Biography of Konrad Zuse (1910-1995)

German engineer, born in the District of Wilmersdorf on June 22, 1910 and died in Huenfeld in 1995. He/She is considered the inventor of the first fully functional digital electronic computer, known as Z3 (1941). In addition, he/she was the first to develop a computer language and introduce the binary numbering system in the construction of computers.

While time would make him the inventor of the first digital computer, Zuse first steps at the University level were not related to electronics engineering. He/She began to study civil engineering in 1927, at the Technical University of Berlin-Charlottenburg, but before graduating he/she changed up on three occasions of discipline. Zuse didn't devote himself to engineering or painting, that, from a young age, was one of his greatest passions. When finally he/she opted for engineering not left side art. The sale of his pictures served to afford college. In 1935 obtained the title of civil engineer and joined, almost immediately, the aeronautical company Henschel Flugzeugwerke, which carried out design practices. At that time the idea to build a machine that would facilitate the work of calculation in the scientific world already was around his head. One of the things that most hated of his profession was routine and the loss of time which meant having to make countless mathematical calculations.

The first notes about the necessity of creating a computer dating, in the diaries of Zuse, in 1934. The biggest problem with that was was their lack of knowledge of electronics and transmission. In those years were carried out in United States studies about computing, but Zuse had not the slightest reference on them. His idea was not perfect the archaic mechanical calculators based on the decimal system, but designing a machine that exceeds more than to these calculators. There was some discussion about the paternity of the computer, since some authors considered that the inventor was Zuse, whereas others gave the authorship to the American Howard H. Aiken. However, it has been definitely established that the machine developed by the latter, known as Harvard Mark 1, was designed and assembled between the years 1939 and 1944, while Zuse, in 1943, had fully completed the Z1, the Z2 and Z3, which would be the final prototype of the computer.

Zuse designed the first computer and its logical plan in 1936. This machine gave it the name of V1, though later he/she would change it is by Z1. Much of the work developed in the living room of his house, between 1936 and 1938, since it did not have enough money to rent a warehouse. Zuse was obsessed with the idea that computers should be able to be programmed in a free way, which meant that they were able to read and understand a sequence of instructions. This first prototype of computer was very primary, since it was not used transmitters, but a series of very thin sheet metal that Zuse, together with his assistants, had created and assembled with absolute precision. In addition, I had a power unit formed by a small motor, and its memory was formed into blocks and composed by sixty-four words, each containing twenty-two bits. A copy of this first binary digital computer has been demonstrated at the Museum für Verkehr und Technik ('Museum of transport and technology') of Berlin.

The Z1 was fully functional in 1938, within its logical limitations. Zuse, to see the success that had, put more effort in the design and construction of what would be its second prototype, Z2 computer. This new machine was an evolution of the previous one, since it used the same memory, but it featured a total of eight hundred transmitters. Zuse got this amount of transmitters in telephone companies - where they are not already used-. With them he/she could build the arithmetic and control units. When it was found that the use of transmitters was little beneficial to invention, until the first world war burst, it began the construction of the Z3, which was completed in 1941.

Although in 1940 Zuse had founded his own company in Berlin, Zuse Apparatebau, for the development of their machines, restrictions that ensued with the war forced him to accept the particular financing of his friends, as well as the financial contribution of the nazi Government. Despite the hardships to which the population was subject, Zuse completed its prototype in 1941, so the Z3 became the first fully functional digital electronic computer.

Zuse realized that the machine could be improved, but that, despite this, he/she had put the bases for the development of the modern computer. It was clear that his next project, the Z4, should mark the guideline for the further development of this type of equipment. But the shelling by troops Allied on Berlin were a major setback for Zuse, since they destroyed the first three machines, the Z1, the Z2 and the Z3. He/She also lost much of their designs and photographs of machines. Over time, Zuse decided to rebuild their first computers, this has allowed that the Z3 is today in the Deutsches Museum in Berlin.

Shortly before the end of the war, Zuse was found with a company destroyed by bombs and the only consolation have been able to save the Z4, the most sophisticated of its machines. Given the turn taken by the events of the second world war, and to understand how dangerous stay in Berlin, he/she decided to move to Gottinga with your machine. There continued his work in the laboratory of the Aerodynamische Versuchanstalt ('Experimental Aerodynamics Institute'). But neither Gottinga delivered from Allied bombing, so Zuse had to move back to a small village in Bavaria called Hinterstein. There could end its construction task in 1946 after four years of its inception, long after what had been foreseen initially. Machine, much more sophisticated than the previous ones, was the first computer designed to be produced in series. However, its production was stalled by the economic consequences of the war. In the year 1950 Zuse decided to the functionality of the computer should be tested in any scientific institution, so sent it to eidgenössisch Technische Hochschule ('Polytechnic Federal Institute') of Zurich. The machine successfully tested there and was used by that same institution and by the Institute of applied mathematics of the Swiss city until 1955.

In 1949, Zuse was established in the town of Neukirchen, where again found their company's computers, now with the name of Zuse KG. Initially had several partners, but later decided to set up a family business in which only involve his wife. The Foundation of the company was certainly relevant, being the first German company dedicated to the mass production of computers. In 1957 Zuse had to move the factory to Bad Hersfeld, already that the former was left him small. His research focused on those moments, in the development of a programming language for your computer. The sophisticated program that created, called Plankalkül, applied numerical calculation for pure States and used the rules of mathematical logic. While the final version of the programme was already finished in 1946, was not published until 1972 at the Gesellschaft für Mathematik und Datenverarbeitung. Zuse referred to their programs like Rechenplans ('computer plans') and with them came even to create a computer game of chess.

From 1949 and until 1964 Zuse was engaged fully in the development of their factory, as he/she encountered the problem of obtaining patents on their own machines, destroyed during the second world war. This forced him to rebuild the Z3, the most important of computers, between 1960-1961, since this was the matrix for the following. With patent wanted to secure the rights to the machines that were built in Germany and the rest of the world, and so had to prove that they were functional when they were destroyed. The reconstruction of the machine had five metres long, two high and eighty centimetres wide. However, the German Patent Court did not fail until the year 1967, and when it did, was not in his favor, so Zuse lost an important source of income. The delay of the Court ruling prevented him from cope with debts that had shrunk and not was obliged to sell his company to Siemens AG, where he/she was awarded a post of Director, which he/she held until 1969. Despite the setback that was the judgment of the courts, the scientific world recognized Zuse as the inventor of the first automatic digital computer fully functional.

Since Zuse turned in painting and writing his autobiography. Since 1964 and until 1970 he/she exhibited in some of the most important galleries of German under the pseudonym of Kuno See, since he/she did not want that his painting is dealing with their inventions in the world of engineering. He/She completed the writing of his autobiography in 1970. In it he/she stated, in a metaphorical way, that the universe consisted of millions of micro-computers working in parallel.

The importance of Zuse in the field of engineering and science in general was reflected in the numerous academic awards he/she received throughout his life. In 1965 was awarded the Siemens award in Germany, the most important technological award in the country and one of the most significant in the world. That same year received, in Las Vegas, the Harry Goode Memorial Award along with Stibitz. Also, Zuse was invested doctor honoris causa by many German and European universities (Hamburg, 1970;) Dresden, 1981; Reykiavick, 1986; Dortmund, 1991; Siena, 1992; ETH Zurich, 1991). Today day exists in Berlin Konrad Zuse Zentrum für Informationstechnik, dedicated to scientific computing. In 1999, Zuse was named posthumous member of the Computer History Center in Mountain View (California).

Links on the Internet; page dedicated to the life and works of Zuse (in English).; Official website of Konrad Zuse Zentrum für Informationstechnik Berlin (ZIB) (in German and English).; page dedicated to the life and Zuse projects (in German and English).; page dedicated to his life and projects (in German).; page dedicated to his life and work (in English).