Almost 70 years after the invention of the world’s first programmable, fully automatic computer, the son of electronics pioneer Konrad Zuse unveiled on Saturday an exact replica of his father’s creation.
Zuse had originally presented his Z3 computer in Berlin, at the height of World War II in 1941, but two years later it was destroyed in a bomb attack.
“Two replicas of the machine exist already, but this is the first exact copy of the historic archetype,” Horst Zuse, the 64-year-old son of the original inventor, said of his design.
Konrad Zuse, who died in 1995, would have celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this week.
Two years ago Horst Zuse, a computer expert and professor, decided to build a Z3 computer in honour of his father’s centenary.
“A crazy idea,”he admitted, “But I also wanted to demonstrate to young people how a computer works.” For this reason he crafted the machine, which is the size of three wardrobes, in a way that makes all internal processes visible through LEDlamps which light up as different calculations take place.
For the best part of a year, Horst Zuse spent several hours a day recreating his father’s invention, following design plans which contained several surprises. “I learned a huge amount during the rebuilding process,” he said.
A simpler version of the machine, built at a later date by Konrad Zuse himself, is on display in Munich, complete with a basic keyboard to input commands and a punched tape reader for computer programmes.
Horst Zuse’s Z3 replica currently stands in the Konrad Zuse museum in the inventor’s home town of Huenfeld, 100 kilometres northeast of Frankfurt. After a few finishing touches, it is to go on exhibit in Berlin, before touring the country.
The cost of building the replica was roughly the equivalent of a well-equipped limousine, Zuse said.