Milestone-Proposal:Harvard Mark 1 Computer, 1944 - 1959

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Docket #:2013-09

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation?

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s fields of interest? (e.g. “the theory and practice of electrical, electronics, communications and computer engineering, as well as computer science, the allied branches of engineering and the related arts and sciences” – from the IEEE Constitution) Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:

Operating 1944 to 1959

Title of the proposed milestone:

Harvard Mark 1 Computer, 1944-1959

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

The Mark I computer was a general-purpose electro-mechanical computer that could execute long computations automatically. It was conceived by Harvard University's Dr. Howard Aiken, and built by International Business Machines Corporation in New York. The machine used mechanical punch-card tabulating equipment. Considered the first large-scale electro-mechanical computer, it was a leap forward in modern computing.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?


IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Boston Section
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Boston Section
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Boston Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Section chair name masked to public

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Proposer's name masked to public
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science, 1 Oxford Street Cambridge MA 02138

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. The Mark I was eventually disassembled, although portions of it remain at Harvard in the Science Center. It is part of the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. The milestone plaque will be mounted adjacent the remaining apparatus on display.

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

Inside the lobby of Harvard Science Center (1 Oxford Street), Cambridge MA, in proximity to the historical display that features significant components from the original Mark I.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The Harvard school lobby is generally opened to the public.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

The IEEE should award this milestone to the Mark 1 Computer, the name used by the Operator, Harvard University, Howard Aiken, Grace Hopper,and others for nearly 15 years. The designation preferred by some was 'IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC)' but this name was a temporary one, more like a shop name. Since the computing machine was the brainchild of Howard Aiken, naming rights belong to him. Aiken envisioned other computers, like a Mark II and a Mark III.

The computer was housed in a steel frame 51 feet (16 m) long and eight feet high. It consisted of an interlocking panel of small gears, mechanical counters, switches and control circuits, all only a few inches in depth. It was connected with 500 miles (800 km) of wire with three million connections, 3,500 multipole relays with 35,000 contacts, 2,225 counters, 1,464 tenpole switches and tiers of 72 adding machines, each with 23 significant numbers. And that was the world's largest electromechanical calculator.

The Mark I was not dead-end technology but encouraged Aiken to develop the Mark II and later the Mark III. See Wikipedia for details. Google Grace Hopper for historical information and photographs.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

Biographer Cohen recounts how Aiken was driven by a vision of designing and building a very large calculating machine. He was rejected twice but he persisted. He overcame his biggest obstacle by perseverance, eventually succeeding. Wikipedia writes "The original concept was presented to IBM by Howard Aiken in November 1937. After a feasibility study by IBM's engineers, Thomas Watson Sr. personally approved the project and its funding in February 1939. Howard Aiken had started to look for a company to design and build his calculator in early 1937."

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

The history and evolution of computers is long and complicated. How the Mark 1 fits in the scheme of things is beyond the scope of this document. The Mark I computer had many features that are stated elsewhere in the literature. As a starting point, refer to IEEE GHN #1 and #2 and Wikipedia #3.

References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article.

1 IEEE GHN Biography of Howard Aiken,

2 IEEE GHN Harvard Mark I Google it.

3 Wikipedia

4 Cohen, Bernard (2000). Howard Aiken, Portrait of a computer pioneer. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

5 Aiken, Howard H. and Grace M. Hopper, "The Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator", Electrical Engineering, Vol.65 No.8-9, pp.384-391 (Aug 1946); No.10, pp.449-454 (Oct 1946); No.11, pp.522-528 (Nov 1946).

6 Harvard Computation Laboratory, A Manual of Operation for the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, The Annals of the Computation Laboratory of Harvard University, Vol.1, Harvard University Press (1946), 561pp.

7. Priceless construction photographs of the Mark 1 computer being unloaded in pieces then assembled in place by IBM. Photos appear to have been taken by IBM in 1944.,/is/,/14343/,/false/,/true

8. Time Magazine cover issue of 23 January 1950 shows the Mark II and Mark II.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Historical photographs and historical information on IBM's collaboration are given by Frank da Cruz on his website: - sources

A priceless image of the team working on Mark I is attached. Its been copied from www.

Grace Murray Hopper (seated second from right) and Howard Aiken (seated center) along with other members of the Bureau of Ordinance Project. Photo taken in front of Mark !.

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Mark 1 computer group team.png
Dean Murray Harvard IEEE Mark 1.pdf