Person: Aiken, Howard Hathaway
Howard Aiken was a pioneer designer of early computers.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Now Aiken's time at the Arsenal Technical High School was soon interrupted.
- However, the teacher persisted and found a job for Aiken with the Indianapolis Light and Heat Company which involved night work.
- The work with the Indianapolis Light and Heat Company was as a switchboard operator, a job that bored Aiken so much that he took up knitting socks to pass the time.
- It is not unreasonable to ask how Aiken could work both day and night but, being young and able to get by with a few hours sleep, allowed him to succeed.
- Because of his interrupted studies, Aiken did not have the necessary number of credits to graduate but Stewart set a special examination for him to give him the extra credits.
- Stewart also assisted Aiken in applying for a job and this led to an offer from the Madison Gas and Electric Company.
- Aiken, however, was extremely poor throughout his undergraduate years.
- After only part of a year at Chicago, Aiken transferred to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard in 1933.
- Aiken was 33 years old when he began his graduate studies at Harvard.
- Aiken was awarded an A.M. in physics in June 1937 and obtained a doctorate from Harvard in February 1939 for his thesis Theory of space charge conduction.
- While he was a graduate student and an instructor in the Department of Physics at Harvard, Aiken began to make plans to build a large computer.
- These plans were made for a very specific purpose, for Aiken's research had led to a system of differential equations which had no exact solution and which could only be solved using numerical techniques.
- However, the amount of hand calculation involved would have been almost prohibitive, so Aiken's idea was to use an adaptation of the punched card machines which had been developed by Herman Hollerith.
- Aiken wrote a report on how he envisaged such a machine, and in particular he described how a machine designed to be used in scientific research would differ from a punched card machine.
- The report was sufficient to prompt senior staff at Harvard to contact IBM and an agreement was made that Aiken would build his computer at the IBM laboratories at Endicott, helped by IBM engineers.
- Working with three engineers, Aiken developed the ASCC computer (Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator) which could carry out five operations, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and reference to previous results.
- Aiken was much influenced in his ideas by Babbage's writings and he saw the project to build the ASCC computer as completing the task which Babbage had set out on but failed to complete.
- The work by Aiken on the computer was interrupted by World War II.
- Richard Bloch also worked with Aiken at Harvard on the ASCC.
- Howard and Agnes were divorced in 1961.
- In 1946 Aiken and Hopper published three joint papers with the title The automatic sequence controlled calculator.
- Also in 1946 Aiken published A Manual of Operation for the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator.
- Aiken described the Mark IV in the paper which he wrote in French: Le calculateur Mark IV (1953).
- In 1961 Aiken retired from Harvard and was appointed as Distinguished Professor of Information at the University of Miami at Fort Lauderdale.
- Aiken did not teach at the University of Miami but rather became a businessman starting up Howard Aiken Industries Incorporated, a New York consulting firm.
- This was one of many honours which Aiken received for his pioneering work on the development of computers.
Born 9 March 1900, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. Died 14 March 1973, St Louis, Missouri, USA.
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive