Dr. J. Presper Eckert



John Presper Eckert was born April 9, 1919 in Philadelphia, PA.  Eckert Jr. attended the William Penn Carter School in Germanstown where he demonstrated great mathematical abilities. He left the Penn charter School in 1937 and began his studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering .   Receiving his B.S. in 1941, Eckert continued at the Moore School as an instructor and graduate student.  In 1943 Eckert received his M.S.  His Ph.D. would have to wait until he received an honorary D.Sc. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1964.   

Eckert's instructorship was in the Moore School's defense training program which attempted to train scientist in how best to direct their research towards the war effort.  Eckert meet John Mauchly ,a physics Ph.D., as Mauchly's instructor in a defense training class.  Eckert and Mauchly became friends and would often discuss with enthusiasm Mauchly's notion of an electronic  computer.  Eckert left the Moore School to work on various projects at MIT including measuring metal fatigue using UV light and measuring radar pulse echo times to within one hundredth of a microsecond. Mauchly in the interim wrote and received approval for the construction of his computer.  Eckert returned to the Moore school in 1943, and accepted the position of chief engineer for the Electronic Integrator and Computer (ENIAC).  In this position Eckert focused upon the design of ENIAC's electronic circuits.  The main difficulty Eckert faced was to develop a valve resilient enough so that a machine with 18000 valves could function long enough to complete a computation.  Eckert eventually developed valves with a lifetime of approximately 2500 hours, which was sufficient to make the computer practical.  

Mauchly and Eckert completed ENIAC in 1946.  1946 also marked the departure of Eckert and Mauchly from the Moore School.  The two formed the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, of which Eckert was vice president.  The two were better scientist than businessmen, introducing magnetic tape memory in their first computer, but eventually selling their company to the Remington Rand a division of Sperry Rand despite having a contract to build UNIVAC computers for the census department.  Eckert stayed on and was eventually appointed vice president for the Remington Rand Division, a post he held from 1955  to 1962.  He likewise oversaw the company become UNIVAC and later UNISYS.   He retired from UNISYS in 1989, though continued to function as a consultant.  He died June 3rd 1995.


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