News Service


Lynette Pohlman, University Museums, (515) 294-3342
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- An authentic working replica of the Atanasoff- Berry Computer (ABC), the first electronic digital computer, will be displayed at the Brunnier Art Museum at Iowa State University from Jan. 13 - 18.

John V. Atanasoff, an Iowa State professor of physics and mathematics, and Clifford Berry, a graduate student, built the original computer form 1939 to 1942. Work on the original ABC was interrupted by World War II and the computer was never patented. The original ABC was eventually discarded. The replica was built to honor the genius of Atanasoff and Berry.

Building the ABC replica has taken considerable time and patience as scientists, technicians and students at Ames Laboratory (a U.S. Department of Energy facility at Iowa State) have had to basically retrace the steps originally taken by Atanasoff and Berry. The team's primary goal was to make a full-scale, functional computer replica as true to the original as possible.

This required painstaking care in using vintage computer parts, like 1940s vacuum tubes, brushes and card punches prevalent of that era, but most which have disappeared as technology evolved. The replica team spent hundreds of hours ferreting out details on how the original operated and in securing authentic parts.

The desk-sized ABC has faint resemblance to today's 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.

After the Brunnier exhibit, the ABC replica will continue its Iowa tour, which includes: Cedar Rapids, Jan. 28; Quad Cities, Jan. 30; Sioux City, Feb. 23; Waterloo, March 23; and Mason City, May 18.

The Brunnier's hours are Tuesday - Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday evening 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and weekends 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. There is no charge.

The Brunnier Art Museum is located on the second floor of the Scheman Building in the Iowa State Center off Lincoln Way and Elwood Drive.

- 30 -

Iowa State homepage

University Relations,
Copyright © 1997, Iowa State University, all rights reserved
Revised 1/6/98