Since 2011 historians of computing Thomas Haigh, Mark Priestley and Crispin Rope have been immersed in a project to explore the history of ENIAC, the world’s first general purpose electronic digital computer. We began by probing ENIAC’s use to run the first computerized Monte Carlo calculations on behalf of Los Alamos, simulating the proliferation of neutrons in the core of a nuclear weapon at the instant of detonation. To support this project, ENIAC was converted to a new control method introduced in John von Neumann’s 1945 “First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC”. In April 1948 it became the first computer to run a program written in what we call the “modern code paradigm.” Planning for the new control method and the evolution of the design of the Monte Carlo programs are both exceptionally well documented in various archives, giving a unique window into the development of early programming practices.
Our initial investigation yielded a trilogy of articles for publication in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing and several supporting technical documents giving a full annotation of the Monte Carlo code.
- Thomas Haigh, Mark Priestley & Crispin Rope, “Reconsidering The Stored Program Concept” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 36:1(January-March 2014): 4-17.
- Thomas Haigh, Mark Priestley & Crispin Rope, “Engineering ‘The Miracle of the ENIAC’: Implement the Modern Code Paradigm” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 36:2 (April-June 2014):41-59.
- Thomas Haigh, Mark Priestley & Crispin Rope, “Los Alamos Bets On ENIAC: Nuclear Monte Carlo Simulations 1947-48” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 36:3 (July-September 2014):42-63.
In 2013 we began work on the next major phase of the project. ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer was published by MIT Press in January 2016. This expands the scope of our earlier research to cover the entire history of ENIAC, from early planning work in 1942 through its final shutdown in 1955 and into its afterlife as a source of relics and parables.