Celebrating Quad Cities Cities computer history

Lexi Woodcock

From the birth of the first electronic computer to the first student-run Augustana website, Augustana College and the Quad Cities have cultivated many technological advancements from 1937 to now. 

On Thursday, Feb. 23 in Wallenberg Hall, the documentary “Atanasoff, Father of the Computer’’ was hosted by the college and the Davenport and Rock Island public libraries, as well as a panel discussion with three guest speakers. Open to the public and students, a variety of Quad City members both young and old attended the showing of this fascinating documentary. 

Although John Atanasoff was the father of the first electronic computer, he was not recognized for his role in the invention of electrical computers until almost four decades later. 

According to the documentary, Atanasoff was a physics professor at Iowa State College (now known as Iowa State University). While he and his students were performing calculations, they realized that the current calculator was not able to compute their calculations properly. However, when searching for a device that could, he realized that one didn’t exist yet. This led to his ultimate journey of inventing the first electronic computer. 

Working closely with one of his students, Clifford E. Berry, Atanasoff began building the Atanasoff-Berry computer, also known as the ABC computer. After five years of brainstorming, inventing and building, the ABC was finally completed in 1942. 

According to the documentary and the panelists’ discussion following, the ABC was the first ever computer to use binary digits as well as the first able to perform calculations via electronics instead of mechanical functions. 

The Atanasoff-Berry computer was able to perform roughly around 29-31 calculations per minute, a huge jump from the previous mode of mechanical calculating. These concepts, as well as many others Atanasoff and Berry incorporated into the ABC, are still used to this day. 

Dr. Ashfaq Khokhar, Iowa State University’s Palmer department chair of electrical and computer engineering and one of the event’s panelists, said the ABC calculations created the foundation for future advancements. 

“The computer was [roughly] 31 calculations per minute. Can you imagine what we are capable of doing today?” Khokhar said. “We can do billions and billions of calculations in one second, but still the very concept of calculation is exactly the same that you have in the ABC. That’s how fundamental their contribution is.”

These contributions, as Khokhar mentioned, have carried on down through the family tree of computer devices. Atanasoff, the father of computers, forever changed the world. 

Like Atanasoff’s invention, Augustana’s technical development started with a gradual process when building its website presence. 

It was not until around 1995 that Augustana began developing its own website, which at the time was run by both students and faculty, particularly Mr. David Renneke. According to Doug Tschopp, director of the EDGE Center, Renneke was the founder of the first Augustana website, along with the help of the Augustana students at the time. 

According to “Wayback Machine,” an internet archive website, the first documented Augustana College website page was posted on Oct. 18, 1997. This website was a Gopher server, meaning the website only consisted of a hyperlinkable menu. This allowed students, faculty, parents or members of the community to go to the website and click a link to take them to what would have probably been a PDF of a brochure that admissions handed out. 

Although this might not seem like much in today’s world of technology, Augustana College was one of the only schools with a website around this time. The college previously had internet and email, which was not too uncommon, but websites were still new in the mid-to-late 90s. 

Tschopp said with the help of many innovative Augustana students over the years, Augustana was at the forefront of technological advancements. 

“At the time, only half of colleges and universities even had websites in 2000,” Tschopp said. 

In the late 2000s, Augustana began publishing its first professional, entirely admin-run website. Leslie DuPree, former director of web services, explains the trials and tribulations of navigating the new wave of technology as it came and how to best utilize it. 

“It isn’t just the technical side of our website, but it has a lot to do with how we incorporate that with the other things that we do,” DuPree said. “What kind of content do we use? How does it compare? Does it fit in with how the rest of the website looks?”

In the new day and age of constant content at our fingertips and the use of multiple different devices, such as smartphones, computers and monitors, it has become much harder to tailor information and media to fit each specific goal, screen size and overall accessibility. Yet, with each advancement in technology, Augustana continues to tackle each one by one, staying ahead of the curve. From the birth of the computer to the building and running of a website, nothing can stop the innovation pouring out of the Quad Cities area.