The Advent of Electronic Computers

  • E. William Phillips
  • John V. Atanasoff
  • D. Michie
  • John W. Mauchly
  • H. H. Goldstine
  • Adele Goldstine
Part of the Texts and Monographs in Computer Science book series (MCS)


The earliest known electronic digital circuit, a “trigger relay”, which involved a pair of valves in a circuit with two stable states and was an early form of flip-flop, was described by Eccles and Jordan in 1919. (An unsubstantiated claim [1] has however been made that J. W. Bryce of IBM investigated the application of electronics to business machines in 1915.) The next development that we know of was the use by Wynn-Williams at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, of thyratrons in counting circuits including, in 1932, a “scale-of-two” (binary) counter [2]. By the end of the decade quite a few papers had been published on electronic counters intended for counting impulses from Geiger-Müller tubes used in nuclear physics experiments.


Computing Machine Linear Algebraic Equation Stepper Counter Function Table Output Terminal 
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  1. 1.
    The claim appears in “New Methods for Knowing” (Anon 1960b).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Wynn-Williams (1931, 1932).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Phillips (1962, 1965a).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Phillips did file two patent applications relating to a calculating apparatus on 24th December 1935. However no patents were ever granted and there is no record of the contents of the original applications.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Kern (1968), Snedecor (1928).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Berry (1941).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This account of the development of the Atanasoff-Berry computer is based on information supplied by Atanasoff to Dr. H. S. Tropp.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Phelps (1971) states that by the end of 1942 NCR, IBM and RCA had each filed two or more patent applications on electronic computing devices. According to information supplied by Mr. H. E. Kniess of NCR, their work on electronics was started by Joseph R. Dfsch, who led a group which completed an electronic adding machine in 1939 and an electronic calculator in 1942.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Wiener (1948).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Good (1970), Randell (1972).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Pantages(1967).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Statements to this effect have been made by Brainerd (1965) and Eckert, J. P. (1970).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Mauchly(1941).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Eckert, J. P., Mauchly et al. (1945).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Anon (1943).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Gray (1963), Alt (1972).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hartree (1946a, 1946b, 1947).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. William Phillips
    • 1
  • John V. Atanasoff
  • D. Michie
  • John W. Mauchly
  • H. H. Goldstine
    • 2
  • Adele Goldstine
    • 2
  1. 1.Great Britain of the Manufacturers Life Insurance CompanyUK
  2. 2.Institute for Advanced StudiesUSA

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