Howard Hathaway Aiken (March 8, 1900 – March 14 1973) was a pioneer in computing, being the primary engineer behind IBM's Harvard Mark I computer.
He studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
and later obtained his Ph.D.
in physics at Harvard University
in 1939. During this time, he encountered differential equations
that he could only solve numerically. He envisioned an electro-mechanical computing device that could do much of the tedious work for him. This computer was originally called the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC) and later renamed Harvard Mark I
. With help from Grace Hopper
and funding from IBM
, the machine was completed in 1944. In 1947, Aiken completed his work on the Harvard Mark II
computer. He continued his work on the Mark III
and the Harvard Mark IV
. The Mark III used some electronic components and the Mark IV was all-electronic. The Mark III and Mark IV used magnetic drum
memory and the Mark IV also had magnetic core memory
Aiken was inspired by Charles Babbage's Difference Engine. He is supposed to have said (in 1947): "Only six electronic digital computers would be required to satisfy the computing needs of the entire United States." This remark is also attributed to Thomas J. Watson, but was probably said by neither.
In 1958 he received the UW-Madison College of Engineering Engineers Day Award, in 1964 he received the Harry H. Goode Memorial Award, and in 1970, Aiken received IEEE's Edison Medal 'For a meritorious career of pioneering contributions to the development and application of large-scale digital computers and important contributions to education in the digital computer field.'
Howard Aiken was also an Officer in the United States Navy Reserve.
He retired to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and died on March 14 1973 during a trip to St. Louis, Missouri.