We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants: The Importance of ENIAC Day
February 25, 2021 / Peter Altabef
This month, 75 years ago, the age of modern computing began with the launch of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, the first all-electronic, programmable computer known for posterity as ENIAC. This marks a significant celebration for the historic innovation of our past that has, without question, inspired the innovation of our present.
On February 15, Unisys cohosted ENIAC Day, a webcast highlighting the design, operation and impact of the groundbreaking system. You can view the entire webcast here.
A milestone for computing
In 1943, the American military identified a growing demand for enhanced computational speed to calculate artillery and missile trajectories. During World War II, “computers” were skilled people, mathematicians with paper and pencils, plugging away at calculating numbers. Unfortunately, this process took thousands of hours. The military needed a high-speed machine that would provide an edge on the battlefield and contribute to shortening the war. Thus, the groundbreaking research project known as ENIAC began at the University of Pennsylvania with a young engineer, J. Presper Eckert, and physicist John Mauchly.
Eckert and Mauchly were pioneers, building a first-of-its-kind machine while working to overcome design challenges never previously encountered. The war ended months before ENIAC was ready to deploy, but that didn’t stop Eckert and Mauchly, who continued working to make their dream of creating an electronic computer a reality. When ENIAC launched in February 1946, it was more than a thousand times faster than any previous computer and proved to be a monumental breakthrough in the history of computing. The U.S. Government was still able to put ENIAC to use in both non-military and military applications, including performing calculations for weather prediction and the development of the hydrogen bomb.
In the aftermath of the ENIAC launch in 1946, the two lead developers founded the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. Their passion to innovate intensified as they began to design what would be the world’s first commercially-successful computer, to be known as UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer). In 1950, before their design was complete, Remington Rand acquired the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. Under Remington Rand, Eckert and Mauchly finished the UNIVAC and it was delivered to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1952, UNIVAC made history by predicting the victory of President Dwight D. Eisenhower hours before the polls closed.
In 1955, Remington Rand merged with Sperry Corporation, which later merged with Burroughs in 1986, creating Unisys.
Innovation must continue today
Indeed, there is a direct line between early enterprise computing technology and the technology of today. The success of first-generation computers such as ENIAC and UNIVAC led to subsequent breakthroughs in technology that enable us to receive information at the touch of our fingertips. And these visionary contributions can help us all reach new heights.
I encourage anyone who is inspired, as I am, to follow in the footsteps of Eckert and Mauchly by celebrating and infusing innovation within their company’s culture. To forge a new path and foster a culture of learning, you must also be curious. At Unisys, we honor the work of our predecessors through one of our core beliefs, curiosity. Curiosity enables our ability to provide better outcomes, solutions and capabilities for our clients. And innovation will enable your future success.
We may stand on the shoulders of giants, but we also have a very real and important role in pushing the frontiers of groundbreaking solutions. Let’s make history together.