Penn Library / exhibitions

John W. Mauchly
and the Development of the ENIAC Computer

An Exhibition in the Department of Special Collections
Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania

by Asaf Goldschmidt and Atsushi Akera
Department of History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania


Introduction
The year 1996 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the ENIAC computer, the first large-scale general-purpose electronic computer. Built at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering, ENIAC is an acronym for "Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer," but its birth lay in World War II as a classified military project known only as Project PX. The ENIAC is important historically, because it laid the foundations for the modern electronic computing industry. More than any other machine, the ENIAC demonstrated that high-speed digital computing was possible using the then-available vacuum tube technology.
General View of the ENIAC, 1946.

Photograph of John W. Mauchly, ca. 1940-50.
We attempt in this exhibition to portray a history of the emergence of modern computing as seen through the eyes of one of its two principal inventors, John W. Mauchly (1907-1980), who worked at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering between 1941 and 1946. In focusing on Mauchly, we do not claim that he was the principal or sole inventor of this machine. At the very least, this credit would have to be shared with J. Presper Eckert (1919-1995), who at the time of the ENIAC's inception in 1942 had barely completed his Master's degree. If Mauchly had initially conceived of ENIAC's architecture, it was Eckert who possessed the engineering skills to bring the idea to life. We chose in this exhibit to focus on the career of John Mauchly, partly to reveal the historical complexities of the process of invention that can only be seen through close attention to a single individual. More pragmatically, we chose John Mauchly in order to introduce scholars to the John Mauchly Papers, held by the Department of Special Collections, Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania.

Recommended texts, currently in print, to learn more about ENIAC and the development of the personal computer:

Paul Freiberger & Michael Swaine. Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.
Scott McCartney. ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer. New York: Walker & Company, 1999.

Table of Contents:

Early Years College Years
1925-1932
Life on
the Margins
1932-1941
Early
Experiments
World War II
and the
Moore School
Project X:
The ENIAC
Project
1942-1946
The Atanasoff
Controversy
The ENIAC
Technical
Description
of the
ENIAC
The EDVAC
Design
Out on
Their Own
1946-1951
The UNIVAC
and the Legacy
of the ENIAC
Moving Back
into an
Independent
Career
Conclusion

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