An international symposium underway at Iowa State University in Ames is recognizing the alum that got it all started. John Vincent Atanasoff built the first computer in 1939 to make it easier to solve algebra equations. I-S-U and Atanasoff failed to patent the invention and the idea was later developed by others. After years of legal wrangling, the courts have determined that Atanasoff was the rightful inventor of the device. The 100th anniversary of Atanasoff’s birth is being celebrated at the symposium and his son John has returned to Ames as part of the festivities. Son John says losing out on all the fame and fortune was a disappointment, but never seemed to consume his father. Atanasoff says his father first realized the vast potential of what he’d invented in the 1970s during the trial over who really deserved credit for its creation. He says they were driving along when his dad told him he thought he would be famous one day. Atanasoff told his dad he doubted that was true, but says it turned out to be right. He says the recognition continues to grow in the U-S as Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has written a letter recognizing his dad and his dad’s contribution to the development of the computer. He says there’s also been books written that have strengthened the support of what his dad did. Atanassoff says his dad was honored recently in his native country of Bulgaria. He says the entire country considers him a national hero. Two statues of his father were erected, two schools were named after him, and his father now appears on a postage stamp in the country. The senior Atanasoff died in 1995. His son is giving a speech at the symposium on lessons learned from his father in the invention of the computer. He says the entire family is excited to celebrate the event. He says his dad got his recognition late in life and they’re always pleased to see him get the recognition. Atanasoff reflects on what’s become of a simple idea his father had to improve his work. He says it has gone far beyond and expectations his father ever had. He says his father stood back in amazement, kind of like lighting a match and watching it take off into an inferno. The symposium runs through Saturday and features several top officials from the computer industry.
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