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
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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