Commercial Business Computer (EDVAC/UNIVAC)

Mauchly and Eckert, inventors of the ENIAC, set out to create a commercial computer. They worked with government officials who needed fast computing, including military and census officials.

Eventually, their employer, the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Engineering announced an intent to keep all patents produced by faculty. Henceforth, the two promptly resigned and created their own computer company, Electronic Control Company (ECC). Subsequently, Penn denied tenure to both of them.

Consequently, all was going well until the Red Scare. FBI officials charged Mauchly and a number of people on his staff as communist sympathizers. This caused them to lose government contracts needed to keep the company afloat. Mauchly was banned from working on the technology for two years.

To remain solvent during this time, ECC built a small computer, the BINAC, for Northrop. Eventually, investor Harry Strauss invested $500K, hoping the computer would be useful for gambling.

Strauss died in a plane crash Oct. 25, 1949. Subsequently, the company sold itself to Remington Rand in Feb. 1950. They had offered the company to IBM, twice. The first time, Watson Sr. rejected the deal when Mauchley put his feet on a coffee table. The second time, IBM lawyers worried the acquisition would cause antitrust troubles.

They completed their computer, the UNIVAC, in 1951. It became a bestseller.

The FBI eventually cleared Mauchly and restored his security clearance. Apparently, the “communistically inclined” accusation stemmed from two pieces of “evidence.” He signed a card and paid $1 for a pamphlet from a scientific organization which believed atomic technology should remain in civilian control and also supported Consumers Union, thought to be part of a communist plot.

Turing Complete Electronic Computer, ENIAC


Commissioned in 1943, partially functional in July 1944, but not entirely finished until Feb. 1, 1946, ENIAC is the first all-electronic general-purpose Turning complete computer.

Engineers built ENIAC to calculate ordinance tables. Eventually, von Neumann used the computer to perform calculations for nuclear weapons and break ENIGMA encrypted messages. Built at the University of Pennsylvania, ENIAC was a WWII military project.

Markedly, all ENIAC programmers were women. Evidently, most programmers had prior experience computing ballistic tables by hand. Programming ENIAC required literally rewriting the computer by changing switches and cables for each different program.

As with countless computer projects that followed, ENIAC had an initial budget of $61,700. Eventually, the final budget was $500,000, about 8x over-budget.

Patent Lawsuit: Honeywell v. Sperry Rand

Significantly, a predecessor of the ENIAC is the Atanasoff-Berry computer, tested in 1942. Neither fully mechanical nor electrical, it was somewhere between the Z3 and the ENIAC. Cited in the epic lawsuit Honeywell v. Sperry Rand (1973) as prior art, the computer was cited as prior art to invalidate virtually all computer patents.

Honeywell was the longest federal court case in history, with 135 days of testimony. Basically, the case establishes both that John Atanasoff is the innovator of the modern computer and that patent rights for the ENIAC were unenforceable and invalid due to patent filing issues. Additionally, the case is also a good illustration of patent abuse, collusion, and misuse of public works that remained a thread, especially in the computer industry.