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Jean Jennings Bartik - ENIAC Pioneer

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Uploaded on Oct 31, 2008

[Recorded Oct 22, 2008]
Born on a farm in Missouri, the sixth of seven children, Jean Jennings Bartik always went in search of adventure. Bartik majored in mathematics at Northwest Missouri State Teachers College (now Northwest Missouri State University). During her college years, WWII broke out, and in 1945, at age 20, Bartik answered the government's call for women math majors to join a project in Philadelphia calculating ballistics firing tables for the artillery developed for the war effort. A new employee of the Army's Ballistics Research Labs, she joined over 80 women calculating ballistics trajectories (differential calculus equations) by hand - her job title: "Computer".
Later in 1945, the Army circulated a call for computers for a new job with a secret machine. Bartik jumped at the chance and was hired as one of the original six programmers of ENIAC, the first all-electronic, programmable computer. She joined Frances "Betty" Snyder Holberton, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum and Frances Bilas Spence on this unknown journey.

With ENIAC's 40 panels still under construction, and its 18,000 vacuum tube technology uncertain, the engineers had no time for programming manuals or classes. Bartik and the other women taught themselves ENIAC's operation from its logical and electrical block diagrams, and then figured out how to program it. They created their own flow charts, programming sheets, wrote the programs and entered them on the ENIAC using a challenging physical interface, which had hundreds of wires and 3,000 switches. It was an unforgettable, wonderful experience.

On February 15, 1946, the Army revealed the existence of ENIAC to the public. In a special ceremony, the Army introduced ENIAC and its hardware inventors Dr. John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert. The presentation featured its trajectory ballistics program, operating at a speed thousands of time faster than any prior calculations. The ENIAC women's programming worked perfectly - and conveyed the immense calculating power of ENIAC and its ability to tackle the millennium problems that had previously taken a man 100 years to do. ENIAC calculated in 20 seconds the trajectory of a shell that took 30 seconds to reach its target: literally faster than a speeding bullet!

But the Army never introduced the ENIAC women.

No one gave them any credit or discussed that day their critical role in this groundbreaking project. Their faces, but not their names, became part of the beautiful press pictures of the ENIAC. For forty years, their roles and their pioneering work were forgotten and their story lost to history. Bartik discusses what it meant to be overlooked, despite unique and pioneering work, and what it means to be discovered again.

In conversation with Linda O'Bryon, Bartik also discusses:
- Leading the programming team to convert ENIAC to one of the first stored-program machines (and working with Dr. John von Neumann on ENIAC's first instruction set)
- Working in "Technical Camelot" at the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, as programmer of BINAC and logic designer of UNIVAC
- Sexism and stereotypes at Remington Rand and her first-hand experience with the abuse of women and the misuse of technology
- Friends and pioneers computing history should not forget, including tributes to Betty Holberton, Kay Mauchly Antonelli, the other ENIAC programmers, Dr. John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert
- and lastly, Some pieces of advice to live by...

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