Fact Checker

Is Iowa the birthplace of the computer?

Clifford Berry. Clifford Edward Berry (1918-1963) stands next to the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC). Berry worked with J
Clifford Berry. Clifford Edward Berry (1918-1963) stands next to the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC). Berry worked with John Vincent Atanasoff to create the first digital electronic computer in 1939. Photo circa 1942.
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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ spoke on second night of the 2020 Republican National Convention last month, in a prerecorded message praising President Donald Trump for his administration’s aid to Iowa following natural disasters.

Early in her nearly four-minute remarks on Aug. 25, Reynolds said Iowa is “the birthplace of the computer.”

The Fact Checker team opted to check this statement separately from other claims made during Reynolds’ RNC speech. A fact check of her other remarks can be found here.

Analysis

It is true that the world’s first electronic digital computer was created in Iowa. The Atanasoff-Berry Computer, or the ABC, was built at Iowa State University (then called Iowa State College) from 1937 to 1942 by physics and mathematics professor John Vincent Atanasoff and physics graduate student Clifford Berry.

Graded a A

It was the first time a computer was able to store information on its main memory, the science news website Live Science states.

According to Iowa State University, parts of the invention are still used in today’s modern computers. For a few decades, however, there was a dispute as to who earned the credit as the inventors of the world’s first computer because the pair from Iowa never patented the ABC.

The ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, was built between 1943 and 1945 by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania. The design, first proposed by Mauchly in 1942, was financed by the U.S. Army to help with the war effort, according to the Computer History Museum, located in Silicon Valley in California.

Mauchly and Eckert patented the ENIAC as the first electronic digital computer, but it was later disputed, resulting in the 1973 court case Honeywell Inc. v. Sperry Rand Corp.

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In the 1973 ruling, the judge overturned the ENIAC patents and determined Atanasoff and Berry’s invention was actually the world’s first electronic digital computer after it was proved the ENIAC co-designer Mauchly had seen the ABC in Iowa shortly after it became operational, according to a report from NPR.

According to Iowa State University, U.S. District Judge Earl R. Larson wrote “Eckert and Mauchly did not themselves first invent the automatic electronic digital computer, but instead derived that subject matter from one Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff.”

However, the judge also ruled the concept of the computer was un-patenable and therefore free to all, according to the Computer History Museum.

As a tribute to the inventors, a replica of the ABC was completed at Iowa State University in 1997. The replica is currently on display at the Computer History Museum in California.

Conclusion

It is true that the world’s first electronic digital computer was created in Iowa, which was solidified in a 1973 court ruling. We give this claim an A.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Michaela Ramm of The Gazette.

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