harvard mark ii machine

Harvard Mark II

The Harvard Mark II was an electromechanical computer built at Harvard University under the direction of Howard Aiken and was finished in 1947. It was financed by the United States Navy.

The Mark II was constructed with high-speed electromagnetic relays instead of electro-mechanical counters used in the Mark I, making it much faster than its predecessor. Its addition time was 125,000 microseconds and the multiplication time was 750,000 microseconds. (This was a factor of 2.6 and a factor 8 faster, respectively, compared to the Mark I.) It was the second machine (after the Bell Labs Relay Calculator) to have floating-point hardware. A unique feature of the Mark II is that it had built-in hardware for several functions such as the reciprocal, square root, logarithm, exponential, and some trigonometric functions. These took between five and twelve seconds to execute.

The Mark II was not a stored-program computer – it read an instruction of the program one at a time from a tape and executed it (like the Mark I). This separation of data and instructions is known as the Harvard architecture. The Mark II had a peculiar programming method that was devised to ensure that the contents of a register were available when needed. The tape containing the program could encode only eight instructions, so what a particular instruction code meant depended on when it was executed. Each second was divided up into several periods, and a coded instruction could mean different things in different periods. An addition could be started in any of eight periods in the second, a multiplication could be started in any of four periods of the second, and a transfer of data could be started in any of twelve periods of the second. Although this system worked, it made the programming complicated, and it reduced the efficiency of the machine somewhat.

The Mark II ran some realistic test programs in July 1947. It was delivered to the US Navy Proving Ground at Dahlgren, Virginia in 1947 or 1948.

First computer bug

Usage of the term "bug" to describe inexplicable defects has been a part of engineering jargon for many decades; it may have originally been used in hardware engineering to describe mechanical malfunctions. For instance, the term was used by Thomas Edison, and also to describe radar electronics problems during World War II.

The first "documented" computer bug was a moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, 9 September 1947. Grace Hopper affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found."



  • Michael R. Williams (1997). A History of Computing Technology. IEEE Computer Society Press. ISBN 0-8186-7739-2.

Search another word or see harvard mark ii machineon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature