Cover image for Howard Aiken : portrait of a computer pioneer
Howard Aiken : portrait of a computer pioneer
Cohen, I. Bernard, 1914-2003.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, MA : MIT Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xx, 329 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library QA76.2.A35 C65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Howard Hathaway Aiken (1900-1973) was a major figure of the early digital era. He is best known for his first machine, the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator or Harvard Mark I, conceived in 1937 and put into operation in 1944. He also made contributions to the development of applications for the new machines and to the creation of a university curriculum for computer science.

Author Notes

Born in Far Rockaway, New York, I. Bernard Cohen earned degrees from Harvard University. He holds the distinction of being the first person in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in the history of science. Later, Cohen established the History of Science Department at Harvard.

Cohen has received many fellowships and has won the George Sarton Medal, awarded by the History of Science Society. Cohen is an author and editor, known for his books about Sir Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Cohen's excellent book on Howard Aiken, together with its companion Makin' Numbers, reveals the tremendous contribution Aiken made to early computing at Harvard. The architecture (to use a modern term) of his enormous mechanical decimal machine, the Mark I, is largely attributable to Aiken, while the ingenious hardware was supplied by IBM Corporation. The success of this machine, with the attendant publicity, sparked the interest of others and led to the development of the computer industry. Aiken went on to construct another three machines of improved type and established a curriculum at Harvard that became a model for other computer science programs. Suitable for general readers and undergraduates through professionals. Fascinating and well written, Makin' Numbers also makes very enjoyable reading. This volume explains more about the mathematical techniques used to enable a purely mechanical computer to carry out complicated mathematical processes, and it relates the experiences of the first programmers, such as Grace Hopper and Richard Bloch, as they worked to understand and control their enormous machine. These excellent books will help to open the minds of students to alternative methods of solving problems. The reminiscences of the many people who worked with Aiken at Harvard give a picture of what it was like to work and study under his influence. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. D. A. Dobbin Maine Maritime Academy

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
The Names "ASCC" and "Mark I"p. xix
1 Introduction to a Pioneerp. 1
2 Early Life and Educationp. 9
3 A Harvard Graduate Studentp. 21
4 First Steps Toward a New Type of Calculating Machinep. 33
5 An Unsuccessful Attempt to Get the Machine Builtp. 39
6 Seeking Support from IBMp. 45
7 The Proposal for an Automatic Calculating Machinep. 53
8 Aiken's Background in Computing and Knowledge of Babbage's Machinesp. 61
9 Planning and Beginning the Construction of the Machinep. 73
10 How to Perform Multiplication and Division by Machinep. 87
11 Construction of the Machinep. 95
12 Installing the ASCC/Mark I in Cambridge and Transferring It to the Navyp. 109
13 Aiken at the Naval Mine Warfare Schoolp. 115
14 The Dedicationp. 121
15 The Aftermathp. 131
16 Some Features of Mark Ip. 147
17 Programming and Staffing, Wartime Operation, and the Implosion Computationsp. 159
18 The Mystery of the Number 23p. 169
19 Tables of Bessel Functionsp. 177
20 Aiken's Harvard Program in Computer Sciencep. 185
21 Later Relations between Aiken and IBMp. 197
22 Aiken at Harvard, 1945-1961p. 201
23 Life in the Comp Labp. 215
24 Retirement from Harvardp. 227
25 Businessman and Consultantp. 231
26 A Summing Upp. 237
A The Harvard News Releasep. 249
B Aiken's Talk at the Dedicationp. 253
C Aiken's Memorandum Describing the Harvard Computation Laboratoryp. 263
D The Stored Program and the Binary Number Systemp. 269
E Aiken's Three Later Machinesp. 275
F How Many Computers Are Needed?p. 283
G The NSF Computer Treep. 295
H Who Invented the Computer? Was Mark I a Computer?p. 297
I The Harvard Computation Laboratory during the 1950sp. 305
Sourcesp. 309
Indexp. 325

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