[SIGCIS-Members] FW: Questions on "Firsts" in personal computing and computer hardware

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Mon Mar 10 16:15:08 PDT 2014

[Forwarded for Giuditta Parolini – Tom]

Da: Giuditta Parolini <giudittaparolini at gmail.com>

Data: 04 marzo 2014 00.49.25 GMT+01.00

A: sigcis <members at SIGCIS.org>

Oggetto: Priority controversies in computer science


Dear List Members,

I am writing with a request of help about priority controversies in the
history of computing. I know it is (luckily) an out-of-date topic among
historians, but unfortunately the appeal of 'firsts' in the popular
discourse on science and technology is still incredibly strong and this
leads to the propagation of unreliable information, from partial truths to
unforgivable lies.


My case is related to Italian computer science and in specific to the
manufacturing of the mainframe Elea 9003 (claimed to be the first full
transistorized commercial computer sold on the market from 1959 onwards) and
the electronic calculator Programma 101 (P101) (presented in 1965 and
claimed to be the first PC). In the last book on the topic, written by a
journalist, you could read section headings such as "The cradle of
informatics is in Italy", "Elea 9003: the Italian people invented the
computer" and sentences such as "In 1975 the PC had already been there for
ten years and it had been invented by an Italian [with reference to the
P101]". The translation is faithful to the Italian original and you can
guess the general standard of the book.


As I am now revising a book manuscript for the general public on Mario
Tchou, the head of the laboratory who developed the mainframe Elea 9003, I
would like to set - for what is possible in a trade book - the record
straight (even against myself who naively wrote that the P101 was a desktop
computer in a conference proceeding). Could you please help me to deal with
these priority controversies?

- What was the first fully transistorized mainframe that was not just a
prototype, but sold on the market in tens? [Some of the candidates seem to
me the IBM 608 (announced 1955, delivered 1957), Philco Transac models
S-1000 and S-2000 (introduced 1957), CDC 1604 (announced 1958), IBM 1401
(announced 1959)]

- Which is the most important aspect for which the P101 was not a PC? [I
would say that it is because it was not 'an information machine', but just a
programmable calculator and so fulfilled only one of the tasks for which
general purpose computers are used]


I would also appreciate very much if you could give me references of
articles or books in which it is spelled out clearly why priority
controversies are detrimental in understanding the history of computer


Let me thank you in advance for any help you can give me.

Best regards,





Giuditta Parolini
Postdoctoral fellow
Berliner Zentrum für Wissensgeschichte and Technische Universität Berlin  

Office address:
Technische Universität Berlin
Institut für Philosophie, Literatur-, Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte
Sekretariat H72
Straße des 17 Juni, 135
10623 Berlin



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