02:44, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC) The Z1 was programmed via a punch tape and a punch tape reader. There was a clear separation between the punch tape reader, the control unit (which supervised the whole machine and the execution of the instructions), the arithmetic unit (with registers R1 and R2), the memory, and the input/output devices.

btw. Encarta is not an authority on anything.

Something written by the inventor's son is questionable, but... whatever works. —Ben Brockert (42) UE News 04:09, Jan 11, 2005 (UTC)

Recent vandalism[edit]

Did the article (or device) recently get attention somewhere? It's been vandalized more in the last day than ever before. —Ben Brockert (42) UE News 03:03, Jan 12, 2005 (UTC)

Probably these simpletons come to wikipedia, see search string, type in the first thing that comes to their then see computer. :) --Gunter 12:04, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Merged in ABC_Computer[edit]

A few paragraphs from an article called ABC_Computer seemed non-redundant so I merged them here, and got rid of the duplicate article. --Wtshymanski 22:54, 31 Jan 2005 (UTC)


I wonder whether the reference to "Research Corporation of America" really means RCA (Radio Corporation of America) of David Sarnoff fame. Ancheta Wis 08:55, 21 July 2005 (UTC)

It does not. Research Corporation was (and is) a nonprofit based in New York, New York, and they gave $5,000 (in a grant approved March 1941) to help complete the machine. Samuel Caldwell helped evaluate the ABC for the proposed grant in his visit of January 6, 1941. I have edited the article slightly for clarity. Robert K S 08:40, 13 August 2006 (UTC)

ABC was a specific purpose machine...[edit]

The paragraph about the ABC being a specific purpose machine was in there because that point is important. The ABC could solve linear simultaneous equations. That is incredibly useful, but does not a general-purpose computer make. There's a big difference. --Robert Merkel 07:38, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

Because was prototype and if von Newman didn't called John Atanasoff to do the NOL project and later cancel the NOL project. Either ABC or NOL would have more advancements not only stored-program feathures, which is the first logical step if you whant to simplify that computer. 21:00, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
You're not making much coherent sense. It is indeed important to note that the ABC was not a stored program computer and it's totally irrelevant that ABC might have been developed further. It never in any incarnation showed any stored program traits, so it was not a stored program computer. That's an undeniable fact and is a trait that distinguishes later designs from the ABC. What is your reason for removing this text? -- uberpenguin 21:14, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
Upgraded is the word ... as the same was done with ENIAC ... and you myfriend are the worst example of NPOV ... as I said ENIAC did not support dual-layer dual-side DVDs, but nobody mention it on the ENIAC site ... and who are you to remove the swore statment that Mauchly made in court that he "took crash course in electronics after meeting with John Atanasoff" from the ENIAC page ? 22:43, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

(Hey - no fair! You don't need to have a DVD drive to be called 'a computer' - but you DO need programmability - that's the difference here. If this article didn't keep claiming that the ABC was a computer - but admitted that it was merely a revolutionary, digitial calculator - then we wouldn't need to keep qualifying the claims with "but not programmable". If the ENIAC article claimed it to be a multimedia entertainment center or something, then we might feel compelled to explain that it did not in fact play DVD's! SteveBaker 06:17, 10 March 2006 (UTC))

Anon (, please be polite. Uberpenguin is (IMHO) trying to be patient with you. Please take a few extra minutes when composing your notes to ensure they are clear and understandable to a disinterested 3rd party. The posting above, I must agree, is difficult to understand the meaning of. You may very well have important points to make and contributions, but please ratchet down the hostility and spend some extra time composing your messages so we can understand your points. It would also help your case enormously if you were to sign in and get an account here. -- Gnetwerker 23:04, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
The stored program concept was already around when ABC was designed and constructed (as it was when ENIAC was built, and when Von Neumann published his famous draft of EDVAC). Your anachronism is moot; the idea of the stored program came out of computers from this period and is thus very relevant to discuss. To use your own example, it is appropriate to discuss prior and following optical disc schemes in the DVD article. Notice that it talks about CD-ROM and Blu-Ray. There's an obvious difference between comparing the fundamental designs of contemporary early electronic computers and throwing something totally non-sequitur into the article like an optical disc format from decades later. I'm fairly convinced you realize this difference, but I suspect you are just being facetious to try and prove your point.
To make things more concrete, articles like ENIAC and Colossus computer discuss the limitations of those computers in comparison with contemporary designs, so why shouldn't this one? POV is trying to remove relevant comparisons from this article and spam text designed to demerit Mauchly in unrelated articles. Concern for the quality and completeness of an article is not POV.
As for the ENIAC page, I haven't the slightest clue what you're talking about; a brief glance at the history of that page shows that I have never made a single edit to it. If something you wrote was removed, it wasn't by me. Now I turn your question back on you: who are you to demand that you are the only person here conceivably correct about what an article should and should not include? -- uberpenguin 00:14, 8 March 2006 (UTC)
The stored program concept had been around since Babbage's design for the Analytical engine in the 1860's. Babbage doesn't get credit for BUILDING the first computer because (a) His Difference engine wasn't programmable - and hence not a computer and (b) his Analytical engine was never constructed - so whilst he came up with the idea of programmability - he doesn't get credit for building it. So, in this context, the ABC is in the exact same situation. As it was actually built, it wasn't programmable - and the Difference engine beat it to the claim for first digital calculator - and the concepts that might someday have made the ABC into a fully programmable computer are beaten by the Analytical engine - which also might someday have made it as a fully programmable computer. So whichever way you slice it - Babbage beat the ABC to the "first ever" slot whether you believe programmablility is or is not a requirement to be called a computer - and whether or not the thing has to be actually BUILT to get a claim to fame. Either way, the ABC is just an evolutionary step. ENIAC (probably) gets the true claim to be the first actually functional programmable device...which in my books makes it the first true computer to actually work with the Analytical engine to be the first to be designed. SteveBaker 06:17, 10 March 2006 (UTC)

SteveBaker, I agree with all of your points, but I nevertheless think your recent edits were too aggressive. First of all, the "some claim" dodge is very weak. I also think that substituting "calculator" is simply trolling. The ABC was a "computer", just not in the modern sense of the word, as "digital general-purpose reprogrammable stored-program computer" has taken over the term. Clearly there are still partisans on this topic (our dear anon is obviously one of them), so why stick a finger in their eye? A reliable, NPOV source (Computer by Cambell-Kelly and Aspray, ISBN 0-465-02989-2) calls the machine a "computer", though it points out that "the evidence" of the degree to which Mauchly was influenced (or stole ideas) is "massive and conflicting".

I think a much more NPOV position is that the ABC "may have been the first digital computer", that it certainly was "the first machine that used binary arithmetic", but that it was not a general-purpose computer in the modern sense and "never came into fully reliable operation", and only in the 1960s did the full extent of Atanasoff's contribution become widely known. The Book Engines of the Mind also supports this story, and the author interviewed Atanasoff in person before his death! -- Gnetwerker 08:03, 10 March 2006 (UTC)

Agreed, using the term calculator is a bit brash and very debatable. By some measures, the ABC was certainly a computer of some sort. -- uberpenguin 16:29, 10 March 2006 (UTC)
To clarify, personally I would tend to agree with Steve that the ABC is closer to a digital calculator than a computer, but I can empathize with those who would call it a computer. I don't think it's fair to slap either label on it without a good bit of explanation. -- uberpenguin 16:31, 10 March 2006 (UTC)
Moved the rest of this conversation to Talk:Computer. Please continue there. -- uberpenguin 19:19, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

Term vs. name[edit]

Additionally, you two are confusing a definition and a term with that of a name. A calculator is a calculator by name. Even a programmable calculator is not called a computer (which you agree that it is) because it's name is "calculator" and happens to be programmable (an adjective) — ergo programmable calculator. If I had a fancy-enough-for-you alarm clock, you still would call it an alarm clock because that is what it is by name and function. Or an extremely modern copying machine that is still a copying machine by name. Or the next gen TVs (post-HDCP) that may run a java virtual machine for such functions as playing games or decrypting encrypted channels — it's still a television by name. Just because none of them are called computers does not make them any less of a computer. Cburnett 15:50, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

Agree, of course. We are not seeking to change the correct name of the device (it is and always will be "Atanasoff-Berry Computer". We are, however, concerned about the consistency of using the terms "computer", "computing device", "calculator", etc here on Wikipedia. -- uberpenguin 18:20, 11 March 2006 (UTC)
Agree also. I'm not debating that it was called "The Atanasoff-Berry Computer" - that's a historical fact. I'm not even debating whether it was reasonable to call it a computer by the standards employed at the time (when, bear in mind, a human being who operated a mechanical desk calculator for a living was called a computer and Church, Turing and Von Neumann had barely started to think about this). I'm saying that by the standards of modern language, we define a computer as something that passes the Church-Turing test. It's a solid, mathematical, demonstratable definition - and I'm pretty sure it covers all the bases for actual usage of the word. I'm also asking (begging, pleading) for those who claim that my definition is wrong to PLEASE offer us a better definition so we can discuss that. Then we could search for modern references to back it up and come to some sort of a conclusion. Simply saying that my definition is wrong doesn't resolve anything - we would still need to know what is right - we would still need to change the opening sentence on the Computer page in order to correct it to match whatever alternative definition is shown to be correct. SteveBaker 18:41, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

I have reverted Cburnett's edits. The reason has more to do with writing and English than with content. The first sentence says "Atanasoff-Berry Computer", so there is no reason to repeat computer three or four words later in the sentence. A computer is a computing device, all computing devices may or may not be computers -- the dichotomy sets up the (enlarged) section on the controversy. Regarding naming the court, the top section is an Overview -- the court details are included in the controversy section. It is not important for someone reading the the opening section to know exactly which court, though you could say "federal patent court" or whatever if you really wanted to. -- Gnetwerker 20:24, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

Except computing doesn't describe a machine but the operation of it. "computing" describes the usage of the machine, not the machine itself. So linking to it is a less descriptive and relevant link that "computer".
I wouldn't say "Billy Murray is an acting person" and I wouldn't say "ABC is a computing device" when both "actor" and "computer" are available words and describe the object instead of what to do (or is done) with the object.
That said, not linking computer because it's in the name is absurd. That's all the more reason to link to computer over computing (see previous paragraphs). Cburnett 15:12, 12 March 2006 (UTC)


I just noticed that the ABC diagram, which is claimed to be PD as a work of the US government, actually seems to belong to Iowa State University. If that's the case the copyright status should be changed and the image may need to be removed/replaced. Does anybody have more information on the image's copyright status? -- uberpenguin 21:39, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

Anything made by the federal government is in the public domain. However, ISU works are not that of the federal government so it is tagged incorrectly. Cburnett 01:48, 11 March 2006 (UTC)
The picture is from the scalable computing lab at ISU, a joint venture of ISU and the US Department of Energy...what that means as for PD...I have no idea. Bassgoonist 14:03, 24 May 2007 (UTC)
"Ames Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy that is run by Iowa State University." from Bassgoonist 14:05, 24 May 2007 (UTC)

Missing words[edit]

I think there may be missing words in the following sentence, which doesn't seem to be grammatically complete.

"Much of Atanasoff's work was not widely known until rediscovered in the 1960s, and conflicting claims about the first instance of an electronic computer." Adrian Robson 09:11, 8 April 2006 (UTC)

Fixed by Blainster April 8. Many thanks! Adrian Robson 10:29, 21 April 2006 (UTC)


Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the following quotation is a tautology:

Simply put, Atanasoff either is or is not the inventor of the first electronic special-purpose computer.

As such, I'm not sure what it adds to an encyclopedic article. The fact that it's quoted from a book doesn't give it any greater usefulness. Can anyone provide any thoughts as to why this quotation is useful to readers seeking guidance on Atanasoff's role in the development of computers? Adrian Robson 10:38, 21 April 2006 (UTC)

A couple of months have gone by and no-one has come up with any support for including the above tautology in the article. So if no-one has any objections in the next few days, I'll delete the quotation from the article. Adrian Robson 17:02, 4 July 2006 (UTC)
Please do. --Blainster 23:17, 5 July 2006 (UTC)
Agreed. The sentence tells you nothing and is just some authors idea cutesy wordplay. -- uberpenguin @ 2006-07-05 23:49Z
Atanasoff is not the inventor of the first automatic electronic digital computer. Something more, he is not the inventor of the first electronic digital computer.

1. electronic digital computer is the Accounting apparatus of Arthur Dickinson US Pat. No. 2,580,740, (1940), 2. electronic digital computer is the Calculating machine of Joseph Desch and Robert Mumma (1940). US Pat. No. 2,595,045 3-4. are Atanasoff ABC and the Electronic Computer of Samuel B Williams (1942),US Pat. No. 2,502,360 5. is the electronic computing device of Morton-Florry US Pat= No. 2,409,689 6. is the electronic calculating machine of Phelps US Pat.No. 2,624,507 7. ENIAC US Pat. No. 3,120,606

ENIAC is not a copy of the ABC. ABC is a binary, serial computer. It consists of 30 serial ASM (Adding-Substraction Machines), the ENIAC is a decimal parallel computer. The small ENIAC with 2 accumulators looks more like the Stibitz computer US Pat. No.2,668,661. The Stibitz Computer is binary, electro-mechanical, parallel, digital. This is the first computer with remote access and very much looks like SIMD machine. ABC is also SIMD, but serial. The important difference of ABC with whatever else is the regenerative memory. It contains 30 word by 50 bits accessed sequentially bit-by-bit. The regenerative memory is the copied bit. However it is untouchable because there is no patent for ABCq the construction is different and they do not claim "first" or the sort.

Why is the trial Honeywell v. Sperry Rand. In the ENIAC patent in the background section Col 2., rows 11-19 is written “A machine has been constructed at the University of Pennsylvania which embodies our invention. This machine, hereinafter referred to as ENIAC (from the initials of its name, “Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer”) is the first general purpose automatic electronic digital computing machine known to us. Its speed considerably exceeds that of any non-electronic machine and its accuracy is in general superior to that of any non-digital machine (such as differential analyzer)." The key words are "known to us". Behind these word is Atanasoff. Do not forget the trial Sperry Rand v. Bell Labs very, very important trial. Based on this words Honeywell creates a complaint for invalidity, patent fraud, anti-trust violation of the Sherman law 1890, anti-trust violation of the Clayton ammendment 1914 and preferential licensing.

Here is the website of the decision Go and read. The judge does not rule that Atanasoff is the inventor of the first electronic computer, but read for yourself. It is a shocking story. One lie is substituted with another lie, but to my opinion bigger. (talk) 10:19, 23 February 2017 (UTC)

Test date[edit]

The article says: " The machine, initiated in 1937, was capable of solving up to 29 simultaneous linear equations and was successfully tested before the project was abandoned in 1942..."

A reader could interpret this as meaning that it was first tested as a fully working machine in 1942. Does anyone have any sources that indicate whether this is correct, or was it in working condition earlier than 1942? Adrian Robson 11:31, 7 June 2006 (UTC)

The operational dates are not well documented. The Mollenhoff book says that the prototype which could add and subtract up to 8 digits was finished in the fall of 1939 (p. 47), and the full machine was built over the next two years. A 35 page illustrated description of the ABC was submitted around August, 1940 as part of a request for further funding, with a copy sent to a Chicago patent attorney (p. 49). A newspaper article in January 1941 described the "electrical computing machine" and said it would take about a year to complete (p. 51). The machine was functional, but it's I/O device used sparks to punch intermediate results on cards, and was somewhat ureliable. A $5,330 grant for continued development was received from the Research Corporation on March 24, 1941 (p. 52). The ABC was sufficiently complete in June 1941 for John Mauchly to spend four days examining and discussing the ABC with Atanasoff. When Mauchly returned to Pennsylvania, he was enthusiastic and wrote in a second letter in September, "Is there any objection, from your point of view, to my building some sort of computer which incorporates some of the features of your machine?" and "[If] I got the Moore School interested in having something of the sort, would the way be open for us to build an "Atanasoff Calculator" (a la Bush analyzer) here?" (p. 59) Atanasoff replied that they needed to remain circumspect until a patent application was filed. --Blainster 20:40, 7 June 2006 (UTC)
Many thanks for these details. And the article is much clearer about development progress after the changes you made. Adrian Robson 22:14, 7 June 2006 (UTC)
The breadboard is tested Oct. 1939-Jan 1940. The dating is very obtuse and confusing. However, the important bit is the question "when an idea becomes a patent?" The answer of this question is given by judge Larson in the chapter of the decision "Public Use" The criteria is that the device is ready for patenting on the date it is reduced to practice i.e. the testing is over. From this date on you have 1 year to patent. After this one year if the device is in public use or on sale the patent is invalid. That is the case with ENIAC. Atanasoff is working on his patent spring-summer 1942, actually the truth is Berry is writing (as everything else) the patent spring-summer 1942. This is irrelevant because Dickinson and Mumma filed their electronic calculating machines two years before that. If we ignore ENIAC assume it did not exist, then the Atatasoff invention is covered by Dickinson (IBM), Desch, Mumma (NCR) and Samuel B. Williams (Bell Labs.) in the part "first electronic". The historians of the computing are very enthusiastic with the Atanasoff romance of the underdog. Brain Randell states in the introduction of his book "The origins of digital computers: Selected Papers" p. VIII "Perhaps the most obvious inadequacy of the bibliography is that the patent literature is almost entirely unrepresented. Some of the difficulties that this literature causes to other than trained patent specialists are well llustrated by the following sentence from the U. K. version of the historic ENIAC patent ...." So, in short Atanasoff is not the first ... this obvious from the decision of judge Larson (talk) 19:02, 23 February 2017 (UTC)

Discarded pieces[edit]

"and all of its pieces except for one memory drum were discarded"

I believe more of the ABC was preserved than just a memory drum. The Burks books will provide definitive reference. Robert K S 19:20, 26 July 2006 (UTC)

Any references you can find on the matter would be appreciated and helpful. -- uberpenguin @ 2006-07-27 21:50Z
Apparently I was remembering (from the first Burks book, and their reviews of their second) that ISU reconstructed two add-subtract mechanisms from vintage parts. I am uncertain as to what of this was donated to the Smithsonian and what remains with ISU, though I know both have exhibits and I have extensive photographs of both of them; the Smithsonian Information Age exhibit is at present closed. Robert K S 09:20, 13 August 2006 (UTC)

Not a Computer[edit]

The main problem with this article on the "Atanasoff–Berry Computer" is that it was not really a computer in the modern sense. It was just a calculator. One could not program it. On the other hand, those who claim it was a computer must also include the old calculators of the 1600s, 1700s etc. This would affect many Wikipedia articles. Science History 12:11, 19 July 2007 (UTC)

I think that, to conform to Wikipedia’s requirement of adopting a neutral point of view, your point should be covered in this article. There is no doubt that, by the 1950s, the vast majority of informed people would have regarded programmability as being a pre-requisite of being a computer, whatever the terminology used by the judge in the Honeywell v. Sperry Rand case in 1973. I tried to adjust the balance by inserting after “Conceived in 1937, the machine was not programmable, being designed only to solve linear algebraic equations.” a sentence which read “In the view of some, this makes it a calculator rather than a true computer.” but this was immediately reversed on the ground that "This snippet of weasel POV is unmotivated in the lead. A fuller explanation, properly sourced, might be appropriate later in the article." What do others think? TedColes (talk) 10:54, 9 July 2008 (UTC)

electrostatic paper memory[edit]

I don't understand this sentence:

"Intermediate results were written onto paper sheets by electrostatically modifying the resistance at 1500 locations to represent 30 of the 50 bit numbers (one equation). Each sheet could be written or read in one second."
  • Are these "paper sheets" part of the drum memory, or are they a completely separate data storage device?
  • Was "paper sheet" storage ever used in any other machine?
  • Is "paper sheet" storage notable enough to have a Wikipedia article about it?

-- (talk) 06:02, 17 December 2007 (UTC)

Welcome to the topic! A novel system was devised whereby high voltage arcs produced by writer electrodes would burn into a dielectric (Strathmore No. 2 paper cards--thicker than ordinary paper, thinner than punch cards). The burn marks (or absence of them) could then be read by lower voltage electrodes. This part of the ABC was unrelated to the capacitor drum. Paper sheet storage was used in plenty of other machines, but as electromechanically punched cards or scrolls of paper tape. The dielectric system was the Achilles' heel of the ABC and never really worked. Since there are no other examples of this kind of storage, a separate article about it is not warranted. Cheers, Robert K S (talk) 07:54, 17 December 2007 (UTC)

A digital computer not a Jacquard loom[edit]

Digitalization is the main breakthrough in computing, and is what makes computers to-day what they are. Programmable non- and semi-digital devices existed even before and during his invention, but achieved little. Please, stop debasing Atanasoff's major contribution to human development. --Eurotrash-flash 21:52, 5 November 2010 (UTC) --Eurotrash-flash 22:18, 5 November 2010 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by Eurotrash-flash (talkcontribs) --Eurotrash-flash 23:03, 5 November 2010 (UTC) --Eurotrash-flash 22:44, 5 November 2010 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by Eurotrash-flash (talkcontribs)

Whatever your opinion, if the sentance is part of an attributed quotation, to remove it mis-represents the authors of that quotation. You need a much better reason, linked by citation to a good quality source.--TedColes (talk) 22:57, 5 November 2010 (UTC)
To: TedCole / It is my fault I have overlooked that. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Eurotrash-flash (talkcontribs) 23:09, 5 November 2010 (UTC)
The extent to which the many contributors to the advancement of electronic computing fed off each others' ideas is difficult to establish. There were a lot of different things going on in parallel, and it is not particularly helpful to claim 'firsts'. The ABC was undoubtedly an important achievement, but the above YouTube pieces contain serious errors, and omissions of developments that took place outside the US. --TedColes (talk) 10:20, 6 November 2010 (UTC)

Admittedly, they have omitted certain developments (Wikipedia makes no difference in fallibility too)but only after the time of the real fully electronic-digital step was made by John V Atanasoff toward digital computation.(The comparison betwixt digital and analog design is often understated.) Even then, the videos neither change nor challenge his first position at all. As to the rest you have said, I agree.--Eurotrash-flash 14:37, 6 November 2010 (UTC)


The bot that gives inflation-adjusted value of ABC reads $0.52 million. Can't this be converted to $520,ooo --- a much more readable form?Kdammers (talk) 17:31, 12 September 2016 (UTC)