John Vincent Atanasoff

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John Vincent Atanasoff (ataˈnasɔf; October 4, 1903 – June 15, 1995) was an American physicist and inventor. The 1973 decision of the patent suit Honeywell v. Sperry Rand named him the inventor of the first automatic electronic digital computer. His special-purpose machine has come to be called the Atanasoff–Berry Computer.

The son of a Bulgarian immigrant who became an electrical engineer, Atanasoff held positions as a teaching professor, a governmental wartime research director, and a corporate research executive before being recognized in the 1970s and 1980s for digital electronic computer research he conducted at Iowa State College in the late 1930s and early 1940s.


Early life and education

John Atanasoff was born on October 4, 1903 in Hamilton, New York to an electrical engineer and a school teacher. Atanasoff's father, Ivan Atanasoff was born in 1876 in the village of Boyadzhik, Ottoman Empire (present-day Bulgaria). While Ivan was still an infant, Ivan's own father was killed by Turkish soldiers after the April Uprising.[1] In 1889, Ivan Atanasoff emigrated to the United States with his uncle. John Vincent Atanasoff's mother, Iva Lucena Purdy, was a teacher of mathematics.

Atanasoff was raised by his parents in Brewster, Florida. At the age of nine he learned to use a slide rule, followed shortly by the study of logarithms, and subsequently completed high school at Mulberry High School in two years. In 1925, Atanasoff received his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida, graduating with straight A's.

He continued his education at Iowa State College and in 1926 earned a master's degree in mathematics. He completed his formal education in 1930 by earning a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with his thesis, The Dielectric Constant of Helium. Upon completion of his doctorate, Atanasoff accepted an assistant professorship at Iowa State College in mathematics and physics.

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