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Konrad Zuse (June 22, 1910 - December 18, 1995) was a German engineer and
Born in Berlin, Germany, Zuse graduated in engineering from the Technische
Hochschule Berlin-Charlottenburg (today the Technische Universitt Berlin or
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.
World War II made it impossible and undesirable for Zuse and contemporary
computer scientists in the UK and the USA to work together, or even to stay
in contact. 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. 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, relay-based Z4 had been brought to a safe place
earlier. Zuse also developed the first high-level programming language, the
Plankalkl in 1945, for which no compiler or interpreter was available until
Zuse founded another company, Zuse KG, in 1949. The Z4 was finished and
delivered to the ETH Zrich, Switzerland in September, 1950. At that time,
it was the only working computer in continental Europe, and the first
computer in the world to be sold, beating the Ferranti Mark I by five months
and the UNIVAC I by ten months. Other computers, all numbered with a leading
Z, were built by Zuse and his company. Notable 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.
By 1967, the Zuse KG had built a total of 251 computers. Due to financial
problems, it was then sold to the Siemens AG company. Zuse received several
awards for his work. After he retired, he focused on his hobby, painting.
Zuse died December 18, 1995 in Hnfeld, Germany.