First US digital computer

More modern marvels from Modern Mechanix.  This time, it’s a nice little write-up on the first digital computer in the U.S.  Originally published in Popular Science in 1944, the write-up now is probably only of interest to really geeky people (like me).  Some interesting facts about the IBM ASCC (Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator) from the site:

  • It cost $250,000 in 1944 dollars.
  • It could calculate using numbers with up to 23 signifigant digits. These were set with an array of 1,440 dials (check out the picture below)
  • It took 3/10 second for add/subtract, 5.8 for multiplication and 14.7 seconds for division.
  • It weighed 35 tons and was powered by a 2 horse-power motor. (With mhz, ghz, mb, gb, tb, dpi, ms, bps, etc don’t you think it’s time hp got back into the computer lexicon?)
  • It contained 500 miles of wire

And some of the article in question:

SOME boy may soon work his way through Harvard University by watching a 51-foot switchboard all night in an air-conditioned basement. Behind its polished panels, electricity will be solving the longest and most difficult mathematical problems ever conceived. It will be doing everything that is known to be mathematically possible with such numbers as 12,743,287,341,045,502,372,098.

Even Commander Howard H. Aiken, U.S.N.R., the professor in charge of this 35-ton calculating machine, says he does not know what you would call a number that long. It is billions of billions.

But the young man running this figure factory will not need to be a mathematician. If anything goes wrong, a red light will flash, he will make a few simple adjustments, and the mountain of machinery will go swiftly on with computations that professors have not lived long enough to complete.

We need to get that flashing red light thing back on computers for when things go wrong, though.  The only flashing red light on my system at home goes on whenever the hard drive lights up.  And the only warning light I get is that bright blue screen that comes up for those special Windows crashes.

[tags]Supercomputers, IBM, ASCC, Modern Mechanix[/tags]