When you think about computers and technology, I'm sure places like Silicon Valley come to mind before Iowa, but what if I told you that the first computer was actually invented in the Hawkeye State?

It's true! Iowa is in fact the birthplace of the computer. The Atanasoff-Berry Computer, also known as ABC, was built at Iowa State University between the years of 1937 and 1942 by John Vincent Atanasoff, who was a physics and mathematics professor, and physics graduate student Clifford Berry.

Diagram of the ABC Public Domain Image
Diagram of the ABC
Public Domain Image

According to the scientific news website Live Science, it was the first time a computer was able to store data on its main memory. Iowa State University even says parts of the original invention are still used in today's modern computers!

Because Atanasoff and Berry never patented the ABC there was a discrepancy for a few decades as to who earned the credit for the invention of the world's first computer. From 1943 to 1945, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was built by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania. Mauchly and Eckert did end up patenting the ENIAC as the first electronic digital computer, but it was later disputed. The dispute resulted in the Honeywell Inc. v. Sperry Rand Corp court case in 1973.  According to a report from NPR, the judge ruled that Atanasoff and Berry's invention was actually the world's first electronic digital computer after it was proven that the ENIAC co-designer had physically seen the ABC in Iowa after it had already become operational. The judge apparently also decided that the concept of the computer was unpatentable and hence free to everybody.

In 1997, a duplicate of the ABC was built at Iowa State University as a homage to the inventors. The replica is presently being displayed at California's Computer History Museum.


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