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Eckert and Mauchly: Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), 1949

Exploring Electronics

John Mauchly began fiddling with electronics when he was a young boy, and at the suggestion of his father he went into engineering. He studied engineering on scholarship to Johns Hopkins, but found that he was bored by the time he got to sophomore year. He was, however, intrigued by the field of Physics, and earned a Ph.D. in Physics from Hopkins in 1932. The tall, brown-haired scientist married a mathematician and eventually had two children. He was a calm, charming intellectual who related well to other people and, according to one of his co-workers on the ENIAC project, "seemed to develop many of his ideas in the give-and-take of conversation" (McCartney 83). While holding the position of chairman of the Ursinus College Physics Department, Mauchly began taking an electronics course at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Engineering. He was the oldest student enrolled in the class, and he was assigned to study under the youngest lab instructor in the school. Presper Eckert, who had completed his bachelor's in Engineering at Penn in 1941, assumed the role of Mauchly's instructor. This was the beginning of a partnership and friendship that would launch the development of the world's first computer.

In 1948, Executive Vice President and Secretary of The Franklin Institute Henry B. Allen wrote to Mauchly and Eckert informing them that they would be awarded the Potts Medal in recognition of their achievements with ENIAC. You can read the text of these letters, as well as Mauchly's and Eckert's responses, by clicking on the thumbnails at right.