The Son of a Bulgarian Emigrant That Changed The World

young john vincent atanasoff

We want to share with you a touching true history that crosses three generations and two continents.

This is one of those stories where the reality is much richer and interesting than any movie script and can be used for us to understand, how from a tragic history episode can be the seed of something new that change the world forever in a positive way.

This history begins in Bulgaria during the time known as the April Uprising of 1876 in a small village called Boyadzhik, which is a village in Tundzha Municipality of Yambol Province. Situated 22 km west of the city of Yambol. In that small village occurred one of the most tragic events in Bulgarian history. On May 11, 1876, the people of Boyadzhik gathered in the churchyard to pay their heart honors to the figures of the first Slavic teacher’s brothers Cyril and Methodius.

During the holiday, the ruler of the surrounding villages Eden aga attacked the village with his soldiers, who began mockery and robbery. To defend themselves, the villagers deployed armed guards at the end of the village.

This was reported to Shefket Pasha, who was located in Sliven, the news was that a rebellion was being prepared in Boyadzhik. Thus, on May 17, 1876, he and his soldiers went to Boyadzhik and began a pogrom over the village.

Much of the population was hiding in the local church, but it was set on fire, so those insides had to leave. Their brutal physical extermination begins. Dozens of men, women, and children were killed. About 50 young people, who were captured, were forced to dance traditional Bulgarian Horo in front of the Shefket Pasha and were later killed. 

Among the few survivors, it was a small baby, that survives under his murdered father.

The name of the survivor baby was Ivan and in 1889, at 13 years old he immigrated from Bulgaria with his uncle, Ivan’s name was changed to John by immigration officials at Ellis Island, New York when he arrived at the United States.

In the United States he starts a new life, becomes an electrical engineer, meets Iva Lucena Purdy ( a young lady of mixed French and Irish ancestry), she was a teacher of mathematics and the couple got married in 1900, following John’s graduation from Colgate College with a degree in philosophy.

He got a job as an industrial engineer in New Jersey and they started their family.  John took electrical engineering correspondence courses at night and on weekends to further his education. On October 4, 1903, in Hamilton, New York, was born the son of Ivan (John) and Iva, this boy was named John, he was one of the nine children of the couple, and became interested in calculating devices at an early age—he began studying his father’s slide rule when he was only nine, and like to read technical books on mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

He decided to be a theoretical physicist while in high school, and went on to the University of Florida, obtaining a degree in electrical engineering.

He then received a graduate assistantship at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University), earning a master’s degree in mathematics in 1929.

He spent hours with the Monroe calculator, one of the most modern calculators at the time. During several difficult weeks of calculations to complete his dissertation, he was overshadowed by the idea of ​​inventing a better and faster calculating machine.

He completed his doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin and received his Ph.D. in 1930. John’s work on his dissertation, The Dielectric Constant of Helium, gave him his first knowledge of complex calculations.

He then returned to Iowa State to teach both physics and mathematics.

John’s interest in building a calculating machine arose from his need to solve partial differential equations without doing the number-crunching by hand, a very slow method.

He decided that his machine would have to use base two, in which the only two digits are zero and one (binary code), a convention that may be represented electronically in a number of different ways.

n particular, the machine that John and Berry built did arithmetic electronically, using vacuum tubes to perform the arithmetic operations and capacitors to store the numbers.

The full name of John is John Vincent Atanasoff, better known as the Father of the Computer

The primary innovation was that numbers in the computer were digital, and not analog, in nature.

The difference between an analog computer—several working versions of which existed at the time—and a digital one is that an analog machine stores its data in terms of position, such as the exact degree of rotation of a numbered wheel, but a digital computer stores its data as a series of binary digits, the zeros and ones of base two. Atanasoff claims to have originated the term “analog” in this application.

His heritage

John Atanasoff visited Bulgaria twice, in 1975 and 1985. He visited Boyadzik village, where his grandfather was killed by the Ottoman soldiers and was warmly welcomed by the locals and his father’s relatives.

He was made an honorable citizen of the town of Yambol, and received the “Key of the Town”. He was also given various titles by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The John Atanasov prize is awarded every year in Bulgaria.

The 3546 Atanasoff asteroid found at the Bulgarian astronomical observatory of Rozen, was named after him.

Atanasoff’s first national award for scientific achievements was the Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius, First Class, Bulgaria’s highest scientific honor bestowed to him in 1970, before the 1973 court ruling.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush awarded Atanasoff the United States National Medal of Technology, the highest U.S. honor conferred for achievements related to technological progress.

Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff died 15 June 1995 of a stroke at his home in Monrovia, Md. He was 91 years old. He held 32 patents for his inventions. And is credited as the originator of the modern computer.

John Vincent Atanasoff gave birth to the field of electronic computing. In doing so, he also gave birth to a new era, an era of computers.

Today, the computer is an essential part of every person as well as every business. We cannot imagine our lives without a computer being involved.

The invention of the computer meant that technology could improve at a faster rate and our lives became more convenient and safer.

We hope this history can be an inspiration to immigrants from all over the world because from time to time dreams of a better future can become true.

John Atanasoff mural in Boyadzhik

Named after Dr. John Atanasoff

  • Atanasoff Nunatak (a peak) on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
  • The asteroid (3546) Atanasoff, discovered by the Rozhen Observatory
  • Atanasoff Hall, a computer science building on the Iowa State campus
  • Iowa State’s implementation of MIT’s Project Athena (“Project Vincent”, after Atanasoff’s middle name)
  • The John Atanasoff Award, established by Georgi Parvanov in 2003 and bestowed annually by the President of Bulgaria to a young Bulgarian for achievements in the field of computer and information technologies and the information society of Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff Technical College in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, a branch of the Technical University of Sofia
  • The John Atanasoff Bulgarian national tournament in informatics and information technologies, held in the city of Shumen annually since 2001
  • The John Atanasoff Professional High School of Electronics in the city of Stara Zagora, Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff Professional High School of Electronics in Sofia
  • The John Atanasoff Chitalishte (community cultural center), Sofia
  • The John Atanasoff Chitalishte, Boyadzhik Village, Bulgaria (the birthplace of Atanasoff’s father)
  • Prof. John Atanasoff 4th Primary School, Sofia
  • The John Atanasoff Private High School, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff Professional Technical High School, Kyustendil, Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff Bulgarian Language School, Chicago, Illinois,
  • The John Atanasoff Professional High School of Economic Informatics, Targovishte, Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff University Student Computer Club, Plovdiv University, Bulgaria


  1. George Ivanov Dimitrov

    По принцип преди години писах по темата. Връската на Дж. Атанасов и Българските протестанти. Става дума за ноговия роднина Константин Желязков които води баща му Иван в Америка.

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