1 The First Computers

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1.3 Finland Joins the Computer Era

(Partly compiled from [Tienari 1993], for a broad treatment see [Paju 1999])

In Finland Professor Erkki Laurila at the Helsinki University of Technology in early 1950s was engaged in research and development eventually leading to the construction of an analog computer.

Based on an initiative from Professor Erkki Laurila, the State Committee for Natural Sciences (Valtion luonnontieteellinen toimikunta) appointed a committee, The Mathematics Committee (Matematiikkakomitea) in 1954 with the task to "find out the need for mathematics machines and possibly make suggestions for acquiring or building such machines". Obviously the idea originated from the initiative made in Sweden. The chairman was Math. Professor Rolf Nevanlinna a member of The Academy of Finland and the vice chairman was Laurila. The Chancellor of the University of Helsinki, Professor P.J. Myrberg, was enthusiastic about the project and saw a possible application of computers in computing fractals.

The Mathematics Committee came to the conclusion that a machine should be built and that a realistic alternative was to copy some existing machine. Possibly because of limited funds for the project copying the "big" BESK was considered too costly and the decision was made to copy the smaller and much slower G1a under construction at Max Plank Institut in Göttingen.

PhD Kari Karhunen and engineer Hans Andersin were appointed by the committee to attend in the first conference on computers at the Darmstadt University of Technology in October 1955. Attending were also the pioneers Howard Aiken, Herman Goldstine, and Konrad Zuse.

The decision to copy G1a proved to be a bad decision because G1a was far from ready and the Finnish team lead by Tage Carlsson and supervised by Laurila made a substantial contribution to the final design. Actually the machine, finished in 1960 and named ESKO (Elektroninen Sarja KOmputaatori - Electronic Sequence Computer), was one out of three machines of the type G1a that ever were built.

ESKO had 450 electronic tubes and could perform 20 additions in a second. Numbers could either be read from paper tape or from a magnetic drum storing 1840 46 bit words. ESKO was installed in locations of Helsinki University on April 1, 1960 and around it the Computer Center of the university was built.

The machine was slow, unreliable and expensive to maintain. It was practically not used at all and was soon stored. [Kulokari 1980] Later it was placed in the Technical Museum.