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ENIAC A Problem Solver

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129793D
Original Publication Date: 1994-Apr-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

W. BARKLEY FRITZ: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

This article provides a firsthand perspective on the use of ENIAC as a problem solver during its 10 years of successful operation as a working computer from November 1945 until October 1955. It provides a view of ENIAC's place in history as well as information covering the people, the operation, the reliability, and aspects of me problem- preparation process. A major appendix covers the complete range of problems handled by ENIAC.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1994 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

ENIAC A Problem Solver

W. BARKLEY FRITZ

This article provides a firsthand perspective on the use of ENIAC as a problem solver during its 10 years of successful operation as a working computer from November 1945 until October 1955. It provides a view of ENIAC's place in history as well as information covering the people, the operation, the reliability, and aspects of me problem- preparation process. A major appendix covers the complete range of problems handled by ENIAC.

Much has been written covering ENIAC's development and construction period.1-4 A large amount of ENIAC material has also been included in the Annals of the History of Computing. However, little has been published concerning its productive period of useful problem-solving service. This is what I present extensively in this article.

This introductory section sets the stage: I attempt to establish, as briefly as possible, ENIAC's importance and proper place at the beginning of the age of computing. The remaining sections cover the people involved, ENIAC's operation, its reliability, and program preparation. An appendix presents the extensive problem solving performed using the ENIAC during its 10 years of service.

The ENIAC was designed and built under the direction of J. Presper Eckert, Jr., and John W. Mauchly. They and their staff of 14 people at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia worked on its design, development, and construction, during the period from 1943 to 1945. (Figure 1 shows all of the design staff except for Harry Gail, Hyman James, Edward Knobeloch, and Frank Mural, Herman Goldstine, who served as the Department of the Army liaison to the Moore School, is included in the photograph.)

The ENIAC's first application was to solve an important problem in nuclear science for the Manhattan Project. Involved were Nicholas Metropolis and Stanley Frankel (members of the staff of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico), who worked with Eckert, Mauchly, and the women assigned to the ENIAC in late 1945. ENIAC remained at the Moore School in active use until early 1947, when it was moved from its design and construction site to its permanent location at the Ballistics Research Laboratory (BRL) of the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Maryland. After a somewhat difficult reassembly and extensive testing period, ENIAC again became operational in its original "direct programming" mode -- that is, programming by directly connecting individual units with cables and setting switches to control the sequence of its operations needed to solve the specific problem at hand.

For a variety of reasons, during the first year of its use at BRL, a major modification was made in how ENIAC was used. A later section of this article discusses the...