First came ENIAC
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 9 May 97 14:29:32 -0700
Subject: First came ENIAC
Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: Kevin Dunlap <KevinD@MetaInfo.com>
First came ENIAC
Women recall their work as programmers on world's first computer
50 years ago
By Doug Margeson Eastside Journal Reporter
REDMOND -- Jean Bartik and Kay Mauchly-Antonelli don't like to be called
pioneers, even if that's what they were.
"I was an important part of the computer industry, but only one part,"
Bartik said. "Everything in science is built on something else."
Bartik is being modest, according to people at Microsoft. They brought her
and Mauchly-Antonelli to Redmond this week to discuss their work 50 years
ago on Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer -- ENIAC to those who
worked with it -- a boxcar-sized, enormously complicated machine that,
according to industry historians, was the first electronic general-purpose
That makes Bartik and Mauchly-Antonelli the world's first programmers,
although they didn't realize it at the time and don't like to make a big
deal out of it. Both are retired. Mauchly-Antonelli lives in Ambler, Pa.
Bartik lives in Pennsauken, N.J.
In 1945, Bartik had just graduated with a math degree from Northwest
Missouri State College and was looking for a job. When the federal
government recruited her as a member of a team trying to figure how to tell
ENIAC to compute artillery trajectories, she simply thought it sounded like
an interesting way to make a living.
"I had always considered mathematics as fun, like solving puzzles, more of
a game than a matter of serious study," she said.
The importance of ENIAC can't be overstated. The fact it was built at all
is a monument to American research and engineering and the fact it worked
as well as it did a testament to the ingenuity of those who operated it,
according to W. Barkely Fritz, who wrote a history of the ENIAC project.
More than anything else, it was needed. Precision bombing and artillery were
necessary to win the war and with new guns, planes, bombs and conditions
popping up seemingly every day, mathematicians were hard-pressed to turn
out accurate tables.
University of Pennsylvania engineers developed ENIAC to help. Measuring 100
feet long by 10 feet wide and with more than 17,000 vacuum tubes, it
required huge amounts of energy just to run the air conditioners that kept
it from melting.
It was anything but user-friendly. Its programming, for example, was done
with an elaborate system of switches, dials and a plug-in board similar to
old-fashioned telephone switching boards.
But it worked, doing in 20 seconds calculations that before took as long as
40 hours. That allowed programmers to calculate the position of an artillery
shell for every tenth of a second of its flight, all the while factoring in
air density, barrel wear and scores of other variables. The result was
unparalleled accuracy, Mauchly-Antonelli said.
Figuring out how to make it work was a challenge. The key was numerical
integration, a rare math specialty Mauchly-Antonelli had not studied in her
undergraduate days at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. When she
arrived at ENIAC offices, she was given a textbook and told to figure it
out. Then she was put to work computing.
While it may have been primitive compared to today's computers, ENIAC and
the jobs it was asked to do were anything but unsophisticated,
Working on it was one of the most exciting experiences of their lives, the
No one thought computers would ever be small enough or cheap enough for the
average person to use. The point-contact transistor was invented in 1948
and was superseded by the junction transistor in 1951.
However, it wasn't until the development of the semiconductor integrated
circuit in 1957 that the true potential of computers began to be recognized.
Now, ENIAC's functions can be done on a one- centimeter by one-centimeter
"No, we never imagined that, "Mauchly-Antonelli said. "But we dreamed, and
there's more dreaming to be done. Look how far we've come in only 50 years."
Forwarded-by: David HM Spector <email@example.com>
Women Proto-programmers Get Their Just Reward
-- by Janelle Brown
5:04am 8.May.97.PDT Fifty years after they programmed the unwieldy ENIAC
computer, the world's first programmers are stepping into the public eye,
and - surprise - they are women. Long overlooked in the annals of computer
history, the six women will finally receive group recognition for their work
at next month's Women in Technology conference.
The women - Kay Mauchley Antonelli, Jean Bartik, Betty Holberton (also known
for her work with Cobol), Marlyn Meltzer, Frances Spence, and Ruth
Teitelbaum - will receive the Hall of Fame award from the Women in
Technology International, an association that promotes the value of women
in the industry.
The ENIAC, the world's first computer, was invented to calculate ballistics
trajectories during World War II - a task that until then had been done by
hand by a group of 80 female mathematicians. The six women who were chosen
to make the ENIAC work toiled six-day weeks during the war, inventing the
field of programming as they worked. But although they were skilled
mathematicians and logicians, the women were classified as
"sub-professionals" presumably due to their gender and as a cost-saving
device, and never got the credit due to them for their groundbreaking work.
"Somebody else stood up and took credit at the time, and no one looked
back," explains Anna van Raaphorst-Johnson, a director of WITI. "It's a
typical problem in a male-dominated industry. And there's still a lot of
frustration with men taking credit for women's ideas - it doesn't seem to
have changed much over the last 50 years."
But although the women had been categorized as "clerks," they were
rediscovered by a Harvard student named Kathryn Kleiman in 1986, during her
research for a paper on women in computing. When the 50th anniversary of
the ENIAC computer rolled around last year, Kleiman - now an Internet lawyer
at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth - decided that it was time to get the women
the recognition they deserved.
"I called and asked what they were doing to honor the ENIAC programmers,
and they said, 'Who?'" says Kleiman.
Although two women were given recognition at the conference, the rest
weren't even invited to the reception. But Kleiman's ongoing quest to reveal
the forgotten story of the six women has gotten the ball rolling on public
awareness: A Wall Street Journal article was written about the women last
year, and has become a minor Net meme. California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo
has been working to name a day in honor of the ENIAC programmers, although
her efforts were delayed when Congress stopped allowing commemorative days.
And Kleiman herself is coordinating a broadcast-quality oral history with
the ENIAC women, which will eventually be turned into a documentary.
The women's pioneering role in the industry, Kleiman and WITI believe, will
serve as inspiration for girls, to help them avoid the "math is for boys"
mentality, as well as to women in the programming industry. And so far,
their efforts seem to working: The ENIAC women are currently in Seattle,
where they were invited to give a lecture at Microsoft to its Hoppers group
of women programmers.
Offers Kleiman, "I hope it provides wonderful role models so that girls and
women know that they have as much of a right to go into the computer
industry as men do."
© 1997 Peter Langston