It was IBM’s Harvard Mark 1, the first electromechanical computer, a ‘monster’ weighing almost five tons – FayerWayer

IBM is one of the first computer manufacturing houses. Founded in 1911 by Charles Flint in New York, it was born under the name of Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, taking the name of International Business Machinery in 1924. Twenty years later, he will give the Harvard University the first electromechanical computer, the Mark 1.

He was a monster almost five tons, with a height of 2.4 meters and a length of almost 16 meters, with a usefulness that would make people laugh today: the simple and direct calculation of operations.

The first electromechanical computer it used electromagnetic signals to move its parts, operating with relays and programming itself with switches.

But to arrive at each result, IBM’s Harvard Mark 1 took 3-5 seconds, and the sequence of calculations could not be changed.

had 760,000 wheels and 800 kilometers of wiring, 3,300 relays and more than 175,000 connections.

The History of IBM’s Harvard Mark 1

Howard H. Aiken designed the machine in the 1930s. This Harvard-educated theoretical physicist originally proposed the digital calculator to the faculty of his alma mater’s physics department, then bringing his idea to the Monroe Calculating Machine Company and finally to IBM.

Chief Engineer Clair D. Lake led the project, assisted by Benjamin Durfee and Frank Hamilton. Although they began in 1939, the vicissitudes of World War II, which the United States entered in 1941, affected their development.

IBM's Harvard Mark I, the first electromechanical computer, had 760,000 wheels and 800 kilometers of wiring, 3,300 relays and over 175,000 connections.

Finally, the machine was shipped to Harvard in February 1944, gathering and formally presenting on August 7 this year.

How much did the first electromechanical computer cost to manufacture? 200 thousand dollars. IBM also donated an additional $100,000 to cover operating costs for the Harvard Mark 1.

According to Harvard University, Mark 1 “mainly helped the Navy by calculating tables for the design of equipment such as torpedoes and underwater detection systems. Other branches of the military have requested his assistance in calculating the design of surveillance camera lenses, radars and implosion devices for the Manhattan Project atomic bomb”.

This is how the first electromechanical computer worked

IBM explains on its portal how the Harvard Mark 1 worked. Its two main functions were to perform lookups in tables and the four fundamental arithmetic operations, in any specified sequence, with numbers up to 23 decimal digits.

the computer had with 60 switching registers for constants, 72 storage counters for intermediate results, a central multiplication and division unit, functional counters for calculating transcendental functions and three interpolators read punched works on punched tape.

“Digital input,” the company notes, “came in the form of punched cards, paper strips, or manually adjustable switches. The output was printed on electric typewriters or punched on cards.

Today we can find calculators up to the size of watches. Before, it was unthinkable: for that, there was the monstrous IBM Harvard Mark 1.

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