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Pieces of the Past — It Computes

March 27, 2024

As I write this, it dawned on me that some of my readers have never known a time when there were no computers. I recently came across a short article about The Salk vaccine being invented at Pitt.

The very next day I found a story about some “mad scientists” who worked in the basement of the Moore School of Electrical Engineering on the campus of Penn State.

On March 6, 1935, Charles D. Fawcett demonstrated a thing that looked a lot like a foosball table. He used it to calculate Van Der Pol’s differential equation. The U.S. Military used it to create artillery firing tables. Viola! America’s very first practical working computer!

11 years later, Penn State would introduce the ELECTRONIC NUMERICAL INTEGRATOR and COMPUTER. The ENIAC was leaps and bounds ahead of Fawcett. It weighed 30 tons with 1,500 tubes. The “electronic brain” preceded UNIVAC which hit the scene in 1954. All of this came from the minds of people at Penn State!

Remember the three guys from Bell Labs that invented the transistor? Bet ya can’t name em! Bet ya have no idea who John Blankenbaker is either! Well… without him you’re not reading this! After going to war with some of the electronic industry’s biggest names he was given credit for inventing the PERSONAL COMPUTER! Blankenbaker’s KENBAK-1 was deemed the first personal computer in 1971. His invention preceded the microprocessor.

Thanks to TV commercials, Elisha Gray didn’t disappear like Blakenbaker. Gray made more money than Bell did anyway! He owned Western Electric, the company that sold Bell all the phones! You might not look at this as a local history lesson, but it is more than you know! Most of the components in a modern phone were sold to Western Electric by Sylvania! General Telephone put Sylvania’s name on the receivers of the phones on their system from the ’40s through the ’80s. You didn’t see it in Warren but I did in Corry!

It took a court ruling to finally give Nikola Tesla credit for inventing the radio. I’m sure you have never heard of Reginald Fessenden either. He invented Amplitude Modulation, AM to most of us.

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