John Vincent Atanasoff

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Atanasoff, John Vincent,

1903–1995, inventor of the digital computer, b. Hamilton, N.Y., grad. Univ. of Florida (B.S., 1925), Iowa State College (M.S., 1926), Univ. of Wisconsin (Ph.D., 1930). While teaching mathematics and physics at Iowa State (1930–42), he developed the Atanasoff-Berry computer (ABC; 1939), a semielectronic digital computer, with the help of graduate student Clifford Berry, but a patent application was never filed by Atanasoff or Iowa State. After working for the U.S. government on various computer projects (1942–52), he founded (1952) the Ordnance Engineering Corp.; after he sold his firm to Aerojet General Corp. in 1956 he continued to work there. In 1961 he started Cybernetics, Inc., where he worked until 1981. A 1973 legal action pitted Atanasoff and the ABC against John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert and their ENIAC computer. Mauchly and Eckert had claimed responsibility for more than 100 inventions related to electronic digital computing patents, but a judge found against them, stating that their innovations were based on Atanasoff's work.


See J. Smiley, The Man Who Invented the Computer (2010).

John Vincent Atanasoff


John Vincent Atanasoff

John Vincent Atanasoff, 1903-10-04 - 1995-06-15. An American mathemetical physicist, and the inventor of the electronic digital computer. Between 1937 and 1942 he built the Atanasoff-Berry Computer with Clifford Berry, at the Iowa State University.

Atanasoff was born on 1903-10-04 in Hamilton, New York. In 1925, he got a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Florida. In 1926 he received a Master's degree in Maths from Iowa State University. He received a PhD as a theoretical physicist from the University of Wisconsin in 1930.

While an associate professor of mathematics and physics at Iowa State University, Atanasoff began to envision a digital computational device, believing analogue devices to be too restrictive. Whilst working on his electronic digital computer, Atanasoff was introduced to a graduate student named Clifford Berry, who helped him build the computer.

The first prototype of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer was demonstrated in December 1939. Although no patent was awarded for the new computer, in 1973 US District Judge Earl R. Larson declared Atanasoff the inventor of the digital computer (declaring the ENIAC patent invalid).

Atanasoff was awarded the National Medal of Technology by US President Bush on 1990-11-13. He died following a stroke on 1995-06-15.

John Vincent Atanasoff and the Birth of the Digital Computer.

["Atanasoff Forgotten Father of the Computer", C. R. Mollenhoff, Iowa State University Press 1988].