News Service


John Atanasoff II, Colorado MEDtech Inc., (303) 530-2260
Skip Derra, ISU News Service, (515) 294-4917
Carol Rowe, CU-Boulder, (303) 492-7426



AMES, Iowa -- An authentic working replica of the first electronic digital computer, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), will be on display Jan. 10-27 at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Iowa State University President Martin Jischke and John Atanasoff II, a Boulder businessman and son of the inventor, will be on hand to answer questions about the ABC replica at 2:30 p.m., Jan. 7, at the Engineering Center on the CU-Boulder campus.

The public is invited to view the replica on Jan. 7, before it is moved to the CU-Boulder Mathematics Building where it will be on public display in the Gemmill Engineering Library.

"The computer has become one of the most influential machines of our time," said Jischke. "To see that it all began with the ABC is a lesson in technological history and a lesson in the genius of John V. Atanasoff."

"I'm delighted to have the ABC in my hometown of Boulder to provide Coloradans the opportunity to see the first electronic digital computer," added Atanasoff.

Atanasoff, is the president, CEO and chairman of Colorado MEDtech, Inc., Boulder, a provider of advanced medical products and outsourcing services.

The original ABC was invented by John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry at Iowa State from 1939-42. Atanasoff was a professor of physics and mathematics at Iowa State and Berry was his graduate student at the time. Work on the original ABC was interrupted by World War II. The ABC was never patented and eventually scavenged for parts.

The desk-sized ABC has unlike today's desk-top computers. It weighed 750 pounds, performed 0.06 operations/sec (compared to 10 billion operations/sec today) and had a memory storage capacity of 3,000 bits (compared to 100 billion bits today). It also had several noticeable mechanical features including rotating drums (for data storage), a read/write system that recorded numbers by scorching marks into cards as it worked through a problem, and vacuum tubes that flickered as it performed computations.

While slow and cumbersome compared to today's computers, the ABC did demonstrate several principles that are the basis of modern computing. Common computing ideas like the use of the binary system of arithmetic, separate memory and computing functions, internal clock control and the use of circuits for logical addition and subtraction all were first employed by the ABC.

The replica was built over a three-year period to honor Atanasoff and Berry. It was constructed by a team of scientists, technicians and students at Ames Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy facility at Iowa State.

The replica was formally unveiled and demonstrated Oct. 8, 1997, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It has been on tour, primarily in the Midwest, for the past two years.

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