Iowa State University at Ames houses the state's major Engineering school. Back in the 1930s, a math and physics professor by the name of John Atanasoff was looking for a better way to calculate solutions to problems in his field than just using the mechanical calculators of his day. With a grant of $650 in hand, he was able to hire a graduate student, Cliff Berry, and they built quite an electronic calculating machine. The machine, known later as the A-B-C, or Atanasoff-Berry Computer was constructed in the basement of the Physics building on the campus. Here is a picture of the building as it looks today:
Here is closer look at the commemorative plaque.
That final title, "father of the computer" can start quite an argument among historians of Computer Science. If you take a look at this quite recent article in the February, 2011 issue of Philadelphia Magazine, you'll get a flavor the argument:
But a growing group of Iowans, perhaps miffed that their state is best known for a not particularly nutritious vegetable, would have you believe that it was their Midwestern home that begat this world-changing technologyThe other contender for first electonic digital computer is Mauchly and Eckert's ENIAC.
There is a plaque on the corner of thirty-third and Walnut in Philadelphia that memorializes the ENIAC of 1946. I haven't photographed that one yet. But I will point out that the Atanasoff partisans have two things going for them.
- A federal judge ruled that the ENIAC was derived from Atanasoff's prior work.
- Iowa State thought that Atanasoff's work was significant enough to name their current Computer Science building for him. (The Moore School in Philadelphia basically forced Mauchly out of their University.)