The man who invented the computer
Though no one person technically invented the computer, John Vincent Atanasoff created the machine that led the way.
This story was originally covered by The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.
Many disparate geniuses contributed to what is now known as the computer. There is one man, however, who deserves quite a bit of the credit. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley told PRI's The Takeaway: "There is a man who invented the machine that eventually -- through many interesting quirks and turns -- became the modern computer."
That man is John Vincent Atanasoff, a physics teacher at Iowa State University in the 1930s and 1940s. In the new book, "The Man Who Invented the Computer" Smiley introduces readers to Atanasoff, who invented the first electronic digital computing device called the Atanasoff-Berry Computer or ABC.
The machine was simpler than machines that others were working on at the same time. That was in part out of necessity, according to Smiley, because Atanasoff "couldn't get any money from Iowa State to do it in a more complex way." That may have been a benefit, too, because Atanasoff succeeded where others had failed.
Atanasoff wasn't the most technologically adept person, but he ended up having an enormous effect on the future of technology. Smiley told The Takeaway, "his wife said he couldn't turn a screwdriver, but he could fix a zipper if he had to." Smiley continued: "He wasn't the guy who was going to put the stuff together to create the machine, but he was the guy who was going to see the possibilities."
"One of the main lessons of the computer revolution is: Let everybody at it," Smiley told The Takeaway. Atanasoff, in some ways, is an unlikely father of the modern computer. But that goes to show, according to Smiley: "Let everybody have these ideas and try these out, and boom. It'll take off."
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