Researchers will be able to gain a deeper understanding of what is considered the world’s oldest digital computer, after finding the user manual considered lost.
The Z4, which was built in 1945, runs on tape, occupies most of a room and needs more people to operate it. The machine is based at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, but has not been used for some time.
The handbook should give researchers a better understanding of how Z4 works
ETH Zurich archivist Evelyn Boesch discovered the textbook in her father’s documents in March, according to retired lecturer Herbert Bruderer. René Boesch worked with the Swiss Aeronautical Engineering Association, which was based at the university’s Aircraft Statics and Aircraft Construction Institute. The Z4 was hosted there in the early 1950s.
Among Boesch’s papers were notes on the mathematical problems solved by Z4, which were related to the development of P-16 fighter jets. “These included calculations of rocket trajectory, aircraft wings, fluttering vibrations,” Bruderer wrote in a statement. Posting on the Association of Computing Machinery blog.
The computer itself has a history. German civil engineer Konrad Zuse invented the Z4 under the Nazi regime and is probably the author of the manual, according to Bruderer. At one point, the Nazis wanted Zuse to move the computer to a concentration camp, where the regime used forced labor to build missiles and flying bombs. He refused and instead moved the Z4 to a barn in a distant city to await World War II.
The mathematician Eduard Stiefel later bought Z4 for the Institute of Applied Mathematics of ETH Zurich. He spent several years at the Franco-German Research Institute in Saint-Louis, before the Z4 was transferred to the Deutsches Museum in 1960.