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

Proposing Electricity

Nine months after the attack on Pearl Harbor shocked America into increased involvement in World War II, Mauchly penned a seven-page proposal with the excitement of an inventor on the verge of a breakthrough. He titled his proposal, "The Use of High-Speed Vacuum Tube Devices for Calculation," highlighting electricity's ability to calculate at high speeds. Mauchly conjectured: "A great gain in the speed of calculation can be obtained if the devices that are used employ electronic means for the performance of the calculation, because the speed of such devices can be made very much higher than that of any mechanical devices."

Despite the energetic optimism of its author, the proposal was met with skepticism by the Moore School. John Grist Brainerd, the Moore School's liaison with the army, filed Mauchly's memorandum away, promptly writing off the harebrained idea and losing the proposal amongst the clutter of his filing cabinets.

In an interesting twist of fate, The Franklin Institute misplaced a letter from Dr. Brainerd which gave "very complete and clear information regarding the ENIAC" and had to write to Brainerd to request that he re-issue the letter. You can read the full text of this request by clicking on the thumbnails at right.