DEVCOM ARL Computing History

The U. S. Army is credited with initiating the computer revolution. Few inventions have had as big an impact on our civilization as the computer, and all modern computers are descended from ENIAC, EDVAC, ORDVAC, and BRLESC — all of which were conceived of and built to address pressing Army needs.

ARL’s involvement in modern computing is unparalleled. The laboratory can trace its involvement to the mid 1930s with its predecessor organization, the Ballistics Research Laboratory. Ever since the development of the ENIAC, ARL has provided the Armed Forces with unprecedented scientific computational capabilities. Even today, ARL’s leadership in one of four DoD Supercomputing Resource Centers (DSRCs), located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, is providing scientists and engineers with the computing power they need to help the United States maintaining its technological and military supremacy.

There is a vast repository of documents available concerning ARL’s involvement in modern computing, some of which are available below.

Additionally, the links for Architectural Trends in Scientific Computing and ARL’s Role in Scientific Computing will provide you with a wealth of information. Our purpose in providing this information is twofold:

  • To give credit to the highly skilled and dedicated military and civilian scientists and other workers through whose efforts, together with their counterparts in the private sector, met and solved a great national defense challenge while at the same time giving birth to a technology which would change the world.
  • To ensure that detailed information about and photographs of these early machines not vanish with the passage of time. Due to the ENIAC’s vital role in the design of the hydrogen bomb and in gunnery calculations, much of the design information was originally classified, and few copies of the (now de-classified) reports still exist.

Online Documents

  • “ENIAC: The Army-Sponsored Revolution”, by William T. Moye.
    An executive summary of the history of computing. A complete and concise presentation of the origins of the BRL and the ENIAC, with names, places, and dates. (4 pages)
  • “My Life with the ENIAC – a Worm’s Eye View”, as lived by Harry Reed. Plus “Firing Table Calculations on the ENIAC”.
  • The History of Computing at BRL, by Mike Muuss.
    A chronicle of processors, software, and networking at the U.S. Army Ballistic Research Laboratory, prior to the installation of the ENIAC through 1992. (18 pages)
  • Photographs of Historic Computers
  • The ENIAC Story, by Martin H. Weik.
    The world’s first production electronic digital computer was developed by Army Ordnance to compute World War II ballistic firing tables. This is the story of that computer. (6 pages)
  • Electronic Computers Within the Ordnance Corps, by Karl Kempf.
    This historical monograph covers the pioneer efforts and subsequent contributions of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps in the field of automatic electronic computing systems during the period 1942 through 1961, including pre-electronic computing devices, ENIAC, EDVAC, ORDVAC, and BRLESC. It also discusses the use of computers for solving gunnery problems, and provides a “family tree”of early computers. (140 pages in 7 chapters and 9 appendices)
  • A Report on the ENIAC, by Adele Goldstine, 1946.
    The original technical description of the ENIAC, including diagrams and several (pre-von Neumann) ENIAC “programs”.
  • “A Logical Coding System Applied to the ENIAC”, by R. F. Clippinger. Ballistic Research Laboratories Report No. 673.
    The document describing how the ENIAC was made programmable. “In the Spring of 1947, J. von Neumann suggested to the author that it would be possible to run the ENIAC in a way very different from the way contemplated when it was designed; a way which had very important advantages to be discussed below.” “It is hoped by the author that this report will make the task of coding problems so clear and straightforward that physicists, aerodynamicists, applied mathematicians, etc. with no prior experience with computing machines can code their own problems….” (40 pages)
  • “Computers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School, 1943-1946”, by Herman H. Goldstine
    A description of the people, missions, and personalities that came together in the ENIAC project. Told from the point of view of then-Lieutenant Goldstine who, with the help of his superior officer, sponsored a development program at the Moore School looking toward the production of an electronic digital computer for the BRL. ENIAC was the result. (6 pages)
  • Important ENIAC Dates (1 page)
  • “Colonel Paul Gillon — Grandfather of ENIAC”, by Paul H. Deitz. (2 pages)
  • Dr. John von Neumann at the dedication of the NORD
    Hear von Neumann speaking at the dedication of the Navy’s NORD computer. December 2, 1954. Digitized from a cassette tape provided by Dr. Goldstine.
  • BRL’s Scientific Advisory Committee in 1940 contained such luminaries as Prof. von Neumann, Prof. von Karman, Prof Rabi, COL Zornig, CAPT Simon, Lt. Gillon, Mr. Kentthey were joined later by Hubble and others. (1 photo, 3 scanned letters, 2 pages of text).
  • The Technology Challenge: How Can America Spark Private Innovation? by Vice President Gore. ENIAC Birthday speech delivered at University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia PA, February 14, 1996.
  • The Computer, from Pascal to von Neumann, by Herman H. Goldstine. In 1942, lt. Herman H. Goldstine, a former mathematics professor, was stationed at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania where he assisted in the creaton of the ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer.

Miscellaneous Information

Links to Other Web Sites