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Konrad Zuse

Born: 22-Jun-1910
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: 18-Dec-1995
Location of death: Hünfeld, Germany
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Engineer, Inventor, Computer Programmer

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: Built first Turing-complete computer

Military service: German Army (1939)

Konrad Zuse had no background in electronics, but he designed and built the first computers. Born in Germany, he majored in civil engineering in college, then went to work at the Henschel Aviation Company. His job required what seemed to him endless mathematical calculations, all of which he had to conduct by hand on paper. At the time, mechanical calculators were available but expensive, and designed for statistical, accounting, and business applications. Zuse envisioned a more flexible machine that could be adapted to mathematical and engineering tasks, and decided that at its most elemental form, such a machine could perform virtually limitless calculations if everything the machine needed to know was expressed as a series of yes/no data bits the beginnings of binary or bit manipulation. "You could say that I was too lazy to calculate", Zuse later said, "and so I invented the computer".

Beginning in 1934 and completed in 1938, working in his parents' living room using scrap wire and salvaged on-off electric switches, he constructed what he thought of as a "mechanical brain". It was a binary calculating machine -- the first computer. Now known as Z1, it featured separated memory storage and program control to perform floating-point arithmetic, with a memory capacity of 64 words, each comprising 22 bits.

His second machine, the Z2, used 800 discarded phone relay devices as arithmetic and control units, but was never finished, as Zuse was drafted into the German Army. In a matter of mere months, though, German officials decided that his computer project was more valuable to the nation than having Zuse in uniform. Discharged from the military, he received a grant from the German government, but fortunately for the free world, the grant was small and the government's interest was cursory. Completed in 1941, Zuse's Z3 was about the size of two small trucks standing on end, and structured much like a modern computer, with a control unit and input/output devices. It was the first program-controlled electromechanical digital computer.

In 1945, almost ten years before FORTRAN, Zuse created plankalkuel (plan calculus), the first high-level programming language. Zuse was also the first programmer to put this or any language to practical use, using it to design a chess game. In 1946 he started his own business to manufacture his computers, and in 1950 -- several months before the first UNIVAC was sold -- he leased a Z4 to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Capable of running advanced scientific applications involving up to 1,000 instructions per hour, it was the only operational computer in Europe.

Allied bombings of Germany in World War II destroyed the Z1, Z2, and Z3, and for years his work was unknown beyond his native land. Zuse's Z11, introduced in 1955, was the first computer to be mass-produced, and was sold primarily to German universities. His company's Z22, in 1957, was the first computer to use magnetic storage devices instead of paper tape and punch cards. In 1967, Zuse sold his company to Siemens, and retired to a second career as an abstract painter. In the late 1980s, with 800,000 Deutsche marks in funding from Siemens and five other computer companies, Zuse built a working reconstruction of the Z1, which is now displayed at the German Technical Museum in Berlin.

Father: Emil Wilhelm Albert Zuse (postal worker, b. 26-Apr-1873, d. 14-May-1946)
Mother: Maria Crohn Zuse (b. 10-Jan-1882, m. 2-Jul-1957)
Sister: Lieselotte Zuse (diplomat, b. 7-Apr-1908, d. 9-Sep-1952)
Wife: Gisela Ruth Brandes Zuse (m. 6-Jan-1945, three sons, two daughters)
Son: Horst Konrad Zuse (professor, b. 17-Nov-1945)
Daughter: Monika Zuse Gruden (b. 12-Jul-1947, d. 29-Apr-1998)
Son: Ernst Friedrich Zuse (b. 19-Dec-1950, d. 9-Mar-1979)
Daughter: Hannelore Birgit Zuse Stöcker (b. 13-Sep-1957)
Son: Klaus Peter Zuse (b. 28-Jan-1961)

    High School: Braunsberg High School, Braunsberg, Germany
    University: BS Civil Engineering, Technische Universität Berlin (1935)

    Heart Attack (Oct-1995)
    Heart Attack (16-Dec-1995)
    Risk Factors: Pacemaker

Author of books:
The Computer, My Life (1984, memoir)

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