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Howard Hathaway Aiken


Aiken (1900-1973) is best known for his work on developing an automatic calculating machine.  His early career included a stint at Madison Gas (1923-1928); general engineer at Westinghouse Electrical and Manufacturing Company (1928-1931); and Line Material Company (1931-1932).  After completing his Master’s degree in physics in 1937 and his doctorate in physics in 1939 from Harvard University, he began research on a large scale calculating machine with IBM in 1939.  During this period, he also taught as a faculty instructor at Harvard from 1939-1941, rising to a full Professor by 1946.  He served as Director of the Computation Laboratory from 1947-1961, then taught at Professor of Information Technology at Miami University from 1961-1973.

Aiken completed the Mark I of the calculating machine in 1944.  The Mark I was different from Vannevar Bush’s differential analyzer, because it could solve almost all mathematical problems, whereas Bush’s analyzer only solved differential equations.  The Mark I was important, because it was available to people outside of the government.  The Mark I was electromechanical rather than electronic.

At the Harvard Computation Laboratory, Aiken completed new work/findings in mathematical linguistics, the automatic translation of languages, switching theory, and the use of magnetic cores and drums as computer components.  He served as Editor of Annals of the Computation Laboratory.

Aiken began construction on the Mark II for the Dahlgren Proving Ground of the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance in 1945.  Unlike the Mark I, the Mark II was built with electromagnetic parts.  The construction of the Mark III was completed in 1950, and was called the Aiken Dahlgren Electronic Computer (ADEC). The Mark IV was completed in 1952 for the US Air Force.  Aiken also helped create a computer science program as well as a computing center at University of Miami.  He founded Howard Aiken Industries, Inc., a New York consulting firm.

Howard Aiken Papers:

Harvard University Library, Special Collections, Cambridge, MA (manuscript- includes a multigraph copy of a 1930 paper on a proposed calculating machine (1937))