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He Was the First, or Happy Birthday, Computer!
Konrad Zuse is considered to be the inventor of the first computer
in the world
Z3 -- the first fully
functional program-controlled electromechanical digital computer in the
world -- was completed by Konrad Zuse in 1941. The calculation is super-easy:
computer is 60 this year!
Konrad Zuse was born on June 22, 1910, in Berlin. He went to the high
school in Braunsberg and later studied at the Technische Hochschule in
Berlin-Charlottenburg. Konrad Zuse was a very creative student, and his
favorite occupations were painting and building cranes. He never thought about computers till 1934. As
his son, Horst Zuse, states, "This [thinking of computers] was prompted
by the many calculations he had to perform as a civil engineer, Today
it is clear to me that he really hated performing these calculations and
he wanted to make things easier for engineers and scientists." In
1935, he got his civil engineering degree. At the age of 35, Konrad Zuse
got married and later became the father of five children. From 1959 onwards,
he received many honors and prizes from international associations and
universities, as well as from the German government. His computer company,
founded in 1940 as "Zuse Ingenieurbüro und Apparatebau, Berlin",
prospered after the war and many machines following Z1, Z2, Z3 were built.
By 1962, the company started experiencing financial difficulties and was
sold first to "Brown Boveri and Co.", and later to "Siemens".
Production of the Zuse series of computers was eventually stopped. He
died in Hühnfeld, Germany, in 1995.
So, what were the first
computers like? Z1
was a large and complex-looking
machine weighing about 500 kg and consisting completely of thin metal
sheets, which Zuse and his friends produced using a jig-saw. The only
electrical unit was the engine, which was used to provide a clock frequency
of one Hertz. Z1 was built in 1936, but, like Z2
and Z3, built within 1938-1941, it was destroyed during wartime bombing.
Z3 is undoubtedly considered to be "the first reliable, freely programmable,
working computer in the world based on a binary floating-point number
and switching system." Unlike Z1 and Z2, it was constructed from
Because of their historic
value, Z1 and Z3 were rebuilt by Konrad Zuse after the war. Z3 was reconstructed
in 1961 and is now in Deutsches Museum in Munich, and Z1 - in 1986,
and can be found in Museum für Verkehr und Technik in Berlin.
Just a fact: the cost of rebuilding the Z1 was around 800 000 DM.
was supposed to be a prototype of the computer for engineering bureaus
and technical institutes. This computer had to solve the stupid task of
calculations done manually by engineers. Again, due to the daily bombings
and terrible life conditions in Berlin in 1945, when Z4 was about to be
completed, Zuse didn't finish his work, and fled with the remains of Z4
to South Germany. Later, in 1950, Z4 was installed in Zurich and worked
there till 1955.
At the same time as
he was building Z4, Konrad Zuse started developing and formulated the
remarkably sophisticated programming language
Plankalkül. This language was to be used for programming his
machines in a powerful - more than only arithmetic calculations - way.
Plankalkül was finished in 1946, but published in 1972 only, due
to the efforts that Zuse had to take to maintain his own computer-building
company "Zuse KG."
Konrad Zuse's dream
was to create a small computer for business and scientific applications.
He worked single-mindedly during many years to achieve this objective.
Moreover, he had to finance his work himself, as the Nazi government didn't
support his ideas.
Zuse Internet Archive
Zuse's Oil Paintings
Work of Konrad Zuse
The picture of Konrad
Zuse courtesy of his son, Dr.-Ing.