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306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Ph: (217) 333-2300
Fax: (217) 244-7075

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Centennial History of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering


Computing at the University of Illinois began in 1949, when the research board under Graduate College Dean Louis Rineour sent a proposal to University President George Stoddard recommending that the university construct a copy of the von Newmann machine designed at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. A contract was given to the university by the Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland that called for a machine to be built called the ORDVAC. Ralph Meager was chosen as chief engineer, and work was undertaken in 1950 and 1951 under the name of the Digital Computer Laboratory (DCL) in the old Electrical Engineering Building (now called EERL). Until the Department of Computer Science was formed in 1957, faculty members working on computers in DCL held academic appointments in academic departments, primarily electrical engineering and physics.

With commendable foresight, two of every part required for ORDVAC had been purchased or built; by November 1952, it was possible to construct a duplicate computer called ILLIAC. Hence, the University of Illinois could rightfully claim the distinction of being the first mass producer of computers (two in one year). Both computers proved to be successful. At the University of Illinois, ILLIAC I, as it became known, was used campuswide, and its success spread the computer philosophy to other campuses. In 1955-56, it was copied by Michigan State University as the MISTIC and also by the University of Sydney, Australia, where it was bravely named the SILLIAC. Later, one was constructed by Iowa State University as the CYCLONE.

ILLIAC I was used by Lajaren Hiller, director of the Experimental Music Studio, to compose and play the Illiac Suite, the first computer-composed composition. In 1966, at the Fall Joint Computer Conference, Heinz Von Foerster organized a highly creative session on computers in music. The papers presented in this pioneering session were later published in the book Music by Computers, edited by Von Foerster and James Beauchamp.



ECE Spotlight: Antennas and Electromagnetics

Centennial History of the Department of ECE
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Electrical and Computer Engineering Department
ECE Publications