Anna Maria Island, June 10, 1987

The tale of a boy called ‘Pelican’

By Gib Bergquist

If you travel out State Route 62 to Duette in northeastern Manatee County and swing left onto State Route 37, you’ll soon reach the small town of Bradley Junction in southwestern Polk County. Bradley Junction came into being early in this century at the junction of two railroads: the Seaboard, and the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad which was completed in 1912.

Great things were once expected of Bradley Junction — it even had a bank and a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Progress passed it by, however, and today it is just a pleasant little place to live. In the days of my childhood a remarkable immigrant family lived in Bradley and in a smaller settlement nearby, Chicora.

The father came to the United States from Bulgaria in 1889, when he was 13 years old. He later married an American schoolteacher, and they moved to Florida in 1912, where the father worked in the Brewster phosphate mines a few miles north of Bradley.

There were ten children in the family, and I went to high school with Raymond, one of the younger children. I met Raymond at the Mulberry High School reunion a few weeks ago and he brought me up to date on the family members. He told me his mother lived to be 101 years old. And he said life had not always been easy growing up in Bradley, as the neighbors never fully accepted his family because of his father’s slight accent and foreign name.

Unfortunately, I must admit that this was the prevailing Cracker attitude of that day. Little did we realize that anyone with an accent spoke one more language than we did.

Raymond also told me about his older brother, John, and proudly showed me newspaper clippings and magazine articles about this precocious man.

John entered the local two-room school in 1913. He graduated from Mulberry High in 1920. He worked on a phosphate prospecting crew until he earned enough money to enter the University of Florida. In college, he supported himself by working as a campus electrician and by teaching science in the Gainesville public schools until he graduated in 1925. He picked up the nickname “Pelican” while in college — probably due to his tall, gangly build. Pelican went on to Iowa State to earn his master’s degree in mathematics, and from there to the University of Wisconsin for his Ph.D. in 1930.

He returned to Iowa State to teach, and in 1936-39, he and his graduate student, Clifford Berry, worked on a new electronic gadget called the ABC machine.

John left Iowa State to work in the U.S. Naval Ordinance Laboratory at the start of World War II, leaving his ABC machine behind.

Now our tale jumps to 1973, when Sperry Rand Corporation is embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit with Honeywell over patent royalties.

The judge ruled that Sperry “did not themselves invent the automatic digital computer,” but instead, derived the subject matter from one Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff — ol’ Pelican himself.

The ABC machine is the Atanasoff-Berry-Computer, and its invention, of course, has dramatically changed the world. It must be ranked as one of the most significant inventions of the twentieth century. Dr. Atanasoff, now in his eighties, is still very active. He lives with his wife on a farm near Frederick, Maryland, where he is working on a universal alphabet, among other things.

From very humble beginnings, emerged an intellectual giant.

From Cracker's Crumbs, 1995 Gib Bergquist

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