Penn Library

John W. Mauchly and the Development of the ENIAC Computer

Early Years

John William Mauchly was born 30 August 1907 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Sebastian J. and Rachel Mauchly. During Mauchly's childhood, his father received an appointment as a physicist at the Carnegie Institute of Washington, D.C., a prestigious scientific institution established during the interwar years as part of an effort to raise the level of scientific research in the United States. S.J. Mauchly had come to the Carnegie Institute to study the phenomena of terrestrial magnetism, a subject that had suddenly become important after the connection between magnetism and radio propagation became increasingly clear. But this research often took the father away from home, as when he wrote to his eight-year-old son from New York's Hotel St. George. The letter came as S.J. Mauchly prepared for one of his ocean voyages aboard a meteorological research vessel.

Certificate issued to J. W. Mauchly by McKinley Technical High School, Washington, D.C., 10 June 1925. (click to expand to 55k)
Shortly after they moved to Washington, D.C., in 1913, the family settled into the comfortable suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Located near other major scientific facilities such as the National Bureau of Standards, this suburb housed many scientists, engineers, and other well-educated professionals. This is not to suggest that Mauchly's upbringing was exceptional. Mauchly was not raised like the Hungarian physicists or the German mathematicians whose intellectual virtuosity had stunned the world during the 1930s. Mauchly represented part of a nascent community of technical elites that was emerging in the United States. Quite apart from brilliant minds like Albert Einstein or Claude Hilbert, it was the greater ranks of U.S. born scientists and engineers who were to carry the nation into and beyond the extensive technical developments of World War II.
His father's occupation afforded Mauchly a good education, beginning with his schooling at the McKinley Technical High School in downtown Washington. Still, in balancing his school work with tennis matches and walks through the woods, or one of Edgar Allen Poe's ghost stories read in the dark among friends, Mauchly led a reasonably comfortable existence of an upper middle-class youth. It is only in such items as his "Daily Record," where Mauchly meticulously recorded his daily sleep, that one perceives a child socialized into a particular, technical way of thought. Perhaps Mauchly had also drawn some inspiration from Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. In any case, his academic achievements brought him the Engineering Scholarship of the State of Maryland, which enabled him to enroll at Johns Hopkins University in the fall of 1925.


J. W. Mauchly. journal entry of everyday events,
Sunday, 19 August 1923. (click to expand to 94k)


Letter of J. W. Mauchly to Senator .. Jones, 26 September 1925, regarding graduate fellowship. (click to expand to 83k)

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