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ENIAC unveiled to public

This Day in World History

February 14, 1946

ENIAC unveiled to public

On February 14, 1946, officials from the army and the University of Pennsylvania assembled at that institution’s Moore School of Engineering to reveal the results of a secret government project. They unveiled the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), the world’s first general function, programmable electronic computer. Unlike previous computers, ENIAC was operated only by electronics and had no moving parts.

ENIAC had been the brainchild of Penn professor John Mauchly. The War Department funded the project, as it was looking for a machine that could quickly and accurately calculate the trajectory of artillery shells and missiles. Construction began in 1943.

The machine was mammoth — more than 150 feet wide and weighing 30 tons. Powering it work were 17,000 vacuum tubes, and thousands more resistors, capacitors, relays, and switches. Six women taught themselves the programming needed to make the computer work.

Construction was not completed until after World War II had ended, but ENIAC proved useful nonetheless. In November of 1945, it was employed in testing early designs for the hydrogen bomb. It detected design flaws that would have otherwise gone unknown.

At the unveiling the following year, a mathematician put the computer through its paces for attending reporters. One demonstration was to add five thousand numbers together — an operation ENIAC completed in just one second. Another focused on calculating shell trajectories. The calculation, which would take humans three days to complete, was accomplished in twenty seconds — faster than the thirty-second flight of the shell.

The next day, several newspapers published glowing reports of the promise of computers. That favorable reception was the desired outcome behind the unveiling of the once-secret device. The army and Moore engineers were already at work designing a newer, better computer — EDVAC — and they wanted to ensure a continued flow of funding.

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