Photo of John Vincent Atanasoff

John Vincent Atanasoff

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Computer Science

For his invention of the electronic digital computer and for contributions toward the development of a technically trained U.S. work force.

John Vincent Atanasoff’s road to inventing the first electronic digital calculator began with a much simpler device: the slide rule his father had given him as a boy. Not only did it solve math problems – it stoked young Atanasoff’s fascination with computing.

Pushed by his father, an engineer, and his mother, who taught math, Atanasoff’s studies spread to calculus, logarithms and binary math. His curious mind would serve him well through a lifetime of incredible achievement.

Always pushing to improve things, Atanasoff became determined during his doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin to develop a better computing machine. At Iowa State University, where he had been hired as a professor, Atanasoff and an engineering student, Clifford Berry, worked tirelessly in the late 1930s to develop a faster computer.

Their product was the Atanasoff Berry Computer, or ABC, as it was called. The ABC was the first electronic digital computer.

Atanasoff later was on the staff of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington. He also participated in the atomic bomb tests in 1946 on Bikini Atoll, established his own engineering company and created a phonetic alphabet for computers.

By Robert Warren