Before anyone had invented computers, two visionaries, John Mauchly and Presper Eckert, recognized their immense potential. They had to place a bet on the best way to get their imminent invention to market.
“We felt that the time was at hand when commercial development of electronic computing machines was going to be done—if not by us, by someone else,” Mauchly wrote to a friend.
IBM’s Thomas Watson Sr., curious but not sold on computing, infamously uttered, “The world will only need five or six computers.” Even so, he tried to hire the pair in 1946. But Mauchly distrusted IBM because he felt the company gouged people who needed punch-card machines. Both men decided they could do better on their own.
Armed with grants from the U.S. Bureau of Standards, and joined by pioneering coder Grace Hopper, they invented the world’s first computer, which in a few years would be folded into Univac, the first commercially viable machine, in 1951.
“We got together and we did this thing,” Eckert said, “and I don’t think either of us would have done it by ourselves.”
— Adapted from ENIAC, Scott McCartney, Walker & Co.