Harford History

October 01, 2006

Big-box computer at Aberdeen lab

From 1947 until 1955, the world's first electronic digital computer was operated by the Ballistics Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was "intended to reduce to seconds the lengthy computations encountered in modern scientific work." ENIAC was installed to aid in the preparation of firing and bombing tables.

Thirty separate units comprised the 30-ton computer, which included a power supply, forced-air cooling system, vacuum tubes, relays, resistors, capacitors and inductors. Improvements were made to increase the machine's efficiency and reliability, allowing ENIAC to compute a 60-second trajectory in 30 seconds instead of the 20 hours required by a skilled person.

Other uses for ENIAC included weather prediction, atomic-energy calculations, cosmic-ray studies and wind-tunnel design.

The rapid progress of computer technology, spurred by ENIAC itself, soon made the device obsolete. At 11:45 p.m. on Oct. 2, 1955, the power to ENIAC was removed.

[Source: "The ENIAC Story," by Martin H. Weik from the Journal of the American Ordnance Association. Research by Harford County Public Library.]

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