The first programmable, digital computer
The German civil engineer Konrad Zuse is considered the inventor of the first digital and programmable computers – a feat he first accomplished in 1938, long before anyone else.
|Engineer and inventor Konrad Zuse|
Bored by having to do routine calculations, at the age of 28, Zuse (TSOO-zuh) invented the world’s first mechanical binary digital computer, the Z1 in Berlin during 1936-1938. After that, he went on to develop three more improved electronic models before 1949, culminating with the Z4, considered the world’s first programmable, digital computer. Later Z-series devices went all the way up to the Graphomat Z64 punch-card-controlled plotter, Zuse’s last machine in 1961.
Much like the founders of Apple Computer many decades later, Zuse put together his first computer in the kitchen of his parents’ Berlin apartment. Among its remarkable features, the Z1 had a keyboard for data input and flashing lights to indicate results. A restored but non-functional Z1 is on display in the German Technology Museum (Deutsches Technikmuseum) in Berlin.
|A restored model of Konrad Zuse’s Z1 computer (1938) at Berlin’s German Technology Museum.|
|Konrad Zuse is one of 150 “information pioneers” chosen by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. BCS selected people who have helped to shape the information society that we live in today. Other IT pioneers selected include Albert Einstein and Hedy Lamarr. Learn more at the Information Pioneers site.|
The Computer Museum History Center in Mountain View, California issued the following statement in 1998, when it made an exception to its bylaws in order to honor Zuse: “In 1941, Konrad Zuse created the first fully-automated, program-controlled, and freely-programmable computer for binary floating-point calculations, and later, the basic programming system, Plankalkül. His contributions were so striking, and made under such adversity, that the History Center has made an exception to its usual practice and named him a Fellow posthumously.“
Zuse could also be considered the world’s first founder of a computer startup company. In October 1946 he established the Ingenieurbüro Hopferau. According to his son, Horst, the venture capital came from a contract with IBM and the rental of the Z4 computer in Switzerland. Later Zuse would found Zuse KG in Neukirchen (1949), which was bought up by Siemens AG in 1966.
Zuse married Gisela Brandes in January 1945. Today Horst Zuse, the eldest of Zuse’s five children, is a professor at Berlin’s Technische Universität, where his father studied. (See Horst’s website below.)
Konrad Zuse predicted that a computer would one day beat the world chess champion. Just two years after the inventor’s death, the IBM supercomputer known as “Big Blue” defeated Garry Kasparov in a six-game match in 1997.
MORE > Famous Germans
- GW Expat Blog: Information Pioneers Hedy Lamarr and Konrad Zuse - What did these two people have in common?
- Famous Germans, Austrians and Swiss
- Famous Graves - The graves and cemeteries of the famous
- Zuse-Jahr 2010 - 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of Zuse's birth in Berlin in 1910 (site in English and German).
- Die Z3 und Z4 von Konrad Zuse - About the Zuse computer replicas at the Deutsches Museum in Munich - with photos (in German)
- Zuse Institute Berlin (ZIB) - ZIB is a research institute for applied mathematics and computer science. This site is in English and German and also includes a Zuse bio.
- www.zuse.org - A site by his son, Dr.-Ing. Horst Zuse (in German and English)
- Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin - Celebrates the Der erste Computer – Konrad Zuse - Also in English.
- Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California
- Konrad Zuse - biography
- Konrad Zuse Computermuseum in Hoyerswerda, Germany (in German)
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