Howard Hathaway Aiken


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US mathematician and pioneer of the modern computer.

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Aiken was educated at the universities of Harvard, Wisconsin, and Chicago. After some time in industry with the Madison Gas and Engineering Company and with Westinghouse, Aiken returned in 1939 to Harvard, where he became professor of applied mathematics and, from 1946 until his retirement in 1961, director of the computation laboratory. In the late 1930s Aiken worked on the design of a fully automatic computer. It was a mechanical device depending for its operation on the use of punched cards. Completed in 1944, with the help of IBM, and known as the ASCC (Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator), or the Harvard Mark I, it was the world's first automatic digital computer. Its lifespan was extremely short, however. As a mechanical device with moving parts it was too much a machine of the past, despite its speed and power. In the following year, Aiken's ASCC was made obsolete with the appearance of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator), the world's first electronic computer.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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