Q&A: A lost interview with ENIAC co-inventor J. Presper Eckert

Computer World Magazine has published a 1989 interview of ENIAC co-inventor J. Presper Eckert by Alexander Randall:

There are two epochs in computer history: Before ENIAC and After ENIAC.

The first practical, all-electronic computer was unveiled on Feb. 14, 1946, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electronics. While there are controversies about who invented what, there is universal agreement that the ENIAC (Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator) was the watershed project that showed electronic computing was possible.

It was a masterpiece of electrical engineering, with unprecedented reliability and speed. The two men most responsible for its success were J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly…

There’s a story that ENIAC dimmed the lights in Philadelphia when it was in use.

ECKERT: That story is total fiction, dreamed up by some journalist. We took power off of the grid. We had voltage regulators to provide 150 kilowatts of regulated supply.

Did the military guys working on ENIAC salute the machine?

ECKERT: Another ENIAC myth.

You said the largest tube gadget in 1943 was the Nova Chord electronic organ. What did ENIAC use?

ECKERT: ENIAC had 18,000 vacuum tubes. The tubes were off the shelf; we got whatever the distributor could supply in lots of a thousand. We used 10 tube types, but could have done it with four tube types; we just couldn’t get enough of them. We decided that our tube filaments would last a lot longer if we kept them below their proper voltage. Not too high or too low. A lot of the circuits were off the shelf, but I invented a lot of the circuits as well. Registers were a new idea. So were integrator circuits.

You can read the whole thing here.

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