John Presper Eckert: a computer pioneer

Jody loves technology so he wanted to share some information about John Presper Eckert.

Computers have become one of the most important technological advances for our time thanks to some special individuals…

John Presper Eckert was born on April 9, 1919 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended the William Penn Charter School, graduating in 1937. He then entered the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated in 1941. Eckert was an outstanding electrical engineering student and was given a post as an instructor at the Moore School soon after his graduation.

The Moore School was involved with research directed towards the war effort. Eckert taught a defense course and one of his students was John Mauchly, who was twelve years older than Eckert. Mauchly was already an established academic who taught physics. He signed up for Eckert’s defense training course as a way to contribute to the war effort. Both men were interested in the development of computers and discussed their ideas frequently.

Eckert moved on to undertake other military work at the Moore School. He was involved with work on ultraviolet light. He helped develop the means to measure metal fatigue. Later he developed a method for measuring small magnetic fields for use in detecting marine mines. From there he moved on to work on the electronics of radar and target location. His devices played a decisive part in weaponry and were considered to be of the highest priority.

Eckert and Mauchly collaborated again in May of 1943 on a secret US Military project to construct the Electronic Integrator and Computer (ENIAC/E-knee-ac). Eckert had almost completed his Masters Degree and was appointed chief engineer on the project with the specific task of designing the electronic circuits. The project was aimed at helping win World War ll. The ENIAC was 10 feet tall, occupied 1,000 square feet of floor space, and weighed more that 30 tons. The ENIAC used more than 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 6,000 switches, and 18,000 vacuum tubes.

One of the major problems Eckert had to solve was how a machine with 18,000 valves could function when the valves were unreliable. Ninety percent of ENIAC’s downtime was attributed to locating and replacing burnt-out tubes. Approximately 19,000 vacuum tubes were replaced every year, averaging 50 tubes a day. Eventually Eckert achieved a lifetime of 2500 hours for each individual valve, which made the operation of the computer viable.

Completed in February of 1946, the ENIAC was the first general-purpose electronic digital computer. The creators of the ENIAC, Eckert and Mauchly, had no idea at the time that they were about to change the way the world operated. The machine was more than 1000 times faster than its electromechanical predecessors and could execute up to 5000 additions per second, which was astounding at the time. The mathematician John von Neumann used the ENIAC to solve complicated partial differential equations in his work on atomic weapons at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The ENIAC is still located at the University of Pennsylvania, where it can be seen by special arrangement.

Eckert and Mauchly left the Moore School in October of 1946. Together they started up the Electronic Control Company and received an order from Northrop Aircraft Company to build the Binary Automatic Computer (BINAC). One of the major advances of BINAC was that data was stored on magnetic tape instead of punched cards.

The Electronic Control Company became the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and it received an order from the National Bureau of Standards to build the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC). The UNIVAC was the first computer to be produced commercially in the United States with 46 UNIVACs being built. One of the UNIVAC’s major advances was an ability to handle both numerical and alphabetical information with equal success.

Between 1948 and 1966 Eckert took out patents on 85 inventions, most electronic in nature. He received many awards for his pioneering work in computers including the Harry M. Goode Memorial Award from the Computer Society. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1967 and was awarded the US National Medal of Science in 1969.

Jody Victor Learns about Bill Gates

William (Bill) Henry Gates III was born October 28, 1955 in Seattle, Washington.
Here are some highlights of his life:

  • Began showing an interest in computer programming at age 13 after his parents enrolled him in Lakeside School.
  • He met Paul Allen, 2 years older than him, and they became friends.
  • In 1970 at age 15, Bill gates and Paul Allen went into business together and developed a program called “Traf-o-Data” to monitor traffic patterns in Seattle. They netted $20,000.
  • Bill Gates parents wanted Bill to become a lawyer. He graduated Lakeside in 1973 and scored 1590 out of 1600 on SAT test. After graduating, he enrolled at Harvard University with thoughts of pursuing a law career.
  • His friend Paul Allen dropped out of Washington State University and went to Boston to work for Honeywell. Bill joined Allen at Honeywell the summer of 1974.
  • They came across an ad for the Altair 8800 mini-computer kit and were fascinated with the possibilities. The Altair was made by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) in Albuquerque, NM, and they contacted the company to offer a BASIC software program.
  • Allen was hired at MITS and Gates left Harvard to work with him.
  • Together they formed a partnership called Micro-Soft (blend of “microcomputer” and “software”. They dropped the hyphen within a year.
  • Microsoft’s BASIC software became popular with hobbyists but only about 10 percent of the people actually paid for it. He considered them as stealing. He believed software should be licensed.
  • In 1977, MITS was sold and Gates and Allen, left on their own, had to sue the new owner to retain the software rights they developed.
  • Microsoft wrote their software in different formats so other computer companies could use it. At the end of 1978, they moved the company to Bellevue, Washington. There were 25 employees at this time. Bill Gates was 23 and his company grossed $2.5 million.
  • In 1980, IBM was looking for personal computer (PC) operating systems. Gates bought an operating system developed to be run on similar computers and adapted it for IBM’s machines. He called this MS-DOS. He chareged them a $50,000 fee – what he paid for the original software. When IBM asked for the code, he refused saying they should pay licensing fees to fun copies of it. Doing this allowed them to license his operating systems to other PC manufacturers.
  • From 1978 to 1981 Microsoft increased staff from 25 to 128. Revenue went to $16 million. Gates was appointed president and chairman of the board while Allen became executive vice-president.
  • By 1983, Microsoft was global. This year, Allen was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and resigned from the company.
  • In 1981 Microsoft was invited to help develop software for Macintosh. It was through this collaboration that Bill saw he needed to change to a more graphical and user-friendly operating system.
  • In 1985, Windows was launched.
  • In 1986, Microsoft was taken public with an IPO of $21 per share. Gates held 45 percent of the 24.7 million shares and became a millionaire at 31. The company’s stock has increased in value and split numerous times. In 1987, Bill Gates became a billionaire when the stock rose to $90.75 per share.
  • With the influence of his wife, Melinda, who he married in 1994, he began to realize he had an obligation to give more of his wealth to charity. He studied the works of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller and he and Melinda established the William H. Gates Foundation to support education, world health and investment in low-income communities.
  • In 2000, the couple combined several family foundations to form the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and contributed $28 billion. Bill Gates also stepped down from the operations of Microsoft turning CEO job over to Steve Ballmer. He became a chief software architect so he could concentrate on his passion.
  • In 2006, with his involvement in his foundation he announced he was stepping away from full-time work at Microsoft. His last full day was in the summer of 2008.
  • Time Magazine named Gates one of the most influential people of the 20th century. He holds several honorary doctorates from universities around the world. He is an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II. He and Melinda were awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle by the Mexican government for their philanthropy throughout the world.

Jody Victor hopes you are impressed with Bill Gates’ philanthropy and will give to charity as you can afford.

Jody Victor learned about Bill Gates on this biography site.