In the mid 1950’s, computer design was in the midst of a major transition, going from vacuum tubes to transistors. Transistors performed a similar function electronically, but generated less heat and were a fraction of the size, allowing machines to be made that were both smaller and more powerful.
Heinz Zemanek, then an assistant professor at the Vienna University of Technology, had long been interested in computers. In 1956, he enlisted a team of students to build one based on this new transistor technology.
Zemanek’s project didn’t have university backing, so the team relied on donations. One student’s work was sponsored by Konrad Zuse, the German computer pioneer, on the understanding he would join Zuse’s company after completing his doctorate. Additional money came from an Austrian bankers association, thanks to connections Zemanek had made through his role leading Austria’s Boy Scouts. Overall more than 35 companies contributed materials, in particular Philips, who donated all the transistors and diodes. The only drawback was the transistors were relatively slow, originally designed for hearing aids.