September 30, 2020

Classic Signals: Feb. 1956 Science department buys electric “brain”

By Kimberly Ilkowski
Features Editor

Nearly 60 years ago last week, the Feb. 17, 1956 issue of the State Signal was distributed around the State Teachers College at Trenton, N.J. The week’s biggest story, written by features editor Alice Schuster, highlighted the Science Department’s purchase of an electric “brain.” Its functions and abilities predate the first marketed calculators and gaming consoles.

Math and science majors experiment with the new Geniac Kit No. 1. (Kimberly Ilkowski / Features Editor)
Math and science majors experiment with the new Geniac Kit No. 1. (Kimberly Ilkowski / Features Editor)

The do-it-yourself fad has invaded Apgar. Envying top scientists (and) their electric “brains,” Apgar decided to construct some electric brains of its own.

Dr. V. Crowell, through the science department, purchased for Apgar the Geniac Kit No. 1. Geniac comes from the phrase “Genius Almost-Automatic Computer.” It is not entirely automatic, because the problem must be told to the machine by turning dials and connecting switches before Geniac can produce the correct answer.

The kit contains basically: switches, for calculating and reasoning; flash-light bulbs for signaling answers; and a battery for power. Also, a pamphlet entitled: “Geniacs, and How to Make Them.”

Armed with this equipment, plus an assortment of nuts and bolts, several yards of wire and other miscellaneous articles, several math-science majors set to work. Bill Guthrie, president of Apgar, Bill Boaz, Paul Kumple, Siegfriend Haenisch, and Herb Langdon are setting up the first machine to play a game called Nim. The game consists of selecting matches from four piles, with the number of matches in each pile 4,3,2 and 1. Two played take turns, each taking one pile. The player taking the last match wins the game.

Other machines which can be made from Kit No. 1 include: Reasoning Machine, Intelligence-Testing Machine, Masculine-Feminine Testing Machine, Adding, Subtracting, Multiplying and Dividing Machines, Coder and Decoder, and machines that play several games.


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