The trail that led to the design, creation and operation of the first large-scale computer designed for general numerical computations originates with John W. Mauchly. The inspiration for the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC, occurred in the early 1930's when Mauchly, long frustrated with the slow pace of traditional calculators, began thinking of building his own calculating machine. Calculators of the time took approximately ten seconds to complete a computation after the enter button was pressed. He wanted a "machine that could perform the calculations as fast as the numbers could be input" (McCartney). When his idea was realized in 1946, the creation of this calculating machine would forever change the world. To understand and appreciate the legacy Mauchly left behind, we will take a brief look at his life, including his formative years, his education, and his career. .
John Mauchly was born August 30, 1907 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Sebastian and Rachel Mauchly. Sebastian Mauchly had a PhD in physics from the University of Cincinnati and in 1913 the family moved to Washington D.C. when Sebastian was "appointed as head of the Terrestrial Electricity and Magnetism section at the Carnegie Institute" (upenn). The suburb they lived in was an upper middle class community composed of technical elites as it was in close proximity to several "major scientific facilities including the Carnegie Institute and the National Bureau of Standards" (upenn). Mauchly exhibited the signs of having a technical mind set in his adolescent years. As a boy whenever the "neighbors had trouble with the wiring in their houses" (McCartney), they would often call young Mauchly. At the age of 11 he "wired a sensor into one of the steps" (McCartney) of the staircase leading up to his room. When one of his parents stepped on the step, a warning light would blink in Mauchly's room so he would have time to turn out his lights and pretend to be asleep before they opened his door.