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Point A. 1945: Dr. Vannevar Bush writes “As We May Think”

Following the end of World War II, Dr. Vannevar Bush wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly in which he described the Memex (MEMory EXtension), a system that provided links between microfiche information to achieve “selection by association” in a manner likened to our minds. From this he envisioned new forms of “encyclopedias … ready made with associative trials” that mimic our thoughts.

In the years to come, key people in the development of the Internet read Dr. Vannevar’s article and it inspired them to create such as system. However, microfiche was not the means they would use.

1946. The ENIAC computer

The ENIAC was the first general purpose, fully electronic digital computer and it marked the beginning of the computer age. The ENIAC (Electrical Numerical Integrator and Calculator) was commissioned in 1943 by the US Army Ordnance to calculate World War II ballistic firing tables. Developers and inventors, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, finished ENIAC in 1946, too late for World War II, but in time for the Cold War and many other peace-time purposes. The ENIAC was used continually until 1955 to calculate thermonuclear reactions in hydrogen bombs; help with weather prediction; and assist with cosmic-ray studies, thermal ignition studies, random-number studies and wind-tunnel designs.

The ENIAC was not the only computer of its day, but it was the first, general purpose machine to include most of the components and concepts of today’s digital computers. Designed for speed and reliability, the ENIAC depended entirely on vacuum tubes for its computations, 18,000 in fact. It required 170 kW to operate and could run for up to two days before a vacuum tube would burn out. You had to manually program the ENIAC with switches and wires, and the whole thing weighed 28-tons and had a foot-print of about 680 square feet.

Once again, many people didn’t really pay much attention to the ENIAC, after all it was just a mathematical machine used by the military; and the world was trying to get back on its feet after the war. And by the way,  in July 5, 1946, the French fashion designer Jacques Heim first introduced the bikini — no wonder no one noticed a big computer.

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Last updated: February 19, 2014
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