Mathematics and Computer Science
The First Computer - Konrad Zuse and the Dawn of the Information Age
The world’s first computers were built in Berlin. Many people are surprised by this, since the United States of America is generally viewed as the birthplace of the digital revolution.
In fact, the information age can be said to have begun in the 1930s, within walking distance of the German Museum of Technology. In Berlin-Kreuzberg, the inventor Konrad Zuse built the world’s first computers. On the occasion of his hundredth birthday, the museum’s Department of Computing and Automation is presenting a newly conceived permanent exhibition: in the space of roughly 300 square meters (over 3000 square feet), the life and work of Konrad Zuse are presented in six thematic units and placed in the context of the worldwide history of technology.
- The Z1 - the world’s first computer
- Computer construction during World War II - Zuse and his inventions, 1939–1945
- Zuse KG - the history of a West German enterprise
- The inventor Konrad Zuse - from the first chess program to the helical tower
- The artist Konrad Zuse
- Milestones in the history of computing
Furthermore, young people can learn about the fundamentals of computing in a hands-on area constructed especially for them.
The Z1, the World’s First Computer
In seeking to automate burdensome engineering calculations, the then twenty-six-year-old engineer Konrad Zuse developed a fully programmable mechanical calculating machine: the Z1, the world’s first computer.
The machine operated with binary semilogarithmic floating-point numbers - something completely new - and the programs were developed using Boolean algebra.
The original Z1 was destroyed in a bombing raid over Berlin. In 1989, Konrad Zuse reconstructed the Z1 for the German Museum of Technology.
Computer Construction in Wartime
From 1939, Konrad Zuse began to improve his computers significantly with regard to their functionality and reliability. He developed the electromechanical computers Z3 and Z4 and began work on the world’s first higher programming language, which he called "Plankalkül." The exhibition places Zuse’s inventions in the context of their time and makes clear that while the war made Zuse’s work on computers more difficult, Zuse also profited from National Socialist military contracts.
Imaginative Entrepreneur and Talented Artist
The inventor Zuse was also an imaginative entrepreneur and talented artist. He founded the world’s first computer company. In the exhibition are to be seen all the important computers developed by Zuse KG in the context of the firm’s history. Also on view is another side of the brilliant inventor: his abstract and expressive paintings.
Hits with Bits
The numerous Zuse computers with their relays, vacuum tubes, and transistors make one curious about the construction of machines in the pioneering days of the computer. Multimedia installations and hands-on areas for young people allow for active involvement with the fundamentals of modern computer technology. The often puzzling nature of the computer, its hidden internal life, so to speak, is made tangible and comprehensible.
The Domain of the Department: Information Processing and Automation
The origin of the word computing can be found in the Latin verb putare, to think or consider. This etymology should remind us that computing is much more than mere numerical calculation; it is a process by which we consider given data, operating on it according to certain rules to obtain new results. Aids to calculation can be found in the earliest advanced cultures from more than 6000 years ago. The automation of work processes also began in ancient times. The first calculating machines were created in the seventeenth century, and the first computer in 1936.
Our lives today are unimaginable without automated processes and computers. The rapid development of computer technology has altered our lives fundamentally. It is a source of both great optimism and great insecurity. Public debates about data security and Internet censorship make clear that many challenges face the modern information society.
International symposium in the Museum of Technology on November 10 and 11, 2011
- GMTB-Press and media service (in German)
- Vita of Konrad Zuse (in German) [PDF, 38 kB]
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- Exhibit of the month November 2012: GDR Self-Assembly Computer Z 1013 from 1987
- Slide show by wissen.ARD.de (in German)