Re: A Day in History of Computer Science - 12/18/95
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 95 11:51:57 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Re: A Day in History of Computer Science - 12/18/95
[Here are three more Konrad Zuse obituaries... -psl]
Forwarded-by: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
From: "J. A. N. Lee" <janlee@VTOPUS.CS.VT.EDU>
Subject: Konrad Zuse
The last of our great pioneers of the 1930's died Monday, December 18.
Konrad Zuse, developer of the Z-1 through Z-4 machines was clearly one
of those who foresaw the development of the computer and did something
about it well before those whom we will acknowledge next year in
Philadelphia. Zuse's image suffered from his location both in geography
and time, since we now know that his work included in an elementary way
many of the features of modern machines.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Zuse on several occasions, the
last at the IFIP World Computer Congress in Hamburg in August 1994 where
he drew standing room only audiences in a conference that was not that
well attended elsewhere. I have only seen one obituary so far, and I am
disappointed that it did not also mention his artistic capoabilities
also. His paintings were magnificent, and his recent portraits of
German computer pioneers (prepared for the IFIP Congress) showed yet
another side of this multi-talented pioneer. I was hoping that we could
attract him to attend the ENIAC celebrations in February next, but sadly
that opportunity os gone.
I for one will miss him. He was always the one with the joke and for
greeting one with humor. I was in a meeting with him the day the Berlin
Wall came down. I asked him what he felt about this, to which he
replied "Now we can get on with our work!"
From: Paul Ceruzzi <NASEM001@SIVM.SI.EDU>
Subject: Konrad Zuse
I learned this morning of the death of Konrad Zuse, at age 85. As many
of you know, Zuse conceived of the notion of a general purpose digital
computer, using binary arithmetic, while a student in Berlin in the
1930s. With the help of his parents and a few friends he set out to
build one in his parents' apartment.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he was released from service
in the German army to work at the Henschel Aircraft Company, where he
was a stress analyst. He continued working on his computing ideas, and
in December 1941 he completed a machine that computed in binary, using
floating point, with a 64-word memory, and which was programmed by paper
tape. This machine is regarded as the first general purpose, functional
digital computer inthe world. It was destroyed during the war. Later on
Zuse gave it the name "Z3," by which it is now known. In 1962 Zuse, now
the head of a commercial computer company, built a reconstruction based
on drawings that did survive. This computer, which I saw in operation at
the Deutsches Museum a few years ago, is now itself one of the oldest
operable computers in the world!
Zuse actively promoted his role as a computer pioneer, and he always
stressed the historical claims of the Z3. I think that he felt less
proud of the fact that he also founded a company, since it did not
survive (it was eventually absorbed by Siemens). My guess is that as
time goes on he may be more remembered for being one of the first
"start-ups" as for his Z3.
Zuse was the last of the "first tier" of computer pioneers: Aiken,
Stibitz, Eckert, Mauchly, Atanasoff, Turing. Incredible to think that so
many of them were alive while all the madness of computering in the past
couple of years has been going on. I knew him personally and will miss
him very much.
From: Brian Randell <Brian.Randell@NEWCASTLE.AC.UK>
Subject: Zuse (resend)
Here is the obituary that appeared in yesterday's Guardian, transcribed in
its entirety (without permission).
PS Still no mention of his painting - incidentally, I possess two pictures
FIRST ON THE DIGITAL TRACK
KONRAD ZUSE, who invented the digltal computer while no one else was
looking, has died in Berlin at the age of 85. He was born in
Berlin-Wilmersdorf and built his first mechanical calculating machine in
his parents' living room between 1936 and 1938.
ln Britain and the US. similar but later developments were supported for
their military significance, but Zuse's work was largely ignored. When he
and his colleagues later proposed the construction of a 2,000-tube computer
for special use in anti-aircraft defence, they were asked how long it would
take. Zuse says they replied: "Around two years.'' The response to this
was: "And just how long do you think it'll take us to win the war?"
Zuse started to develop his ideas about computing in 1934, a year before he
graduated from the Technische Hochschule with a degree in civil
engineering. He then went to work for the Henschel aircraft company as a
design engineer or statiker. This involved solving tedious linear
equations, which stimulated Zuse to apply his ideas and try to build a
system to solve them automatically.
His first machine, the Vl (with hindsight renamed the Zl) was made of pins
and steel plates, but it represented two dramatic advances. First. it was a
general purpose machine, whereas most calculating machines were dedicated
to specific tasks. Second, it used binary (on/off or stop/start) numbers
instead of decimal ones, as Babbage's far earlier machines had done. This
made Zuse's machine far, easier to construct, although it was to remain
Although both decisions seem obvious now, they were far from obvious at the
time. Zuse's choice of a general purpose approach was based on his
separation of the different elements: an arithmetic unit to do the
calculations, a memory for storing numbers, a control system to supervise
operations, plus input and output stages. This is still the basis of modern
Babbage had taken the same line 100 years earlier with his analytical
engine. but it proved too difficult to build. Zuse succeeded partly because
he chose the binary numbering system instead of using decimals. Binary
means counting in twos, which is far more long-winded than counting in
tens. However, to count in twos you only need an on/off switch, which is
very much easier to construct than the 10-position decimal equivalent. Each
operation mav not do much work. but the speed of the simpler switching
operation makes up for it.
Of course, mechanical switches are still somewhat primitive, and Zuse
started to replace bulky mechanical ones in Z1 with second-hand
electro-magnetic relays - the switches used in telephone systems. At the
time. Zuse's college friend. Helmut Schreyer. "suddenly had the bright idea
of using vacuum tubes. At first I thought it was one of his student
pranks." Vacuum tubes, or valves, would work the same way but work at least
a thousand times faster. Zuse was soon convinced it was the right
approach, and this led to the design of the Z3, which was probably the
first operational, general-purpose, programmable computer.
Zuse sold the idea to the Aerodynamics Research Institute, and set up a
l5-man company to construct it. The machine was completed by December 1941,
though it was later destroyed by Allied bombing As Zuse recailed, the
"construction of the Z3 was interrupted in 1939 when I was called up for
military service. However, in my spare time, and with the help of friends,
I was able to complete the machine."
Only one of Zuse's computers survived the war: the Z4. This was started in
1942, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to find parts, and in
1943,. the Berlin blitz began. The machine was moved around the city to
avoid air raids, and then moved to Gottingen, before finally being shifted
to Hinterstein, a small village in. Bavaria. After the end of the war, the
Z4 was moved to Zurich in Switzerland, and in 1950, this Ziffernrechner,
or number calculator, was insta!led at the Federal Polytechncal Institute.
Zuse's developments attracted the attention of IBM which seemed mainly
interested in his patents - and Remington Rand, amongst others, but
discussions came to nothing. ln 1949, he founded his own computer company,
Zuse KG, which developed a line of Z computers. and eventually employed
about 1,000 people. However, short of capital, he gradually sold out to
Siemens, the giant industrial conglomerate.and devoted himself to research.
In later life, Zuse received many honours. and in 1984 a research
institute, the Konrad Zuse Centre for Information Technology (ZIB) was
named after him. A copy of his first programme-controlled
electro-mechanical digital computer, the Z3, was made in 1960 and put on
display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. A copy of the Zl was constructed
in 1989, and can be found in the Museum for Transport and Technology in
Konrad Zuse, scientist and inventor, born June 2, 1910 died December 18, 1995.
© 1995 Peter Langston