The worlds first programmable computer was the Z3, an improvement on the unreliable and basic Z1, not the British Colossus, and it was funded by none other than the most despised human that has ever lived, Adolf Hitler. This computer should not be confused with the slightly later Colossus that helped the Allies win the Second World War as they were slightly different in the way that they worked. Furthermore, the opposing governments took a different approach to both funding and usefulness for the outcome of the war.
Government funding of the early forays into electronics and machines should come as no surprise. As a new, and often little understood device, it was rare for private companies and individuals to want to risk their won money funding untried and untested inventions. This was especially the case during and following the Great Depression. People just didn’t have the money to spend. It often fell to governments to back new innovations, especially if there could have been a benefit to the government. This is what happened during the very early years of WWII, both in Britain and Germany.
The Z3 was funded by the government in Germany, which was headed by Adolf Hitler. They saw the first programmable computer as something that would benefit the war effort, and it was kept top secret. When it was finally completed in 1941 it was used by the German Air Force to conduct wing flutter analysis. The Z3 was destroyed by an Allied air raid in 1943, and Hitler refused to provide any further funding of the innovative machine as it was deemed to be “not war important.”
The Colossus is often referred as the first programmable computer, but it wasn’t. It certainly was groundbreaking for is day, and it did help the Allies win the war, but it was built after the Z3, being completed in December 1943. But the Colossus was different to the Z3 in that it was the first fully electronic digital computer that was at all programmable, and it was designed with code breaking in mind. On the other hand, the Z3 was the first programmable computer, but was based on the electromechenical design, which requires moving parts to operate.
While Hitler may have indirectly funded the first programmable computer, it shouldn’t diminish the value of the invention. Hitler did of course provide funding for many items that are still in use today such as the Volkswagen and the Autobahn. Plus he did do one more good thing that we can all be thankful for. He did kill Hitler.