Big Government Projects

The ENIAC was developed in an environment where the United States government was expanding the funding for large research projects in an effort to bring an early end to World War II. The largest of these was the Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the Atomic Bomb. Three other examples of defense-related research are: Radar, the Cyclotron, and the Differential Analyzer.

Radar was a brand-new technology in 1941. The government-funded laboratories had created radar sets that could warn of the approach of ships or aircraft long before they were detectable by conventional means. Radar was an example of how money spent on research (especially into electronics) could benefit the war effort in a very significant way.

The Cyclotron was another technology that needed a lot of funding from the government. A Cyclotron is a "atom-smasher" that allows physicist to study the fundamental construction of matter. While the Cyclotron didn't produce the same visible contribution to the war effort as Radar, it was indispensable in the study of sub-atomic particles. One military outcome from these studies was the Hydrogen Bomb.

The Differential Analyzer was developed with government subsidy in the same wave of funding that paid for Radar and the Cyclotron. The Army needed a fast way to calculate the firing tables for its guns. Each table had between 2000 and 4000 trajectories in it, and each trajectory took 12 hours to calculate on a hand calculator. The Differential Analyzer used a series of rotating disks that slipped and rolled together to perform a mechanical approximation of a mathematical equation. Unfortunately, due to the mechanical nature of the device, it had to be run very slowly to get accurate results.

These are just three of the many projects that the government funded during the war years. As the success of "gadgets" like Radar became apparent, the funding process began to grow. Some officers in the military began to encourage scientists to submit their ideas, even new, unproven ideas, to the funding committees. It was in this fertile setting of wartime spending that the ENIAC was proposed and eventually funded.

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