Inventors of the Modern Computer
The First Freely Programmable Computer
Zuse (1910-1995) was a construction engineer for the Henschel Aircraft
Company in Berlin, Germany at the beginning of WWII. Zuse earned the semiofficial
title of "inventor of the modern computer" for his series of automatic
calculators, which he invented to help him with his lengthy engineering
calculations. Zuse has modestly dismissed the title while praising many
of the inventions of his contemporaries and successors as being equally
if not more important than his own.
of the most difficult aspects of doing a large calculation with either
a slide rule or a mechanical adding machine is keeping track of all intermediate
results and using them, in their proper place, in later steps of the calculation.
Zuse wanted to overcome that difficulty. He realized that an automatic-calculator
device would require three basic elements: a control, a memory, and a calculator
for the arithmetic.
Zuse's Z1 Circa 1938
In 1936, Zuse made a mechanical calculator called the Z1, the first binary
computer. Zuse used it to explore several groundbreaking technologies in
calculator development: floating-point arithmetic, high-capacity memory
and modules or relays operating on the yes/no principle. Zuse's ideas,
not fully implemented in the Z1, succeeded more with each Z prototype.
1939, Zuse completed the Z2, the first fully functioning electro-mechanical
completed the Z3 on December 5, 1945, with recycled materials donated by
fellow university staff and students. This was the world's first electronic,
fully programmable computer. Zuse used old movie film to store his programs
and data for the Z3, instead of using paper tape or punched cards. Paper
was in short supply in Germany during the war.
Zuse wrote the first algorithmic programming language called 'Plankalkül'
in 1946, which he used to program his computers. (He wrote the world's
first chess-playing program using Plankalkül.)
| The Plankalkül language included
arrays and records and used a style of assignment (storing the value of
an expression in a variable) in which the new value appears in the right
column. An array is a collection of identically typed data items distinguished
by their indices (or "subscripts"), for example written something like
A[i,j,k], where A is the array name and i, j and k are the indices. Arrays
are best when accessed in an unpredictable order. This is in contrast to
lists, which are best when accessed sequentially.
was unable to convince the Nazi government to support his work for a computer
based on electronic valves. The Germans thought they were close to winning
the War and would not support further research. Zuse left for Zurich to
finish his work (the Z4) and later moved to the United States, where he
formed his own company for the construction and marketing of his designs.
Z4 was finished in 1949 and escaped destruction. The Z1 through Z3 models
were destroyed during the war. Zuse smuggled the Z4 from Germany in a horse-drawn
cart, which he hid in stables on route to Zurich, Switzerland. He completed
and installed the Z4 in the Applied Mathematics Division of Zurich's Federal
Polytechnical Institute. It was in use there until 1955. The Z4 had a mechanical
memory with a capacity of 1,024 words and several card readers. Zuse no
longer had to use movie film to store programs; he could now use punched
cards. The Z4 had punches and various facilities to enable flexible programming
including address translation and conditional branching.
Reading On Konrad Zuse
Konrad Zuse biography and technical details on his computers.
Inventors Of The Modern Computer
John Atanasoff & Clifford Berry And The ABC
original photos©"army photos"