How Warfare Changed Calculations

WarfareBy Samuel Phineas Upham

World Wars I and II significantly changed how we used calculators. It’s strange to consider that dropping bombs required greater computational urgency than sending a man to the moon, the latter being accomplished with the use of a slide ruler, but the reality is that warfare and math go hand in hand. For the military to perform precision air strikes, or to shoot down incoming planes with any sense of accuracy, real-time calculations had to be performed.

Math had another coveted property: encoding. Using mathematic principles applied to language or numbers could produce a code for communication. The enemy on both sides struggled throughout World War II to gather intelligence in order to crack these codes. A great deal of money was poured into programs designed to crack intelligence codes and decipher communications to gain the upper hand in war.

Most of these attempts were more like machinery you’d find in a factory, complete with turning gears and rotating cylinders. It wasn’t until 1946 that the first object resembling what we’d recognize as a modern computer came to be. ENIAC (the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was basically a large calculator. It was designed to perform calculations rapidly, and had the ability to hold a ten digit memory. It was a marvel for its time, easily thousands of times faster than anything that had come before it.

It wasn’t until the miniaturization of valves and tubes that the office calculator began to take shape. The basic design used push buttons and a modest storage to perform a range of calculations, only evolving throughout the ages to the desktop you’re no doubt reading this article on.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or Twitter.