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The women who programmed the first modern computer

During WWII, a top-secret project to build the first programmable digital computer was started at the University of Pennsylvania. The US Army was looking for a faster way to run complex ballistic trajectory calculations that, at the time, took 30-40 hours to complete for a team of female mathematicians. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, “ENIAC,” was 8ft by 80ft and consisted of 40 black steel switches, vacuum tubes and wires. Physicists John Mauchly and Presper Eckert, who created the ENIAC, needed someone to learn how to program the machine – they asked six women.

Kathleen McNulty, Frances Bilas, Frances Elizabeth Synder, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman and Betty Jean Jennings did not have an instruction manual and at first were not even allowed to be in the same room with the classified computer. But still, the first programmers in the world figured out how to work the behemoth, reducing the calculations that took a week to just 20 seconds, and prompting the start of a technological revolution.

The contributions of these women are not widely known, however KATHY KLEIMAN he made it his mission to share their stories and their pioneering work in the field of computing. He founded the ENIAC Programmer Project and his new book is Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer.

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