If he could have kept it, he would have …

mauchly_4The first three series of the John W. Mauchly papers are now available for research!  It feels like ages since I first surveyed the MANY boxes of Mauchly material that were filling my office space on my first day of work here in the SCPC.  I can honestly say, without hesitation, that I have truly enjoyed Dr. Mauchly’s company.

Construction on our processing room and surrounding areas has precipitated the need to temporarily move collection material to safer locations and so the first installment of the finding aid comes a bit earlier than anticipated.

These series cover Dr. Mauchly’s life from childhood to 1959 when he left the Sperry Rand Corporation to start his own company Mauchly Associates, Inc.  So, briefly, this portion of the collection documents:  Mauchly’s childhood in Chevy Chase, Maryland; high school in Washington, DC; Johns Hopkins University for undergraduate and doctoral work; Ursinus College as head of the Physics Department; inventor and teacher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering; and inventor and businessman at Electronic Control Company, Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, and Remington Rand/Sperry Rand.

mauchly_2As I have said in previous posts, I feel like I know the awesome Dr. Mauchly which is why I was so surprised when I discovered how little information there was on the development of the ENIAC. To be sure, not much documentation ≠ Dr. John W. Mauchly (see how math-y I have become?).  The man kept EVERYTHING–I have found every driver’s license he was ever issued; I know how where and how frequently he shopped for books (very frequently); I have found a million documents like the one to the left; and I have even recycled some of his junk mail.  So, why, in the name of all that is holy, WHY would Data Man not keep information about his development of one of the world’s first electronic computers?

P1090046The answer is:  He would have kept it, if he was allowed to.  When I stopped and thought about it, the ENIAC was developed with the United States Army and the War Department during World War II, so almost certainly, the material was classified.  I now have this image in my head of the United States Army (all of it) prying scraps of papers from Dr. Mauchly’s clutching fingers.  It must have been a very sad day for him.

I realize, of course, that researchers will be disappointed when they discover the limited amount of ENIAC material in this collection; but, in my own humble option, this is not the only place that Mauchly’s brilliance lies.  Personally, I am amazed by how the man thought about ways in which this new-fangled “Electronic Brain” could be used by people, businesses, governments, etc.  And once he thought of all the ways the computer could be utilized, then he had to work hard to convince people of their usefulness. When you think that many people walk around everyday with a tiny computer masquerading as a phone in their pocket that is more powerful and more diverse than the ENIAC, it is astonishing that someone (Mauchly) would have to write a document entitled, “Are Computers Newsworthy?”  This collection contains absolutely seminal information about the development of programming, coding, routines, subroutines, you name it, that makes the computer today do what it does.  And the computer today does what it does so seamlessly, that I find it hard to remember that it was not always so easy!

Truly, here is a man who changed our world.  So, next time you pull out your cell phone on a train and: check your email, text message the time of your arrival to a loved one, listen to music, look at a photograph of a friend’s baby that was born in France ten minutes ago, AND ascertain if you will need an umbrella during tomorrow’s commute; please remember to say a little thank you to John W. Mauchly, J. Presper Eckert, and the amazing team of brilliant men and women who worked with them! These people laid the foundation to the modern computer!


2 thoughts on “If he could have kept it, he would have …

  1. For those who want to track down the original ENIAC design documents, I am sure they can find them through government sources. The point here is that they are not among the extensive papers Dr. Mauchly willed to the Library.

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