Konrad Zuse

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Konrad Zuse was a German engineer and computer pioneer.

Zuse graduated in engeneering from the Technische Hochschule Berlin-Charlottenburg (today Technische Universität Berlin, Technical University of Berlin) in 1935. He started work at the Henschel aircraft factory in Dessau, but only one year later, he resigned from his job to build a programmable machine. In 1938, his first attempt, called the Z1, was a binary electrically driven mechanical calculator with limited programmability, reading instructions from punched tape. The Z1 never worked well, though, due to the lack of sufficiently precise parts.

In 1939, Zuse was called for military service but was able to convince the army to let him return to building his computers. In 1940, he gained support from the Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt (AVA, Aerodynamic Research Institute), which used his work for the production of guided missiles. Zuse built the Z2, a revised version of his machine, from telephone relays. The same year, he started a company, Zuse Apparatebau, to manufacture his programmable machines.

Satisfied with the function of the basic Z2 machine, he built the Z3 in 1941. It was a binary calculator featuring limited programmability, with memory and a calculation unit based on telephone relays. Calculations could be specified in advance, however conditional jumps and loops were not available.

World War II made it impossible for Zuse and the contemporary computer scientists in UK and the USA to work together, or even to stay in contact. The Z3 touched the borderline to being a Turing-complete computer; its Turing-completeness was never envisioned by Zuse and only proven in 1998. (See History of computing)

Zuse's company was destroyed in 1945 by an Allied attack, together with the Z3. The partially finished Z4 had been brought to a safe place earlier. Zuse also developed one of the first programming languages, the Plankalkül in 1945.

After the war, Zuse founded another company, Zuse KG, in 1949. The Z4 was finished and brought to the ETH Zürich, Switzerland. At that time, it was the only working computer in Europe, and the first commercial computer in the world, beating UNIVAC by a few months. Other computers, all numbered with a leading Z, were built by Zuse and his company. Remarkable are the Z11, which was sold to the optics industry and to universities, and the Z22, the first computer with a memory based on magnetic storage.

Until 1967, the Zuse KG built a total of 251 computers. Due to financial problems, it was then sold to the Siemens company. Zuse received several awards for his work. After he retired, he focused on his hobby, painting.


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