News Service


John Gustafson, Ames Laboratory, (515) 294-9294
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- An authentic working replica of the world's first electronic digital computer, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), will be turned on and demonstrated at the Durham Western Heritage Museum on Oct. 28, at 11 a.m. The demonstration will kick off the ABC replica's stay at the Durham Museum, Oct. 28 - Nov. 8.

John V. Atanasoff, an Iowa State professor of physics and mathematics, and Clifford Berry, an engineering graduate student, built the original computer in the period of 1939- 42. The original ABC was never patented and eventually was discarded. The replica was built to honor Atanasoff and Berry.

The ABC replica is a faithful representation of the original computer down to the use of vacuum tubes, gears and its distinctive memory drums. The replica was constructed over three years by a team of scientists, technicians and students at Ames Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy facility at Iowa State.

While slow and cumbersome compared to today's computers, the original ABC did demonstrate several principles that are the basis of modern computing and are still used in computers today. For example, the ABC was the first to employ a binary system of arithmetic, electronic amplifiers as on-off switches, circuits for logical addition and subtraction and clocked control of electronic operations. 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.

The ABC replica was formally unveiled and demonstrated on Oct. 8, 1997 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Since that time it has toured several Iowa communities including Des Moines, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, the Quad Cities and Sioux City.

The ABC replica and public displays are financed in part by private contributions through the ISU Foundation's $425- million "Campaign Destiny: To Become the Best." A major contributor is Omaha civic leader and former student of Atanasoff's Charles Durham, who will symbolically "throw the switch" at the Oct. 28 demonstration.

Durham, now retired, is a 1940 ISU graduate who built a successful career and became chairman and chief executive officer of Henningson, Durham and Richardson, a firm offering professional design services, and later, Durham Resources, Inc. He and his wife, Margre, have been honored frequently for their civic and philanthropic activities, including support of Iowa State. He received the ISU's Distinguished Achievement Citation, the highest alumni award, in 1992, and is an ISU Foundation Governor.

The Durham Western Heritage Museum is located at 801 S. Tenth St., Omaha. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sunday 1 - 5 p.m.

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Reporters are welcome to attend the ABC replica demonstration and press conference. The demonstration is lively and very visual. Contact Skip Derra, ISU News Service, (515) 294-4917, if you have any questions regarding the demonstration.

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