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Smithsonian Videohistory Collection

Development of the ENIAC
(RU 9537)


The ENIAC (Electrical Numerical Integrator and Computer), the largest and most powerful early computer, was designed to compute the paths of artillery shells, and to solve computational problems in fields such as nuclear physics, aerodynamics, and weather prediction. The U.S. Army Ordnance Department funded The Moore School for Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania to build the computer between 1943 and 1945. J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly were the principle designers. The ENIAC computed a thousand times faster than any existing device.

In the "Computing Gallery, Computers Before 1946," of the National Museum of American History (NMAH) on February 2, 1988, David Allison, Curator at NMAH, interviewed J. Presper Eckert about significant aspects of the design, development, and operation of the ENIAC. Specifically, the session documented both technical and non-technical aspects of the design of the ENIAC, including Eckert's engineering background, early uses of calculators to perform ballistics calculations, materials testing, and the assembly of components. Eckert demonstrated the operation of the accumulators, plug-in units, wiring conduits, and function tables with the original artifacts displayed in the gallery.

Much of the session was recorded for inclusion in the "Information Age" exhibit which opened at NMAH in May, 1990. The video producer, Peter Vogt, frequently interrupted or stopped the interview to meet script and exhibit requirements. Therefore, this session has a number of rough cuts for a professional production.


J. Presper Eckert, born April 9, 1919, attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering, in 1941 and 1943 respectively. He received an honorary D.Sc. from the same university in 1964. He became chief engineer at The Moore School of the University of Pennsylvania for the ENIAC in 1944 through 1946. In 1946 he became vice president for the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. He was appointed vice president for the Remington Rand Division of the Sperry Rand Corporation, 1955-1962, and remained in that position when the company became UNIVAC and later UNISYS.

Video Sessions

This collection consists of one interview session, totalling approximately 2:20 hours of recordings, and 55 pages of transcript. There are three generations of tape for this session: originals, dubbing masters, and reference copies. In total, this collection is comprised of 7 original videotapes (7 Beta videotapes), 3 dubbing master videotapes (3 U-Matic videotapes), and 2 reference copy videotapes (2 VHS videotapes).

Session One (February 2, 1988), in the Computing Gallery of NMAH documented J. Presper Eckert's involvement with the design of the ENIAC, c. 1940-1988, including:

  • Eckert's engineering background;
  • early uses of calculators to perform ballistic calculations;
  • materials testing;
  • design and assembly of components;
  • visual demonstration of the operations of the accumulators, plug-in units, wiring conduits, and function tables;
  • discussion of differences between ENIAC and later technologies;
  • additional visuals of the accumulators' rear panels and of calculators used prior to ENIAC development.

Original Masters: 7 Beta videotapes
Dubbing Masters: 3 U-Matic videotapes
Reference Copies: 2 VHS videotapes
Transcript: 55 pages
2 hours, 20 minutes


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