The following is an excerpt of a rough draft of the soon-to-be-published book, A Brief History of Computing: The GNU Story.
Following the completion of Vannevar Bush's differential analyzer, the race to build the first digital, all-purpose computer heated-up. Three men approached the finish line simultaneously. Two Americans, John Atasanoff and George Stibitz, were building on the foundation of Babbage, Bush, and others. Atasanoff produced a working prototype of his machine in 1939, with Stibitz completing his shortly after -- in 1940. But German engineer Konrad Zuse would beat them both to the tape.
Beginning in 1934 -- without any knowledge of the work done by Babbage, Bush or any of the others -- Zuse started planning and designing a machine that could perform any mathematical task. Two years later he would quit his job as an engineer, and, with the meager financial support of friends and family, would commence work on his dream in the family living room. By 1938 he would finalize his device, which he came to call the Z1.
The Z1 was fed problems through a keyboard and returned results via flashing light bulbs. Zuse was unhappy with the keyboard approach and built a data feeder from discarded 35-mm film that he encoded with punched-holes -- this precipitated a name change to the Z2.
Copyright © 2013 Russell James
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".