Honorary Unsubscribe

Randy Cassingham’s Honorary Unsubscribe Recognizes the Unknown, the Forgotten and the Often Obscure People who Had an Impact on Our Lives.
These are the people you will wish you had known.

Pioneering computer programmer

Jean Bartik

During World War II, Bartik was one of a group of “computers” — the job title of humans hired to run math problems to compute the trajectory of ballistic shells. In 1946 they were given a new tool that took the army three years to build at a cost of $500,000: ENIAC, or “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer” — the first general-purpose electronic computer. Thus, Bartik’s group were the first computer programmers. ENIAC contained 17,468 vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, and about 5 million hand-soldered joints, and weighed more than 60,000 pounds. It was a balky machine: the longest it ever ran without crashing was 6 days, and crashes often meant the need for physical repairs. But the “computers” — those like Bartik who programmed it, all women — worked around those limitations, and the project was a huge success. ENIAC was not shut down until October 1955, and Bartik went on to work on the BINAC and UNIVAC computers. “Today there are over 1.4 million programmers and software developers in the United States,” said Jon Rickman, director of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computer Museum at Northwest University, “and Jean Jennings Bartik was the first.” She died March 23 after a stroke. She was 86, and was the last of the ENIAC programmers alive.

Jean Bartik at ENIAC console
Bartik (left) at ENIAC’s console with co-worker Frances Bilas. U.S. Army Photo from the archives of the Army Research Laboratory’s Technical Library.

From This is True for 27 March 2011


Honorary Unsubscribe Books

HU BooksThe Early Writeups from This is True's popular Honorary Unsubscribe feature are now available for your Kindle (or Kindle software for your smartphone, tablet, or computer) as low-cost ebooks.

See details on Volume 1 (covering 1998 through 2000), Volume 2 (2001 through 2003), Volume 3 (2004 through 2006), and Volume 4 (2007 through 2009).

The honorees truly are the people you wish you had known.

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