Today, we (okay, maybe just ubernerds like me) celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the formal dedication of ENIAC (Electronic Numeric Integrator and Computer), one of the earliest electronic programmable general-purpose computers.
Dubbed the “Giant Brain” in newspaper articles, it cost roughly $487,000 (equivalent to just under $7 million in 2018). It was programmed using patch cords, as seen in the photo.
ENIAC used roughly 18,000 vacuum tubes, which would frequently burn out, requiring round-the-clock maintenance to change tubes. This led to roughly 50% up-time. Later on, engineers were able to reduce the rate of tube failures to an average of once every two days, and by 1954, the longest reported up-time without a tube failure was nearly 5 days in a row.
While we’ve come a long way since then, at least the ENIAC wasn’t vulnerable to being dropped into a puddle, left behind at a restaurant, washed with a pair of jeans, or destroyed by exploding batteries. From that perspective, we may have actually regressed a bit.
Happy Birthday, ENIAC!