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Pres Eckert Compares and Evaluates Digital Computer Memory Systems

Pres Eckert c. 1950-59
Pres Eckert, photo taken circa 1950-1959.

About 1999 when I acquired the Pres Eckert papers I acquired a typescript of a long lecture that Eckert gave on March 12, 1952 comparing and evaluating digital computer memory systems. Eckert was the inventor in 1947 of the mercury delay line memory, which, along with the Williams tube CRT memory, was one of the first two electronic memories that enabled the creation of the first generation of stored program electronic computers. This speech was probably the first to document Eckert’s focus on computer memory—his primary research interest. The speech includes a historical survey of early digital computer memory systems, including that developed by computer pioneer John Atanasoff for his special-purpose ABC computer, which Eckert described as “probably the first example of what might generally be termed regenerative memory” [f. 7]). Eckert also discussed several types of then-current memory systems such as delay-line, electrostatic, magnetic drum, ferro-magnetic core, and ferro-electric cell. Eckert later adapted some of this speech into his 1953 paper, “A survey of digital computer memory systems,” Proceedings of the IRE, October 1953.

The existence of Atanasoff’s ABC computer—developed in Iowa before World War II, but never properly operational—eventually became one of the crucial pieces of evidence invalidating Eckert and Mauchly’s ENIAC patent. In this relatively early paper Eckert acknowledged his familiarity with Atanasoff’s efforts; later, when embroiled in the ENIAC patent disputes, he denied that Atanasoff’s work had any influence on his own. Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace 1183.

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