CWI commemorates the 100th anniversary of computer pioneer Van Wijngaarden

2 November marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Adriaan van Wijngaarden.

Publication date
25 Oct 2016

2 November marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Adriaan van Wijngaarden. Centrum Wiskunde en Informatica (CWI) commemorates this special occasion with the publication of a book and an exhibition about Adriaan van Wijngaarden and the first years of Dutch computer history. ‘Geheugentrommels’ focuses on the early years of the computer in the Netherlands. Additionally CWI presents a small exhibition with rare computer hardware and a selection of objects mentioned in the book. By doing so, CWI wants to gain renewed attention for this crucial period in Dutch computer science. The exhibition can be visited on request as of 4 November.

In 2016 it will be hundred years ago that Adriaan van Wijngaarden (1916-1987) was born. CWI wants to remember Van Wijngaarden and his legacy and has therefore marked 2016,  its 70th anniversary year, as ‘Van Wijngaarden year’.  Van Wijngaarden was head of the calculation department of the Mathematical Center and was directly involved in the introduction of the computer in the Netherlands. He has been of invaluable importance for CWI and the evolution of the computer in our country. Van Wijngaarden also laid the foundation for all contemporary mainstream computer languages and is considered being one of the founders of informatics in The Netherlands.

Building the first computer in The Netherlands

Nowadays, we cannot imagine a world without computers. In the book ‘Geheugentrommels’, writer, collector and computer enthusiast Eric Verhagen describes how it all began: the development of the first computers in The Netherlands. On the basis of original documents and additional visual material the technical developments of the first computer systems are being explained in detail. It is for the first time that this technical development has been explained in detail and furthermore, illustrated with unique and never published before visual material.

Van Wijngaarden has played a great part in this development as head of the mathematical center, by (among other things) building an automatical calculator. This machine was finished in 1952 and was called ARRA (Automatische Relais Rekenmachine Amsterdam), and qualified as the first Dutch computer. The ‘calculation girls’ that operated the machine then, are the programmers of today. With the successors of ARRA calcultations were made for the design of the Fokker Friendship F-27 and the design of the new PTT telephone switchboards.


At the exhibition rare items and parts of the ARRA thought to be lost are exposed. The masterpiece is an original Enigma machine, originating from World War II.


The exhibition is now closed. The book ‘Geheugentrommels’ by Erik Verhagen is for sale for €19.95.