Romania’s First Native Computer / The History of Romania in One Object
Updated: May 25, 2021
Photo 1: The control panel of MECIPT-1
This is the story of the Electronic Computing Machine of the Polytechnic Institute of Timişoara or, in short, MECIPT-1, the first electronic computer built at a Romanian university, which turns 60 this year. Since December 1976, MECIPT-1 has been a cultural asset and an item in the collections of the History Section of the National Museum of Banat.
Photo 2: The old building of the Polytechnic Institute of Timişoara
Photo 3: The former building of the Electrotechnics Faculty in Timişoara
Photo 4: Anniversary plaque on the old building of the Polytechnic Institute
Six decades ago, on March 25, 1961, a nucleus of specialized and passionate computer engineers set in operation the MECIPT-1 computer, a leading achievement of Romanian research, one of the most famous machines produced in Romania and an important first step in our history of computing technology. The design and the manufacturing of computers, even as a national premiere, were carried out in several big Romanian cities with a tradition in research and development. But in the Romanian technical academic environment, the Polytechnic Institute of Timişoara - currently the Polytechnic University of Timişoara – stands out distinctly and enjoys a well-deserved prestige. Currently, Timisoara is the most important university and academic center in western Romania. History shows us that technical higher education has been a distinct feature of Timisoara for the more than 100 years.
After the emergence of Greater Romania in 1918 (with the unification of all Romanian historical provinces), the city of Timişoara was elevated to the rank of Civitas Academica. On November 11, 1920, King Ferdinand I signed the Royal Decree which founded, starting with November 15, 1920, the "Polytechnic School" of Timişoara. This institution has became over time one of the largest and most famous universities in Central and Eastern Europe. MECIPT-1 was a revolutionary machine which substantiated and boosted the prestige of the Polytechnic University of Timisoara in the bleak context of a communist regime in full swing, imposed and controlled by the Soviet Union.
Photo 5: Wilhelm Lowenfeld, Vasile Baltac, and MECIPT-1 in a 1963 Agerpres photo
The name MECIPT-1 is the Romanian acronym for: "Electronic Computing Machine of the Polytechnic Institute of Timişoara". The research for the manufacturing of the computer started in 1955, and the actual design, in 1956. The construction of the computer was done in the building of the former Piarist High School in Timişoara, which at that time was the headquarters of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. The computer was completed in 1961 by a team of the Polytechnic Institute in Timisoara, through the extraordinary effort of several enthusiasts in the field. The team of specialists was led by researchers Iosif Kaufmann, Wilhelm Lowenfeld, and Vasile Baltac, assisted by I. Munteanu, Herbert Hartmann, Dan Farcaş, and M. Fildan. A larger team from the Polytechnic Institute of Timişoara made up engineers, technicians, workers and even students contributed to the actual manufacturing of the computer. In time, MECIPT-1 became one of the symbols of the success and glory of the Timişoara Polytechnic School.
The series of computing machines made in Bucharest, Timișoara, and Cluj-Napoca between 1957 and 1967, placed Romania among the first countries which designed and built original computers. Romania, apart from the USSR, was the first communist country to achieve such a scientific performance.
Photo 6: Detail of the control panel of MECIPT-1
Photo 7& 8: Electronic tubes panel of MECIPT-1
Photo 9: Detail of the control panel of MECIPT-1
MECIPT-1 had impressive dimensions. It was a first-generation computer designed as a fixed point parallel computation machine. It consisted of 2,000 electronic tubes, over 20,000 capacitors and resistors, 30 km of wires and 100,000 solders. In total, it used to consume about 10 kW. The memory was stored on a magnetic drum, and the storage capacity was of 1,024 addresses. The computer speed was about 50 operations / second, the equivalent of the 50 drum rotations / second. Data and programs input was entered on perforated paper tape, and the output was delivered on an electric typewriter rudimentarily adapted and fitted with electromagnets operating its keys . Compared to the first Romanian computer called CIFA-1, the MECIPT-1 computer had a memory four times larger. It was a jewel of the Romanian technique of that period.
Photo 10-12: Magnetic memory drum of MECIPT-1
MECIPT-1 contributed to the training of the first computer engineers in Romania who graduated the Polytechnic of Timişoara in 1966. The training of the first computer engineers in the country is another national premiere which Timişoara is very proud of. Therefore, the name of the Polytechnic of Timişoara is thus linked to the start of the digital revolution in Romania, both through MECIPT-1 and the Department of Computers, as well as through the Branch of the Institute of Computing Technology set up on the structure of MECIPT-1, which generated the profile industry in Timișoara. The Polytechnic itself, through the two specialized faculties and sections, continued to be a research and development pole with national and international resonance and the very proof of the innovative spirit that characterized this institution.
Photo 13: The Central Pavilion of the national exhibition in Bucharest
Photo 14: The Vidraru Dam
MECIPT was intensively used for scientific calculations and design. One winter, in the early 1960s, the dome of the Central Pavilion of the national exhibition in the Romanian capital (today "Romexpo" in Bucharest), was flattened under the weight of snow. The restoration of the dome, which has caused no problems ever since, was entrusted to a team of the Timisoara Polytechnic, and the related calculations were performed on the MECIPT-1 computer. MECIPT-1 was instrumental in laying out the detailed concrete casting plans into the Vidraru Dam on the banks of the river Argeş from central Romania. According to an article from those days newspapers the calculations necessary for the construction of the dam would have required, manually, 9 months of work; however they were completed in 18 days as carried out by the MECIPT-1 computer, including the transcription of the final form of tables, which one was able to feed directly to the building site. With the help of this computer the Timişoara Brewery production became automated, Timișoara buildings were designed or consolidated, there have been attempts to build a hydropower plant on the Danube, and the water network of the city of Arad was resized. Using MECIPT-1 was fascinating and it opened up new, interesting horizons. Each program meant novelty and harnessed our humans intelligence.
On May 17, 1962 the MECIPT-1 computer translated, for the first time, from English into Romanian, a sentence requested on the spot. The sentence was: “You explain the development of science and we help to describe the examples”. Due to the slow speed of the computer, the programs used to run for hours and even days. The computer could be turned off and when turned on the program picked up from where it left off.
In 2003, the creators of the MECIPT-1 computer, Iosif Kaufmann and Wilhelm Lowenfeld, were awarded by the President of Romania the Star of Romania in the rank of Knight, for their contribution to the development of computing technology.
Photo 15: MECIPT-1 computer
Looking back, we can safely say that the romantic stage of pioneering in the construction of Romanian computers ended in 1967, when at the highest state level it was decided that a computer technology industry should be built. In fact, for the first time in communist Romania, within a planned economy and in a closed communist system, a public policy for the development of informatics was born. We can conclude that with this decision, Romania had then entered a new scientific historical stage.
Text and video presentation by historian and curator Adrian Deheleanu. Film concept by Ana Tudor and Adrian Tudor. A project developed together with The National Museum of Banat in Timișoara and Timiș County Council.
Our online series THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, developed in partnership with some of the most important history museums in the country, evokes decisive epochs in Romania's past starting from artifacts or vestiges with powerful symbolic, representative value.