The ENIAC - Philadelphia’s Forgotten Crown Achievement

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) Day aims to raise awareness of the contribution that computing machines contribute to society and to celebrate the individuals who gathered together to design, build, install, operate and support the ENIAC.

On February 15th of each year, the computer industry comes together across the world to celebrate ENIAC; the world’s first all-electronic, programmable computer. 

As a child, I remember learning about all of Philadelphia’s greatest heroes: Benjamin Franklin, William Penn, Betsy Ross, and others. The groundbreakers and muckrakers who shaped the nation hundreds of years ago were prominent figures in all of my education. Even today, Philadelphia is known for some exceptional  figures, from actors like Will Smith to the late sports-legend Kobe Bryant, who lived just outside of Philly.

Philadelphia is a unique city, with some impressive achievements under its belt. But why is it that we never hear about the Philadelphians who invented the computer?

Yes, you read that correctly. Philadelphia’s John Presper Eckert Jr, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania in (UPenn) in the early 1940s, and his professor John Mauchly worked together to invent the computer. 

Upenn was home to the world’s first, general use computer. The same one that has eventually evolved into the laptop that I’m presently working on. The computer gave way to millions more, along with other incredible progressions in technology, such as smartphones or smart cars.

Not many of us may know, but the concept for the computer began as an effort to help end the Second World War. Scientists and engineers believed a giant super-calculator could be used to track missile trajectories or break codes.

 


John Presper Eckert Jr is depicted on the right next to 
colleague John Mauchly, co-creator of the ENIAC

Unfortunately for us, the ENIAC was completed in 1945; long after the war had ended. It was magnificent, filling up an entire room upon its completion. The ENIAC weighed 30 tons and ran with thousands of various moving parts. 

It would be another 50 years that Philadelphia, as well as Eckert and Mauchly, would receive the credit they deserved for building the framework of the modern-day computer. The ENIAC was the world’s first, a model that shaped every computer going forward - including the Mac I’m using to write today. So whenever you open your laptop, or your smartphone, or even the old computer at the library, you can think of Philadelphia.

Article written by Samantha Stewart on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association