Konrad Zuse was a German civil engineer, inventor
and computer pioneer. His greatest achievement was the world’s first programmable computer;
the functional program-controlled Turing-complete Z3 became operational in May 1941. Thanks
to this machine and its predecessors, Zuse has often been regarded as the inventor of
the modern computer. Zuse was also noted for the S2 computing machine,
considered the first process-controlled computer. He founded one of the earliest computer businesses
in 1941, producing the Z4, which became the world’s first commercial computer. From 1943
to 1945 he designed the first high-level programming language, Plankalkül. In 1969, Zuse suggested
the concept of a computation-based universe in his book Rechnender Raum.
Much of his early work was financed by his family and commerce, but after 1939 he was
given resources by the Nazi German government. Due to World War II, Zuse’s work went largely
unnoticed in the United Kingdom and the United States. Possibly his first documented influence
on a US company was IBM’s option on his patents in 1946.
There is a replica of the Z3, as well as the original Z4, in the Deutsches Museum in Munich.
The Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin has an exhibition devoted to Zuse, displaying
twelve of his machines, including a replica of the Z1 and several of Zuse’s paintings. Pre-World War II work and the Z1 Born in Berlin, Germany, on 22 June 1910,
he moved with his family in 1912 to Braunsberg, East Prussia, where his father was a postal
clerk. Zuse attended the Collegium Hosianum in Braunsberg. In 1923, the family moved to
Hoyerswerda, where he passed his Abitur in 1928, qualifying him to enter university.
He enrolled in the Technische Hochschule Berlin-Charlottenburg and explored both engineering and architecture,
but found them boring. Zuse then pursued civil engineering, graduating in 1935. For a time,
he worked for the Ford Motor Company, using his considerable artistic skills in the design
of advertisements. He started work as a design engineer at the Henschel aircraft factory
in Schönefeld near Berlin. This required the performance of many routine calculations
by hand, which he found mind-numbingly boring, leading him to dream of doing them by machine.
Since 1935 he experimented in the construction of computers in his parents’ flat on Wrangelstraße
38, moving with them into their new flat on Methfesselstraße 10, the street leading up
the Kreuzberg, Berlin. Working in his parents’ apartment in 1936, his first attempt, called
the Z1, was a floating point binary mechanical calculator with limited programmability, reading
instructions from a perforated 35 mm film. In 1937, Zuse submitted two patents that anticipated
a von Neumann architecture. He finished the Z1 in 1938. The Z1 contained some 30,000 metal
parts and never worked well due to insufficient mechanical precision. On 30 January 1944,
the Z1 and its original blueprints were destroyed with his parents’ flat and many neighbouring
buildings by a British air raid in World War II.
Between 1987 and 1989, Zuse recreated the Z1, suffering a heart attack midway through
the project. It cost 800,000 DM, and required four individuals to assemble it. Funding for
this retrocomputing project was provided by Siemens and a consortium of five companies.
The Z2, Z3, and Z4 Zuse completed his work entirely independently
of other leading computer scientists and mathematicians of his day. Between 1936 and 1945, he was
in near-total intellectual isolation. In 1939, Zuse was called to military service, where
he was given the resources to ultimately build the Z2. In September 1940 Zuse presented the
Z2, covering several rooms in the parental flat, to experts of the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt
für Luftfahrt. The Z2 was a revised version of the Z1 using telephone relays.
The DVL granted research subsidies so that in 1941 Zuse started a company, Zuse Apparatebau,
to manufacture his machines, renting a workshop on the opposite side in Methfesselstraße
7 and stretching through the block to Belle-Alliance Straße 29.
Improving on the basic Z2 machine, he built the Z3 in 1941. On 12 May 1941 Zuse presented
the Z3, built in his workshop, to the public. The Z3 was a binary 22-bit floating point
calculator featuring programmability with loops but without conditional jumps, with
memory and a calculation unit based on telephone relays. The telephone relays used in his machines
were largely collected from discarded stock. Despite the absence of conditional jumps,
the Z3 was a Turing complete computer. However, Turing-completeness was never considered by
Zuse and only demonstrated in 1998. The Z3, the first fully operational electromechanical
computer, was partially financed by German government-supported DVL, which wanted their
extensive calculations automated. A request by his co-worker Helmut Schreyer—who had
helped Zuse build the Z3 prototype in 1938—for government funding for an electronic successor
to the Z3 was denied as “strategically unimportant”. In 1937, Schreyer had advised Zuse to use
vacuum tubes as switching elements; Zuse at this time considered it a crazy idea. Zuse’s
workshop on Methfesselstraße 7 was destroyed in an Allied Air raid in late 1943 and the
parental flat with Z1 and Z2 on 30 January the following year, whereas the successor
Z4, which Zuse had begun constructing in 1942 in a new premise in the Industriehof on Oranienstraße
6, remained intact. After devastating destruction in the Luisenstadt, the area around Oranienstraße,
including the neighbouring houses on 3 February 1945, the partially finished, relay-based
Z4 was packed and moved from Berlin on 14 February, only arriving in Göttingen two
weeks later. Work on the Z4 could not be resumed immediately
in the extreme privation of post-war Germany, and it was not until 1949 that he was able
to resume work on it. He showed it to the mathematician Eduard Stiefel of the Swiss
Federal Institute of Technology Zurich Zürich) who ordered one in 1950. On 8 November 1949,
Zuse KG was founded. The Z4 was delivered to ETH Zurich on 12 July 1950, and proved
very reliable. S1 and S2
In 1940, the German government began funding him through the Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt,
which used his work for the production of glide bombs. Zuse built the S1 and S2 computing
machines, which were special purpose devices which computed aerodynamic corrections to
the wings of radio-controlled flying bombs. The S2 featured an integrated analog-to-digital
converter under program control, making it the first process-controlled computer.
These machines contributed to the Henschel Werke Hs 293 and Hs 294 guided missiles developed
by the German military between 1941 and 1945, which were the precursors to the modern cruise
missile. The circuit design of the S1 was the predecessor of Zuse’s Z11. Zuse believed
that these machines had been captured by occupying Soviet troops in 1945.
Plankalkül While working on his Z4 computer, Zuse realised
that programming in machine code was too complicated. After the progress of the war induced him
to flee Berlin for the rural Allgäu, where he could not do any hardware work, he designed
the first high-level programming language, Plankalkül, in 1945/6. This was first published
in 1948, although not in its entirety until 1972. It was a theoretical contribution, since
the language was not implemented in his lifetime and did not directly influence subsequent
early languages. Heinz Rutishauser, one of the inventors of ALGOL, wrote: “The very first
attempt to devise an algorithmic language was undertaken in 1948 by K. Zuse. His notation
was quite general, but the proposal never attained the consideration it deserved”. No
compiler or interpreter was available for Plankalkül until a team from the Free University
of Berlin implemented one in 2000. Personal life
Konrad Zuse married Gisela Brandes in January 1945 – employing a carriage, himself dressed
in tailcoat and top hat and with Gisela in a wedding veil, for Zuse attached importance
to a “noble ceremony”. Their son Horst, the first of five children, was born in November
1945. While Zuse never became a member of the Nazi
Party, he is not known to have expressed any doubts or qualms about working for the Nazi
war effort. Much later, he suggested that in modern times, the best scientists and engineers
usually have to choose between either doing their work for more or less questionable business
and military interests in a Faustian bargain, or not pursuing their line of work at all.
After he retired, he focused on his hobby of painting.
Zuse was an atheist. Death
Zuse died on 18 December 1995 in Hünfeld, Germany from heart failure.
Zuse the entrepreneur In 1946, Zuse founded one of the earliest
computer companies: the Zuse-Ingenieurbüro Hopferau. Capital was raised through ETH Zurich
and an IBM option on Zuse’s patents. Zuse founded another company, Zuse KG in Haunetal-Neukirchen
in 1949; in 1957 the company’s head office moved to Bad Hersfeld. The Z4 was finished
and delivered to the ETH Zurich, Switzerland in September 1950. At that time, it was the
only working computer in continental Europe, and the second computer in the world to be
sold, only beaten by the BINAC, which never worked properly after it was delivered. Other
computers, all numbered with a leading Z, up to Z43, 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,
the company was then sold to Siemens. Calculating Space
In 1967, Zuse also suggested that the universe itself is running on a cellular automaton
or similar computational structure; in 1969, he published the book Rechnender Raum. This
idea has attracted a lot of attention, since there is no physical evidence against Zuse’s
thesis. Edward Fredkin, Jürgen Schmidhuber, and others have expanded on it.
Awards and honours Zuse received several awards for his work:
Werner von Siemens Ring in 1964 Harry H. Goode Memorial Award in 1965
Bundesverdienstkreuz in 1972 – Great Cross of Merit
Computer History Museum Fellow Award in 1999 The Zuse Institute Berlin is named in his
honour. The Konrad Zuse Medal of the Gesellschaft
für Informatik, and the Konrad Zuse Medal of the Zentralverband des Deutschen Baugewerbes,
are both named after Zuse. Zuse Year 2010
The 100th anniversary of the birth of this computer pioneer was celebrated by exhibitions,
lectures and workshops to remember his life and work and to bring attention to the importance
of his invention to the digital age. The movie Tron: Legacy, which revolves around a world
inside a computer system, features a character named Zuse, presumably in honour of Konrad
Konrad Zuse: The Computer – My Life, Springer Verlag, ISBN 3-540-56453-5, ISBN 0-387-56453-5
Jürgen Alex, Hermann Flessner, Wilhelm Mons, Horst Zuse: Konrad Zuse: Der Vater des Computers.
Parzeller, Fulda 2000, ISBN 3-7900-0317-4 Raul Rojas: Die Rechenmaschinen von Konrad
Zuse. Springer, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-540-63461-4. Wilhelm Füßl: 100 Jahre Konrad Zuse. Einblicke
in den Nachlass, München 2010, ISBN 978-3-940396-14-3. Jürgen Alex: Wege und Irrwege des Konrad
Zuse. In: Spektrum der Wissenschaft 1/1997, ISSN 0170-2971.
Hadwig Dorsch: Der erste Computer. Konrad Zuses Z1 – Berlin 1936. Beginn und Entwicklung
einer technischen Revolution. Mit Beiträgen von Konrad Zuse und Otto Lührs. Museum für
Verkehr und Technik, Berlin 1989. Clemens Kieser: „Ich bin zu faul zum Rechnen“
– Konrad Zuses Computer Z22 im Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe. In:
Denkmalpflege in Baden-Württemberg, 42005, Esslingen am Neckar, S. 180-184, ISSN 0342-0027.
Mario G. Losano, Zuse. L’elaboratore nasce in Europa. Un secolo di calcolo automatico,
Etas Libri, Milano 1975, pp. XVIII-184. Arno Peters: Was ist und wie verwirklicht
sich Computer-Sozialismus: Gespräche mit Konrad Zuse. Verlag Neues Leben, Berlin 2000,
ISBN 3-355-01510-5. Paul Janositz: Informatik und Konrad Zuse:
Der Pionier des Computerbaus in Europa – Das verkannte Genie aus Adlershof. In: Der Tagesspiegel
Nr. 19127, Berlin, 9. März 2006, Beilage Seite B3.
Jürgen Alex: Zum Einfluß elementarer Sätze der mathematischen Logik bei Alfred Tarski
auf die drei Computerkonzepte des Konrad Zuse. TU Chemnitz 2006.
Jürgen Alex: Zur Entstehung des Computers – von Alfred Tarski zu Konrad Zuse. VDI-Verlag,
Düsseldorf 2007, ISBN 978-3-18-150051-4, ISSN 0082-2361.
Herbert Bruderer: Konrad Zuse und die Schweiz. Wer hat den Computer erfunden? Charles Babbage,
Alan Turing und John von Neumann Oldenbourg Verlag, München 2012, XXVI, 224 Seiten, ISBN
also References Sources External links
Konrad Zuse Internet Archive The Life and Work of Konrad Zuse at the Wayback
Machine – By Prof. Horst Zuse; an extensive and well-written historical account
MacTutor biography Technical University of Berlin
Free University of Berlin Konrad Zuse and his computers, from Technische
Universität Berlin Konrad Zuse
Konrad Zuse, inventor of first working programmable computer
Zuse’s thesis of digital physics and the computable universe
Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin Konrad Zuse Museum Hoyerswerda
Konrad Zuse and The Invention of the Computer Computermuseum Kiel Z11
Computermuseum Kiel Z22 Computermuseum Kiel Z25 at the Wayback Machine