John Atanasoff - The Man Who Invented the Computer
Few would deny that the invention of the computer has revolutionized society or that the world of today would look quite different without computers. In the relatively short span of time that has elapsed since the world's first electronic digital computer was invented in 1939, computers have become universal tools that are an integral part of modern life. Yet, comparatively few people know that John Atanasoff, the genius who invented the first computer and initiated the computer revolution, was of Bulgarian ancestry. John Atanasoff was a prominent American inventor who took pride in his Bulgarian heritage and maintained strong ties to his ancestral home of Bulgaria.
John Atanasoff's father, Ivan Atanasoff, was born in the village of Boyadjick, Bulgaria. Ivan Atanasoff had lost his own father in 1876, when the latter was brutally killed in the April Uprising of the Bulgarians against the Ottoman Empire. In 1889, when Ivan Atanasoff was thirteen years old, he emmigrated to the United States accompanied by an uncle. He later married Iva Lucena, a mathematics teacher. John Vincent Atanasoff was born in the town of Hamilton, New York on October 4, 1903. After John's birth, the Atanasoff family moved a number of times as Ivan Atanasoff sought better employment in several different electrical engineering positions. They eventually settled in Brewster, Florida, where John completed grade school. The Atanasoff home in Brewster was the first house the family had lived in that was equipped with electricity. By age nine, John had taught himself how to repair faulty electric wiring and light fixtures on their back-porch.
It was recognized early that John Atanasoff had both a passion and talent for mathematics. His youthful interest in baseball was quickly forgotten once his father showed him the logarithmic slide rule he had bought for facilitating engineering calculations. The slide rule completely captivated the nine-year-old boy, who spent hours studying the instructions and delighting in the fact that this mathematical tool consistently resulted in correct solutions to problems. Young John's obsession with the slide rule soon led to a series of discoveries on the logarithmic principles underlying slide rule operation and, subsequently, to a study of trigonometric functions. It was not long before the gifted youth had achieved substantial progress in his math studies. At this time John's mother introduced him to counting systems and number bases other than base ten, including an introduction to the binary system which would prove important in his later work.
John Atanasoff completed his high school course in two years, with excellence in both science and mathematics. He had decided to become a theoretical physicist, and with that goal in mind, entered the University of Florida in Gainesville in 1921. Because the university curriculum did not offer degrees in physics, John began his undergraduate studies in the electrical engineering program. The knowledge of electronics and higher math that John acquired as an electrical engineering student would later prove fortuitous in helping to transform the theory of the computer into a working reality
In 1970 John Atanasoff was invited to Bulgaria by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and the Bulgarian Government conferred to him the Cyrille and Methodius Order of Merit First Class. This was his first public recognition, and it was awarded to him three years before similar honors were conferred to him in the United States. The credit for this timely recognition of Atanasoff's achievement should be given to the Bulgarian academicians, Blaghovest Sendov, Ph.D. and Kyrille Boyannov, Ph.D., among others. During his lifetime, the highest honor and recognition awarded to John Vincent Atanasoff, the Father of the Computer, was the National Medal of Science and Technology, conferred to him by George H. W. Bush in 1990
"To My Fahterland" by John Atanasoff:
"Devoting this version of my memoirs to the people of my fatherland, I feel great excitement. I need to tell my Bulgarian readers too many things but words do not come easily.
My father was born on January 6, 1876, at the time of the preparation of our people for an uprising against the Turks. Before the outbreak of the uprising, the Turkish governors forced the people of the village of Boyadjik (present Boyadjik, Yambol Region) to leave their houses and then they burnt them. As my grandfather ran with his son in his hands, followed by my grandmother, a group of Turkish soldiers shot him in the chest. The bullet, which killed him, left a scar on the forehead of my father for the rest of his life.
My grandmother married twice more after that. My father was 13 years old when he arrived in the United States and at 15 he became an orphan. After this incredible start in his life, he finished the Colgate University and married my mother, an American whose grandfather fought in the Civil War between the North and the South. My father wanted to take his wife and children to Bulgaria but he did not succeed.
I have always felt that the heritage of the two peoples in my blood has kept my spirit. And now, as I am growing old, I am even happier for my good fortune. My father's people have met me warmly and have given me a high prize the Cyrille and Methodius Order (First Class). I was elected a foreign member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and I am in touch with many friends in Bulgaria."
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