The Atanasoff–Berry computer (ABC) was the first automatic electronic digital computer, an early electronic digital computing device that has remained somewhat obscure. The ABC's priority is debated among historians of computer technology, because it was not programmable, nor Turing-complete.
Conceived in 1937, the machine was built by Iowa State College mathematics and physics professor John Vincent Atanasoff with the help of graduate student Clifford Berry. It was designed only to solve systems of linear equations and was successfully tested in 1942. However, its intermediate result storage mechanism, a paper card writer/reader, was unreliable, and when John Vincent Atanasoff left Iowa State College for World War II assignments, work on the machine was discontinued. The ABC pioneered important elements of modern computing, including binary arithmetic and electronic switching elements, but its special-purpose nature and lack of a changeable, stored program distinguish it from modern computers. The computer was designated an IEEE Milestone in 1990.
Atanasoff and Berry's computer work was not widely known until it was rediscovered in the 1960s, amidst conflicting claims about the first instance of an electronic computer. At that time ENIAC, that had been created by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, was considered to be the first computer in the modern sense, but in 1973 a U.S. District Court invalidated the ENIAC patent and concluded that the ENIAC inventors had derived the subject matter of the electronic digital computer from Atanasoff (see Patent dispute). When, in the mid-1970s, the secrecy surrounding the British World War II development of the Colossus computers that pre-dated ENIAC, was lifted and Colossus was described at a conference in Los Alamos, New Mexico in June 1976, John Mauchly and Konrad Zuse were reported to have been astonished....LESS