John Presper Eckert, Jr


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US electrical engineer, a pioneer in the development of the modern computer.

Eckert was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, where in 1941 he joined the faculty. With the outbreak of World War II he was working on the calculation of ballistic tables for the US Army Ordnance Department. So complex and time-consuming were these calculations that Eckert and his colleague at Pennsylvania, J. W. Mauchly (1907–80), sought mechanical help. The result, completed in 1946, was ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator), the world's first electronic computer. It was, with its 18 000 electronic valves and a weight of 30 tons, a truly monstrous device. It also had the disadvantage that a change of program involved rebuilding the machine.

By the end of the war in 1945 Eckert and Mauchly, in collaboration with J. von Neumann, were considering the alternative – the possibility of designing a computer with a stored program. In 1947 Eckert and Mauchly formed their own company, Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation, to tackle the problem commercially. They first designed BINAC (Binary Automatic Computer), a smaller and faster machine that used magnetic tape; only one machine was ever built. It was, however, a step on the way to UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer), the first commercial computer to appear on the market. By this time (1950) their company was struggling. In the following year it was taken over by Remington Rand. Eckert was appointed vice-president of the company, now known as Sperry Rand Corporation, with responsibility for the UNIVAC division.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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