Jean Bartik is a pioneer in the computer industry. Bartik was the first woman to program the ENIAC, the first computer developed in the United States. Bartik also worked on the BINAC and UNIVAC computers, which were successors to the ENIAC. Currently, she sells real estate and plays bridge in her spare time.
Transcript of Interview
you the most?
Bartik - My family. I believed I could do anything. There was a war on and women were doing everything, including being Rosie the riveter. I wanted to get out of Missouri and see some of the world. I wanted adventure, something new. I was 21 years old when I came to Philadelphia against the advice of everyone except one math teacher who said, "Come to the U of Pa," because it had a differential analyzer. She had worked at Wright Patterson Air Base in Dayton, Ohio. It also had a differential analyzer, 1 of 4 in the USA.
tell you that you couldn't do it because you were a woman? If so, how did
Bartik - No. My grandmother and my Aunt Gretchen were my role models. My grandmother stopped a jailbreak while my grandfather who was the county sheriff was away. She held them with a gun until help arrived. My Aunt Gretchen got out of Missouri and, to me, led a glamorous life. Didn't get married until 40, had no children and taught at a number of different places.
(High School sophomore girls) were wondering if you were frustrated when
you didn't receive credit for your programming work in the 40's and 50's.
Bartik - It never bothered me too much until about 1975 when a Pioneer's conference was scheduled and I discovered that technicians were being asked to speak about ENIAC. I wrote a letter to Dr. Brainard at Penn saying I thought it was terrible that no women were asked to make a presentation. Two different chairmen asked me to speak. Actually, I spoke on all of those who had contributed and since died. I didn't go into the women issue. My speech brought down the house. Not because of the tribute to them, but because I brought in the human side rather than the technical of soldering this to that.
Were the older
"key punch" style computers harder to use?
Bartik - The ENIAC was a [challenging machine] to program. It was a parallel machine where we had to essentially build a central processor using program trays, digit trays, accumulators, multiplier, divider/square rooter, function tables, master programmer and I/O devices. We were the only group who programmed the ENIAC this way. I had a group at the U of P who worked with Dick Clippinger at Aberdeen and with Johnny von Newmann at Princeton Institute of Advanced Study to turn it into a stored computer program. We used the 3 function tables to store the program and the master programmer to decode instructions and store in the function tables. We used the central accumulator design, which is used by most modern computers. Once it was converted, it was as easy to program as modern computers without a higher level language. Of course, the higher-level languages make computers easier to program.
What was it
like to be one of the first women in computers?
Bartik - I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I had never been around so many brilliant people in my life. My brain was running in high gear. I was in a world I had never dreamed of, yet I knew it was something I'd always wanted. We had no manuals for ENIAC. We learned how to program by studying the logical block diagrams. What a blessing. From the beginning, I knew how computers worked. We gained the respect of the engineers from the beginning because we really knew what we were doing and we could debug better than they could because we had our test programs as well as our knowledge of the computer. It also laid down the background so I could do logical design on UNIVAC later on.
What was your
favorite job in computers?
Bartik - My favorite job was working on the design team for UNIVAC I. I did some programming, but mainly I did logical design, putting in the check circuits and designing a backup for UNIVAC using cathode ray tube memory. It was microcoded. Art Gehring was my partner in doing logical design for UNIVAC I. Eckert wanted a backup machine in the event the mercury delay line memory didn't work. The mercury delay line memory did work so the backup was never built and electrostatic storage was abandoned early on for core memory. I worked directly with Pres for about a year. Some have called Pres the greatest engineer of the 20th century. If not that, he was one of the most exciting people for whom I ever worked. My mind had to work at an intellectual gallop all the time, and I never felt so alive in my life. I couldn't wait to get to work and we (the UNIVAC group) worked through all breaks and lunch. We knew we were pushing back frontiers. It was a very cohesive group. No question was too small for Pres to answer, but I never pretended to know or understand something I didn't. Pres would remember it, even a year later. Pres was the first person I ever met who dealt easily with negative information. At first, I was afraid to tell him one of his ideas wasn't working out. Then, I discovered he treated bad news just like any other bit of information. He didn't need to think about that anymore. He just took off on another way to do it. I was out of the computer business from 1951 to 1967. When I came back many of the ideas I had discussed with him were just being implemented. He understood early on that file processing was the key to commercial processing and I do believe we [did it] almost every way to do it in the late 40s. John Mauchly was one of the most lovable and personable of people, but he constantly pushed me to think beyond the present task and toward the future. I believe he was truly one of the first people to think of a higher-level language. In fact, he hired Grace Hopper to work on his ideas for an Assembler language for UNIVAC. This was her first introduction to computer languages.
would you like to go back and work for the Army in computers?
Bartik - No, I would never want to work for the army today. In 1945, we were still in WW II, and we had gone through a terrible war. All of us had friends and relatives in the war, and most of us had lost loved ones in the war. Our main goal was to end the war. I would have done almost anything for the war effort. I am glad others can tolerate thinking about another war, but not me. I want peace and will spend my efforts in creating peace.
What was your
Bartik - I worked for Army Ordinance at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, but our group was located at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. My most exciting job was programming the trajectory problem for the demonstration on February 15, 1946. Herman Goldstine, our liaison with Aberdeen, asked Betty Snyder (Holberton) and me if we could have the trajectory problem ready on time. He asked us about 2 weeks before the demonstration. We said "Sure." We were sure because we believed our program was perfect. Ah, the confidence of youth. We worked like dogs to get it on the machine and debugged. Dean Pender came down one day and asked us how we were doing. We said. "Fine." He said. "Hop to it." and gave us a bottle of liquor. I didn't even drink, but I knew how important the success of this demonstration was to him. Betty had a fantastically logical mind. I have said that she did more logic in her sleep than most people do when they are fully awake. I have had 3 great work partners in my life and Betty is one of them. We couldn't get the problem to go and it was 2 AM on the day of the demonstration. Betty came in the morning and changed one switch on the master programmer and the program ran. She awoke with the answer to our problem. The trajectory ran faster than it took the missile to trace the trajectory. We printed out the trajectory and gave copies to the attendees. It was fabulous. Everyone couldn't believe their eyes. They turned off the lights in the computer room and the attendees could see the accumulators computing the numbers (the tips of the tubes were visible through holes in the front panels of the ENIAC. It set the standard for years to come when a computer was working. Hollywood used the front panels of the ENIAC as the model.
Who built the
ENIAC? How old were you when you started programming the ENIAC? How
did the ENIAC work? Who came up with the plans? Did it have a mouse?
Bartik - The ENIAC was built by the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. I was 21 years old when I became an ENIAC programmer. The ENIAC was built to compute firing tables for Army Ordinance during WW II. For each new gun, tables are calculated to show the soldiers how to aim the gun to reach its target. It took a person at a desk calculator about 40 hours to compute one trajectory for one gun. A table consisted of hundreds of trajectories for different gun elevations, different altitudes, and different weather conditions. John Mauchly, a physicist at Penn and very interested in weather prediction, took an electronics course at Penn. The lab was run by a genius engineer named Pres Eckert who was 22 or 23 years old. John began talking to Pres about his idea of building an electronic computer. Electronics was in its infancy. Pres told John he believed an electronic computer could be built to do it if one were careful. WW II was in progress, this was 1943, and John wrote a proposal for an electronic computer to do firing tables. In the meantime, a young major in the army who was also a Ph.D. mathematician named Herman Goldstine had been sent to Penn to try to speed up the computing of trajectories by a group of about 80 "computers", people using desk calculators doing trajectories. They were truly called "computers" and I was hired as a computer in 1945. Herman saw John's proposal and went off to Aberdeen to tell them of the proposal. John and Pres explained how they would build such a machine. The great economist Veblen was at the meeting, and he pronounced, "Give them the money." And so Army Ordinance did. At this time, Pres was 23 years old and all engineers to a man said no one could make 15,000 (it ended up 18,000) vacuum tubes could work reliably enough to get any worthwhile calculations out of it. Pres had said one had to be "careful" and so he was. He designed the accumulators, the main calculating engines of the machine, out of flip-flops, which were in one state or the other, on or off. Signals only had to be strong enough to trigger the flip-flop. Thus, vacuum tubes didn't have to work very well to perform reliably for ENIAC purposes. Plus, the accumulators were built using decade counter modules. Each decade counter could store a number 0 to 9. An accumulator was made up of 10-decade counters plus a sign, thus could store a signed 10-digit number. When a tube failed, the maintenance engineer had to remove only the decade counter in which it was located and another decade counter would be inserted. All repairs were done off line. A number of very wonderful engineers worked on the ENIAC and went off to spread their computer knowledge to new and other companies. Bob Shaw did the function tables, Chuan Chu did the Divider/Square Rooter, Kite Sharpless was the Master Programmer, Arthur Berks did the Multiplier, Harry Husky did the Punch Card Reader and Punch. Jack Davis designed the Accumulator. Pres was the Chief Engineer and John was the overall logical designer. The professors at the Moore School (the engineering school at Penn where ENIAC was designed and built) didn't much want to be associated with it because they thought it wouldn't work. Of course it did work. It ran for over 10 years and ran over 100 different problems. Most of which had never been calculated before. No, it didn't have a mouse, but we did run it from a remote control. We could start and stop it and slow it down to one add time for each click on the remote control.
Thank you for being so patient with me. Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I was honored to be asked to participate in this project. I hope all young girls will give themselves permission to dream about any vocation. Just prepare by doing what is before you today and answer the door when opportunity knocks. I was selected as the 2nd alternate for ENIAC programmers, but the two women ahead of me chose not to inconvenience themselves to go to Aberdeen for training on punch card equipment (the I/O for ENIAC). My sense of adventure pulled me through.
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