Penn Library

John W. Mauchly and the Development of the ENIAC Computer

Moving Back into an Independent Career

When Thomas Edison developed his system of electrical lighting, he successfully produced enough elements of his system to stand at the helm of a vast commercial empire. As historian Thomas Hughes has described Edison's career (see his Networks of Power), Edison was a system builder, an inventor-entrepreneur, who could garner the necessary financial, political, and social interests in electrification to develop a truly successful venture.
Had World War II and the Cold War not taken place, perhaps Mauchly would have had the opportunity to do the same. But the circumstances were different. In designing a general purpose computer, Mauchly had built a machine that inherently served more applications than he could possibly envision. In the wake of World War II, the digital electronic computer took on a military significance that an individual scientist like Mauchly could not be trusted to oversee. Postwar planning for computer development fell to scientific advisors and military strategists who dealt with such technologies as the hydrogen bomb, supersonic combat aircraft, anti-aircraft missiles, and the nation's strategic air defense system. While Mauchly continued to try to advise the Univac Division of Remington Rand on the various applications of computer systems, the larger marketing and development staff of the corporation supplanted the usefulness of his knowledge.
Photograph of Mauchly with "SkedFlo, Model MCX-30," n.d. (click to expand to 83k)

Draft of confidential letter from J.W. Mauchly to ... Rand, May 1952, never sent.
(click to expand to 165k)
But the general-purpose nature of computers also opened up a new window for Mauchly. Given the many possible applications for computers and the relative ignorance of their users, markets emerged for people who could provide advice on the use of computers. This demand, however, existed on the side of Remington Rand's customers, not within Remington Rand itself. Thus, Mauchly chose to leave the firm in 1959, setting up his own consulting firm, Mauchly Associates, and yet another firm in the late 1960s called Dynatrend. He did not limit himself to digital electronic computers. His focus had now shifted towards quantitative project planning and management techniques such as the Critical Path Method.
Mauchly provided his consulting services for the construction of other industries. Mauchly had thus returned to the life of an independent thinker, now working in the margins of a large industry.
Masthead from brochure of Mauchly and Associates, n.d. (click to expand to 83k)

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