Konrad Zuse

Konrad Zuse, one of the pioneers in computer science, was born in Berlin 114 years ago, on 22 June 1910. He completed his studies in civil engineering at the Technical College of Berlin-Charlottenburg. After receiving his diploma, he worked as a designer for an aircraft company. He was still a college student when he started to work on his first machine.

His name is linked to the first calculator to work with relays. Zuse built four machines. The Z1, the first one, was mechanical, while the Z2 already contained relay-based electromechanical circuits, and the Z3 is known in computer history as the first programme-controlled, binary, electromechanical computer. Only the Z4, the most sophisticated of his machines, survived World War Two. Zuse built his machines in Nazi Germany, but not much significance was attached to his work. (Replicas of the Z3 and the Z4 are on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.)

Zuse was about three years ahead of the Americans with his binary, relay-based, and programme-controlled computer. The Z3 was already workable in 1941, while its overseas “rival”, Mark I built by Howard Aiken (1900-1973) only became operational in 1944. Very few had knowledge of Zuse’s accomplishments as news from Germany at the time did not reach the world.

Konrad Zuse

In 1948 Zuse created Plankanalkul, the first high-level programming language.

He started to design the Z20, the Z21, and the Z22, his first machines to use vacuum tubes, in 1955. The first two remained blueprints, while the third one was built.

Graphomat (Z64), the first drawing computer in the world, was also devised by Zuse. When the first variant was completed, there were no step motors to use for moving the pen. Instead Zuse designed precision gears that allowed for drawings of extremely high accuracy.

In the last few years of his lifetime, Zuse was engaged in the study of theoretical questions, the relationship between computer technology and automation, and the self-reproducing automatons.