Black and white photo depicting the ENIAC computer.
U.S. Army/Public Domain

Answer: ENIAC

ENIAC, or the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, was the first general-purpose electronic computer. The general-purpose part of the designation hinged on its programmability—rather than being built for a single task, it was built for any task the operator could submit a program for. Although costly, bulky, and arduous to program, the ENIAC platform was enormously valuable to the military and scientific communities.

Even though the design process for the machine started in 1943, the final product wasn’t unveiled to the public until a formal demonstration of its capabilities on February 14, 1946. The demonstration made quite an impression and it was regarded by the press and public as a giant brain and a wonder of design.

ENIAC would prove highly influential in military development and operations where it was used to calculate artillery firing tables and, more famously, to crunch numbers for the Manhattan Project. Despite the program being sponsored by the Ballistic Research Laboratory (and thus the interest in the use of computers for artillery tables), prominent hydrogen bomb researcher John von Neumann enlisted the help of the computer as soon as he became aware of its capabilities. The first calculations run on the machine were for the hydrogen bomb and the total input/output of the operation consisted of a staggering one million punch cards.


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