George Stibitz (1904 – 1995)


George R. Stibitz is internationally recognized as the father of the modern digital computer. Stibitz’s interest in computers arose from an assignment in 1937 to study magneto-mechanics of telephone relays.

He turned his attention to the binary circuits controlled by the relays, to the arithmetic operations expressible in binary form.

In November 1937, he constructed of a two-digit binary adder. The next year, with the help of S.B. Williams of Bell Labs, he developed a full-scale calculator for complex arithmetic. This computer was operational late in 1939 and was demonstrated in 1940 by remote control between Hanover, New Hampshire, and New York.

Several binary computers of greater sophistication followed. In these were introduced the excess 3 code, floating decimal arithmetic, self-checking circuits, jump program instructions, taped programs and ‘table-hunting’ subcomputers. He is also responsible for the error-detector which, according to his daughter, he used to gleefully stick toothpicks into a random relay and have the machine locate the problem.

Fun facts:

  • Model “K” (as pictured) received its name because he built it on his kitchen table out of an old breadboard, bulbs, batteries, old tobacco tins and discarded telephone relays.

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