Deborah Greer: Okay. Welcome. My name is Deborah Greer, and I’d like to welcome you here today for the Women of the ENIAC presentation. When I first read about these women, it was in the Wall Street Journal articles by Tom Petzinger , and I was just really fascinated by their story. So I looked a little further and I found another article by W. Barkley Fritz which was also very good. And then I got really interested in their story and I just kept thinking it’d be so great to meet them and to hear their stories personally. And then I thought well I bet there’s a lot of other people at Microsoft that would also like to meet and hear them. So fortunately I work for someone who also thought this was an exciting and worthwhile project and gave me to the go-ahead to make it happen.
Before I introduce my manager, though, I just want to tell a little bit about the format. Dennis is going to come up and give a brief introduction, and then Jean and Kay are going to each give a short bio. And then Maureen will be posing questions as our moderator today to take them through a lot of the important questions that all of us want to hear answers to. And then at the end there should be time for audience questions as well.
Now I’d like to introduce you to the Director of Product Developement Resources, Dennis Schnabel.
Dennis Schnabel: It’s indeed an honor to be able to introduce our guests today two of the original programmers from the ENIAC computer in 1946. It’s 50 years, and it’s really mindboggling sometimes to think about the changes that’ve happened in the computer industry over the last 50 years. Even in the 25 years that I’ve been in the computer industry it’s really incredible. I remember the mainframe computer I used back in graduate school filled up probably about a third of the size of this room and had special air conditioning and had less power and capacity than the workstation I have on my desktop right now. So it’s really amazing to see how much change has happened. But for many of us 50 years seems like a really long time, but really in the span of any of the engineering professions it’s really a short period of time. And I thought I’d give you a couple of example of that.
Civil engineering, for example, goes back thousands of years to the Romans building of the bridges and roads, and the Chinese building the Great Wall of China. And mechanical engineering, the first piston engine was built in 1690 and it took another 79 years for James Watt to build the first steam engine in 1769. Another 61 years for the first railroad to be built in 1830. And another 55 years for the first car to be built by Karl Benz in 1885.
Even electrical engineering, which is relatively young, also has had a long timespan, really. The first condenser, the Leiden jar, was built in 1745 and it took 92 years for the first telegraph to be built in 1837. And another 40 years for the first electric light to be built in 1877. So you can see that [the] programming profession, software engineering, is really a very young profession and we still have got a lot to learn, a tremendous amount to learn.
But we owe a tremendous amount of debt to the two women who are with us today because they were one of the first pioneers of our original profession. When they started working on the ENIAC, it was classified, so they didn’t have access to the machine until their security clearances came through, so the only thing they had was the logic diagrams to try to figure out how to make this machine work. And they had to reconfigure the machine for every program. So they had to reshuffle cables, reset operational switches and all sorts of things. That’s real machine-level programming. A year later in 1947, the ENIAC was converted to the first stored-program computer; a great deal of work by Jean to make that happen.
But it was interesting to see that many of the same sorts of problems they dealt with, we still seem to deal with ourselves. For example, how to make the code run as fast and as efficient as possible. How to reuse the code as effectively as possible. I guess some of these problems just never seem to go away.
So with that, I think it’s an incredible honor on my part to welcome these two women to Microsoft. Two of our original pioneers, and we have a great deal of debt owed to them. And I’m really looking forward to hearing more about what they have to say. So welcome Jean Bartik and Kay Mauchly Antonelli. Thank you.
Maureen: Going to start off with some short bios of where they saw their careers and what they saw their contributions can be. Do you want to start?
Jean Bartik: I’ll be happy to, yeah. Thank you so much for being here. You can imagine how different it is today seeing your campus. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if any of you know this, but I would say it looks like a very prosperous company. And certainly your working spaces… Let me tell you, if I’d had anything like that I can’t imagine what I’d have been able to do. And certainly I want to say that I did not choose this career. I just felt that I was lucky in being in the right place at the right time. How could I have chosen a career that I didn’t even know existed? And as a matter of fact it didn’t exist until the ENIAC came along.
So anyway, I’m just incredibly gratefully that I happened to be there at that time, for many reasons, but the biggest one that it was a lot of fun and it certainly affected the rest of my life in a very significant way. But I started out as a farm girl from Missouri. I’m the sixth of seven children and the third daughter, so my mother had a cook and she had a housekeeper before I came along. So being the third girl, I actually worked in the field and plowed corn and rode horses and put up hay and did all this kind of stuff. But at the same time, as women have forever, I had to help with the housekeeping. [inaudible sentence]
So anyway, I went off to college at the age of 16 in 1941, and when I started I thought, “Well, I’ll be a journalism major,” and the reason I did, even though I was very good in math, I couldn’t think of anything to with math except teach school, and I didn’t want to teach school. And I’m sure that you can’t imagine how isolated we were in comparison with how you are today. I read about all these exciting places, but I’d never been anywhere or seen any of it. So anyway, I went off to college in 1941. Of course Pearl Harbor was bombed, and immediately all the men were swept away from the campus, and in the spring of ’42 it almost like a girl’s school because all the men were gone.
But then the next year, they brought in V‑2 and V‑5 programs, and the V‑2 people were men that had been at sea, and we really thought it was really something. There were sailors that came in that had been out and seen the world. So anyway, I took my math courses, trigonometry, analytic geometry, and physics, with these sailors. Now, you have to understand that I was the only math major in the school at this point, not just the only woman math major, the only math major in that school.
So anyway, the courses then that were given afterward…I did have a guy from South America who was there going to school that took advanced calculus and some of these courses. But I had courses all by myself because the head of the department said, “Well, we offer the degree, and if we offer the degree we have to offer the courses and therefore we just…give ’em,” so that’s what they did. I had courses all by myself. But anyway, when it was time to… I finished my coursework at the end of 1944, so I was busily looking for a job and I didn’t want to teach school, and I was absolutely inundated because they were so desperate for math teachers in all the schools around.
But one of my teachers came in one day and said to me, “I just got this letter from math society and they’re looking for math majors at the University of Pennsylvania, but they’re doing calculations for Aberdeen Proving Grounds.” So she said to me… She used to work for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and they had a differential analyzer. So there were three in the United States at that time, one at MIT, one at Wright-Patterson, and there was one at Penn. And she said, “Oh you must go to Penn because they’ve got a differential analyzer.” Well, I had no idea what a differential analyzer was, but I knew one thing: Pennsylvania was not Missouri.
So anyway, I applied for the job and I didn’t get an answer, and my father was a schoolteacher and he used to come home every day telling me about another math job and he was really putting the pressure on me to get to work. So anyway, finally they sent me a telegram, said I was hired and to get there as quick as possible. Well, I was on the midnight Wabash the next night, out of Missouri.
So I got there and they were calculating trajectories to make firing tables for the new guns that they were developing. And they had about 60…they called us computers. I was hired for the grand total of $2000 a year with a $400 bonus for working Saturdays. So I took this [?] ride to Philadelphia for $2400 a year.
Maureen: We don’t get a bonus for working Saturdays, by the way.
Bartik: Oh, you don’t?
There were about 60 people that were calculating these trajectories using Monroe and Marchant calculators. I learned how to do it and it was fun, and Philadelphia was a lot of fun. But about in May I guess it was, they announced… Well, they just sent a notice around that anybody that would want to work on this new machine called the ENIAC, anybody could apply. But I never had any idea what it was, but I knew it wasn’t pushing a Monroe and Marchant calculator. So, you know…career planning.
So anyway, I applied and went over and they just talked to us a little bit. We never saw the machine or anything. So then they called us in and Herman Goldstine, who was the Army officer liaison coming in from Aberdeen, interviewed me. So Herman said to me, “What do you think of electricity?”
So I said, “Well, I had a physics course and I knew that E=IR.”
So he said, “No, I don’t mean that. I don’t care about that. Are you afraid of it?”
I said, “Well, no I wasn’t afraid of it.”
So then he explained to me the reason he’d asked me the question was that the ENIAC had digit trays and data trays and switches and cables to plug in, so he wanted to know that I wouldn’t be afraid to set switches and plug in cables.
So anyway, that’s my…well, wait a minute. They picked five people, which I didn’t realize I was the only one in the group that was finally picked that was ever interviewed. All the rest of them were picked for various other reasons. Anyway, there were five picked and I was the second alternate. So I thought oh, well, that’s it. So time passed and on Friday afternoon a manager called me in and said, “Can you be ready to go to Aberdeen on Monday?” because they were sending the ENIAC programmers (or whatever we were at that time; we were called computers) to Aberdeen to learn punch card equipment because the I/O of the ENIAC was punch cards and our printer was an IBM tabulator.
So I said, “Sure.” And it turned out that the fifth girl that was selected had a very nice apartment in Philadelphia and housing was very hard and Aberdeen was a hellhole, so she decided she didn’t want to go so she refused. Okay, so the first alternate was away on vacation. So they called her up and said she had to come home and go to Aberdeen. But she also knew Aberdeen was a hellhole, so she didn’t come home.
So I ended up and so much for career planning. That’s how it happened.
Maureen: I think many of us have had our career planning go upon a similar path. Kay, how did you get involved?
Kathleen Antonelli: Well, it certainly wasn’t as interesting as Betty Jean’s. I had gone to a girl’s school all my life, and I went to a girl’s college. I was a senior in college when the war broke out in 1941, and I graduated in ’42 with a major in mathematics, with no idea what in the world I was going to do with it. I just loved mathematics, I loved physics, loved everything like that, but I didn’t want to teach.
And there I was with my degree waving in my hand but not knowing what to do with it. Within a week after I had graduated, there appeared an ad in the Philadelphia Bulletin saying “Wanted: women college graduate math majors.” Moore School, and that was the building of the ENIAC, and it was classified. We were not told any of the information about it. But we knew that it was going to be a machine that would do these same trajectories maybe in twenty seconds, in comparison with what it had been. But we were never allowed to see it or anything like that, we just knew that it was a project that was going on at the Moore School.
Finally, when we had VE day, which was like May or June of 1945, our job there at the University of Pennsylvania was coming to an end. The war was ending. They knew the war in Japan would end very soon, and would we need any more firing tables? Well, they decided that since the ENIAC also was about to come online, it was important that they train some women—women, because the men weren’t yet back from the war. That was the whole thing. The men weren’t back from the war. It was almost a hundred women they had working there in Philadelphia, and another hundred in Aberdeen Proving Grounds just hand-computing these trajectories. And here was this ENIAC about to come online. The war was over, it had been designed with the idea that it was going to solve all our problems, and yet the war was over and it wasn’t even running. But they sent us to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and Betty and I and for other girls—three other girls at that time, went to Aberdeen to learn all about IBM equipment because the IO was on IBM machines.
And when we came back after ten weeks of learning all about IBM equipment, then we were told that we had to learn what we could so that we would be able to program the ENIAC. What for? To do trajectories. Well, why did they want trajectories? Well, that was what it was built for so that’s what we were going to do.
So, no manuals had been written. None whatsoever. Some of the engineers who worked on the project gave us their great big blueprints or wiring diagrams, and their block diagrams and things, and we worked our way through these things to find out what every tube would do. Now, the basic element of the ENIAC was something called an accumulator, which had 500 tubes in it. So essentially these were like ten decade counters in each one, and once you learned what one tube did, you could figure out what the other ones were supposed to do.
Well, there were very many different parts of the ENIAC. If any of you have seen pictures of it, you know it was eighty feet long and was made up of forty panels, each one two feet wide. And twenty of them were called accumulators, and they were to do additions and also to store numbers. The complete memory of ENIAC itself was 200 digits. It operated at 5,000 add times in one second, which then was the fasted thing in the world, incredibly faster. 5,000 times faster than any other machine operating. It seems like nothing today. The full power of that ENIAC, all eighty feet of it, could fit on a little chip one inch square nowadays.
Eventually, we taught ourselves how to program a trajectory for the ENIAC. And then, as long as I was there, never once did we actually run a set of trajectories, although that was what it was made for.
Maureen: So was your responsibility to…you evolved yourselves into the original programmers?
Antonelli: Yes. Our responsibility was to decide just exactly how we would fit all the mathematics of a trajectory onto the ENIAC.
Maureen: What other applications did you have to work on?
Antonelli: Other applications?
Maureen: Well, you said that you didn’t do trajectories, ever.
Antonelli: That’s right. Well, the very very first problem, the very first day that the ENIAC was finally declared it is now ready to work, although it hadn’t been fully tested, our test will be the feasibility of the H‑bomb. It was a tremendous, tremendous problem that had been brought in from Los Alamos. It was Dr. Fermi and Dr. Teller’s problem, and it was the feasibility of the trigger which they had designed.
So we put that problem on the ENIAC. Now, someone had asked us a little while ago about the tubes and the reliability of them. There were many tubes that failed, but the ENIAC was built in such a way that a tube did not have to generate a certain amount of power— This is a vacuum tube I’m talking about, which in those days were pretty large. They were about five inches tall, each one, and there were 18,000 in the ENIAC. Which generated a tremendous amount of heat and everything. These tubes were not operated full power. Any amount of power would turn them on. So they only operated in an on or an off position. If they were on at all, they transmitted the power. If they were off, they didn’t. And that was the basic thing.
So when we first started to operate the machine, we found out that there were a number of tubes that had actually failed, and another bad solder joints that had gone on and so on. Once those things got ironed out, the machine was really quite reliable and it operated very well. So the problem that came from Los Alamos at that time, we did not program it. The physicists who came from Los Alamos had actually programmed it. They had studied all about the ENIAC because they had Top Secret clearance, and they were able to have access to these wiring diagrams before we did, even. So they were able to program it and we helped them, all of us girls (girls we were called in those days) helped them program it and help them run it. It took about two and a half months.
I don’t know what it proved about the hydrogen bomb, whether the answer was yes or no, the trigger was feasible or not, I have no idea about that. But what we did find out was that the ENIAC actually worked, was actually reliable, actually did everything that was planned, and it looked like no matter what problem you put on there, the ENIAC would eventually be able to solve it. So on the 15th of February of 1946, they had a huge demonstration and announced to the world, yes that this machine worked.
Maureen: So the first feasibility study on computers.
Antonelli: Yes, yes.
Maureen: The first feasibility validation. Jean, how did you feel at the time of what you were working on, and how much did you have to understand what was being done, the application itself?
Bartik: Well, the ENIAC we knew because we’d all calculated it over and over. I mean, the trajectories we knew, because we all calculated them over and over again. So that wasn’t a problem. Our problem from the very beginning was finding out how to fit this problem on a machine with these switches. We had to learn how to reuse code. They had something called a master programmer so that we could iterate a program any number of times and then after we’d done it we could go do something else. We also could check the sign of a number, whether it was plus or minus, so we could arrange that…that would be the if/then statement or whatever it is.
Anyway, let me go back, though, to something that you brought up before about the reliability. When Pres and John first proposed the ENIAC, all of the professors at Penn and Moore School, and everyone else they talked to said they were nuts to think that they could use vacuum tubes and have them reliable enough to build a computer out of. Well, Pres Eckert was all of 24 years old at that time, and a hot-shot engineer. Well, Pres Eckert said, “I don’t believe it. I can do it.”
Now, how could he do it? That was by running the vacuum tubes at 50% of their capacity so that they did not have to work very well. And as she said, they ran them as either they were off or on. So he designed it in such a way that if 50% of the tubes weren’t working at full capacity, then the machine still worked.
Now, the trajectory problem was a very very important problem for us. First of all, it was the acceptance test of the ENIAC. The second thing was it trained us to program the ENIAC. We had two of the women that were part of our team to calculate a trajectory exactly the way the ENIAC did so that it was a test to debug it, because we knew exactly, at every stage of the calculation, what the number be everywhere. So we could diagnose it down to a vacuum tube.
Maureen: So you would actually break it up into sections that you would manually compute.
Bartik: Well, if the [computer?] having problems. Now, the standard trajectory, the way we assumed that our answers were correct, before we ran the real problem, we ran the test trajectory. And if it were correct, then we ran the real problem. The we ran the test trajectory again. Now, if both test trajectories turned out correct, then we assumed the one in between was correct. And that worked very very well. So it was quite a while, I would say, before the professors at Penn and everywhere really believed that the ENIAC could work and would give worthwhile answers. And it certainly did because it was in use for ten years, and Barkley Fritz has enumerated 100 scientific problems that it actually calculated. So it did work. It was not just a publicity stunt or anything like that.
Maureen: As programmers, what was the most interesting program you had to do on the computer past the feasibility?
Antonelli: The most interesting program? Well, for me, shortly after the ENIAC was announced, the university began to get calls from all over the world. People writing, they’d heard that there was going to be this wonderful machine. And before that, prior to that, when all computing was done either by hand or with a desk calculator, people had problems that they would like to solve. They called them hundred year problems. They would take so long to do that they knew they’d never be able to finish them in their lifetime. And all of a sudden, here was a machine that it was a hundred year problem and the thing went 5,000 times as fast as any other machine. You’d be able to do this in less than a year, obviously.
And so people who had pet problems of some kind decided to write to Penn to see if they could be privileged to operate. So one of the problems, and the one that is most memorable to me, was brought there by a Professor Douglas Hartree from the University of Cambridge in England. He has a pet problem that he had been working on for years, and it had to do with the air flow around the wings of an airplane or something like that. So he had devised some wonderful calculations, and he had been doing these by hand. He said whenever he traveled on the train or anything like that, he’d always get out the notebook and keep working on this compressible boundary layer. So when he heard about that, he wrote to the Army, I supposed, and asked permission to come. So he came with his problem. I was assigned to work with him and to help him to code his problem. And that was most memorable because he was a wonderful, meticulous kind of person. He knew an awful lot about computing, and in those days people didn’t know so much about computing. We did months of study just to find out how round-up error built up and various mathematical problems that became involved in that.
Oh, I had one final note on that. In November of this past year, Aberdeen Proving Grounds had a big celebration to celebrate the 50th anniversary of acquiring the ENIAC. And lo and behold, they have since the ENIAC acquired a number of faster and faster and faster machines. And do you know that they are still working on that compressible boundary layer problem?
Maureen: Talk about job security.
Bartik: I’d like to add a note about Dr. Hartree. When you’re at the beginning of an industry like this, people talk about all kinds of things. And one of the things they talked about was what kind of people you needed to run these computers, because at this time, all these problems were scientific. So people said, “Well, we need a numerical analyst.”
So we would say, “What’s a numerical analyst?”
And they would say, “Well, we don’t know what a numerical analyst is, but Douglas Hartree is one.”
Maureen: Jean, what was the most interesting application you had to work on?
Bartik: Let me go back to say how they ran it at that time. What they did, you would have a scientist who had a problem to do, and then a programmer would be assigned to the scientist to the problem.
To me…Betty Holbrook and I programmed a trajectory that was run for the demonstration and that was by far the most exciting. And I’ll tell you why it was exciting. People came from all over the world [to] see this, and this program…well, we worked night and day, and I’m sure many of you people have done the same thing. But because they said two weeks ahead of time, “Can you have it ready?” and we said, “Sure. No problem.”
Maureen: Did you have someone named Steve Ballmer working with you? This is your interview, I’m sorry. Just couldn’t resist.
Bartik: Anyway, so we worked night and day. And right before, it worked fine except it didn’t stop when it hit the ground, it dug a little hole. And I’m sure all of you have had a hard time stopping a do loop at the right time. So what we did was to run the trajectory and we took the punch cards to the tabulator and read it out, ripped the sheet off and gave it to them as demonstration. They took it home with them. And then this program actually ran faster than it took the bullet to trace the trajectory.
And the other thing was, and you [Antonelli] should tell about this because I don’t know this story that well, but the ENIAC lights flashed up and down because you could see the numbers building up in accumulators and going down—
Antonelli: Oh, let me tell that story.
Bartik: So you tell it.
Antonelli: Well, the ENIAC not only did all its calculations behind the scenes because all the vacuum tubes were sticking out the back, but if a tube was activated at all, there was a little neon light in the front of the ENIAC, and it showed exactly what position the—there was what they called a…what’d they call it?
Bartik: Decade counter.
Antonelli: A decade counter, which meant there were ten bulbs, ten vacuum tubes in the back. But every time one of these vacuum tubes lit up, this little neon light in the front was supposed to—did actually light up, and that was how we tested it, by seeing when the little neon lights lit up.
Well, the photographers came (this was about two weeks before the big display) and they wanted to take a movie of the ENIAC working. And when they took this movie, and in those days we only had black and white, and the neon lights just showed up black. So you couldn’t see a thing. And we said how in the world are they ever going to do that? So the story that the newspapers finally picked up was that they went out and they put ping pong balls on there. Because whenever you see a picture of the ENIAC, you will see for each number on the decade counter, a great big round ball. Well, actually, what actually happened was that John Mauchly himself had gone out and bought a case of little white bulbs, and they spent two nights, just everybody, all the engineers, painting 0 up to 9 on 2,000 bulbs. And then they unscrewed the little neons and screwed in these little real lights. It was only for that demonstration, but whenever you see a picture of it, you will see oh, they actually painted the number 1 to 9 on these little lights. So whenever you see it, you’ll see this demonstration thing.
Maureen: And we thought we invented marketing.
Bartik: Well, wait a minute.
Maureen: Keep going. Please.
Bartik: Back to the problem. So that was very exciting and I did write work on a problem with [tab?], it was called the [tab?] problem. But really the most exciting program that I worked on was when we turned it into a stored-program computer, because very early on it was pretty obvious that… I mean, you weren’t going to get very many programs to run on the ENIAC because not only did you have this problem with programming them, but you had of setting them up and testing them all the time. So—
Antonelli: I think we have to explain that the ENIAC was not a serial machine, it was a parallel machine, and you could have three or four operations going on at the same time. And different operations took a different length of time. Like, an addition, when you add one number to another, just took what they called one add time. A multiplication of a 10-digit number by a second 10-digit number took 14 add times. A division, or a square root, you couldn’t determine how long it was going to take. It depended on the numbers that were involved.
So if you were trying to run a parallel operation and you were doing a division here and a couple additions over here and a multiplication over here, you had to make your program so that the thing that was going to take the longest length of time was the one that started up the rest of the program. And you would have to be very careful to do this and to balance all your work. So eventually it became ridiculous that you were spending all your time counting pulses when each operation would end instead of just doing a serial operation. So what Betty it talking about is that eventually, within the year, ENIAC was…not redesigned, but extra pieces were put on it so that it was able to operate serially and in what you might call a stored-program function.
Bartik: What happened was the drag function for the shelves was put on function tables, and it was built with three function tables with a hundred entries. So once we didn’t do trajectories, you didn’t need these function tables for a drag function. So I think Pres and John had thought of this ahead of time, but in any case you could use this function table to store programs. And what we did was to design an instruction set, and it was designed a simple accumulator. So the device that they had made was to be able to pull two digits at a time out of the function table, because the function table had twelve digits…
Antonelli: Yeah, twelve digits across, a hundred deep.
Bartik: So you could pull two at a time, and we had something called a master programmer, which was the control thing of the ENIAC. You fed it into the master programmer and it decoded it into a program output pulse which you could use to stimulate an operation and then you’d go back and get the next one, etc.
So then, this instruction set looked very much like the instruction set of modern computers. You had add, subtract, multiply, and divide, but it all worked around a central accumulator. And this slowed the machine down tremendously. But, it was much easier to program and you didn’t have to keep resetting these switches and digit trays so the probability of errors went down and every thing else. So you could change from one program to another very easily just by changing a bunch of switches on this function table.
We were the only generation that used the ENIAC in its original form. Because everybody after that, after it was moved to Aberdeen, used it as a stored-program computer. And the difficulty with turning it into a stored-program computer was to be able to get all the stuff on it, and also to get as minimum an instruction set so we could get it all on, but get enough so we could do all the problems we wanted to do. So that was a lot of fun to do that.
Maureen: How did your job change and your career evolve with your association with the ENIAC?
Bartik: See, they’d already designed and thought of EDVAC before. So EDVAC, which was the stored-program computer that they were building for Aberdeen, was already in the works. And also Pres and John had this difficulty with patents with Penn so they left and formed their own company. So I left to go work for Pres and John. And then they were busily building the first commercial computer, which was the UNIVAC, and as many of you may remember, at one time in this industry a UNIVAC meant “computer” the same way Frigidaire means “refrigerator.” You know, you’d say, “Well, do you have a UNIVAC?”
That was one of the most exciting times of my life because first of all, I turned from a programmer into a logical designer because I did logic design on UNIVAC I and put in the check circuits and stuff like that. And the team…and I’m sure you’ve seen these team efforts here, but the team that designed UNIVAC I was like twelve of us. So it was unbelievable esprit de corps and we worked…all the time. It’s about all you do. But, I loved it. I really loved it.
Then one of the things that I think people who have never been there can’t understand how much fun it is to work your mind and your body at full capacity for periods of time. It’s very exhilarating. And then of course the sense of accomplishment once it’s done is incredible.
Maureen: That relates entirely to the work that we do. That hasn’t changed. [To Kay Antonelli:] How did your job evolve, and your career evolve?
Antonelli: Well, I went to Aberdeen… When the ENIAC was about a year old, it was moved to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where they had build a whole building to house it. Then they moved the machine down. They just tore down a wall in the side of Moore School and took the machine out. They had built a boat in the basement and had to get it out. So they tore down a wall and took it out, and when it got the Aberdeen, of course everything had to be retested. The whole machine had to be reassembled and retested. So the first year I was down there, about three quarters of the year, anyway, was spent just reassembling the ENIAC and getting it all tested out.
Then after John Mauchly had been the chief engineer— No, not the chief engineer, but he was the design engineer and inventor of the ENIAC, and was very much interested in what it was doing once it got to Aberdeen, and he kept coming down to visit it, and eventually me. And then the following year, in 1948, we got married and then I left the business entirely. Betty and Betty Holberton went to work for John Mauchly and Pres Eckert, but I was needed at home, at his home, and so I never went back to work.
Maureen: What do you think was your personal contribution? When you look back and think about what you did, what was the spark that you think you brought to the table?
Antonelli: Well, I don’t know. I thought at the time that I had a lot to do with how we actually did the design, the programming, for how ENIAC itself would be programmed. That was before it was changed to a machine that…the stored-program.
Bartik: Well, I’d like to say what I think she brought to it. Betty Holberton and I were the workhorses of the crew, and very logical, A B C D and all this kind of stuff. Kay is much more creative than I will ever be, and she was the one that helped us really understand this business about reusing code. How to split it up, reuse code, and all this. She was very creative and I really think she was the most creative person on [inaudible; crosstalk]
Antonelli: [crosstalk] Wow, thank you Jean. Oh, my.
Maureen: Kay, what did Jean bring to the table? Give you some equal time. What did Jean bring to the table?
Bartik: Oh, please.
Antonelli: I think, number one her great good humor. We had long tedious days and night. We were supposed to work for eight hours. That eight hours went into ten, eleven hours most nights.
Maureen: And that was without Jolt cola.
Antonelli: That was what?
Maureen: That was without high-caffeine colas.
Antonelli: Oh, no. No caffeine, no Coke or anything like that. As a matter of fact, I don’t think we ever brought anything to eat into the ENIAC room, did we?
Antonelli: No. But, number one was, as I say, the high spirits which you brought to the whole group. And I think she also was very very creative, and her subsequent career proved all of that.
Maureen: [To Jean Bartik:] What do you look back, and what do you see as your shining star? What are you most proud of?
Maureen: I know. It’s a trick question. We didn’t have that on the list that we went over.
Bartik: I…tell you the truth, I never even think about that.
Bartik: I mean, I was there, I did the job. I have no delusions that if I hadn’t have been there somebody else wouldn’t have done it. I mean, I did not… I think I was full of it, and would’ve done something because there’s no doubt about it that I was ready for an adventure and something that was new and different and exciting. So I have no doubt if I hadn’t have been picked for an ENIAC programmer I’d’ve been off doing something else.
Maureen: First woman on the moon. What do you think?
Antoneli: I think in general that most of us just thought it was part of our job. I mean, we just…this is something that had to be done and we went right ahead and did it the best we were able to, without anybody to show us how to do it.
Maureen: Did you have any sense that you were creating history, creating—
Bartik: Oh my God, we talked about it night and day. I mean, of course. Socially, that’s in fact my ex-husband, or my husband at the time, got very bored hearing us talk about it because socially—
Maureen: This is my life.
Bartik: Right. We would go into a room and we’d start out with the pleasantries of life, and the next thing you know we’d be into talking about computers and where they were going to go and what we were going to do and all that kind of stuff. I mean, we thought about it night and day.
Antonelli: Yeah. And you know, looking back it didn’t seem as if there was a lot of romance going on at the time. We were each doing our own, and yet Betty married one of the engineers at the Moore School. Fran Bilas married the Army engineer that was assigned to the ENIAC. I married John Mauchly. Betty Snyder married John Holberton, who was our immediate supervisor. And one of the girls married a dentist.
Maureen: Okay. I want to get into some of the people that you’ve been talking about and get your impressions on some of them. A lot of these are very significant names to us in the industry, people that we’ve kind of come to admire. But first, you brought us some pictures, and I’d like to show the pictures, and if you could tell us who they are. This one is kind of easy to talk about.
Bartik: When I first came to Philadelphia, I went down to have my picture taken. And there was a little old man down on 4th Street, 4th and Market in Philadelphia, and he really took a shine to me. So I had dozens of these pictures that he took of me, and he used to shine them on the wall on 4th Street so the trolley could see what magnificent pictures he was taking. And I was 20 years old that time.
And this is Betty Snyder Holberton and me on my wedding day. That was December 14, 1946. We were running around that morning and somebody took our picture. I was almost 22.
Antonelli: [To Jean Bartik:] Hey, where’s that wedding picture you had with John Mauchly.
[To audience:] She has a really wonderful picture taken on her wedding day.
Bartik: Those are the six programmers, taken in 1986. Kay had a party for us in downtown Philadelphia. To the left is Ruth Lichterman and then John Holberton, who was our manager. Then Fran Bilas in the black dress, and behind her is Betty Holberton. And then Marlyn Wescoff and behind her is Homer Spence. And then me and then Kathleen.
Maureen: Just for interest, they were up in the library earlier, and they were identifying some pictures that we have in stores here. They had names of people that we’d never had on file; it just said Unknown Unknown, and they’ve actually been filling in some of our archive information. Oh, here’s that wedding picture.
Antonelli: Yes, this is the wedding picture.
Bartik: This is John Mauchly [recording skips;]
Antonelli: …and who’s that all the way on the left?
Bartik: Well, he’s Al Kozak, but he wasn’t involved
Antonelli: Maybe he was a friend of Bill’s.
Bartik: Oh, the other one was my husband. [laughter]
Maureen: I’ll just stay away from that one.
[Part 6 begins here, apparently after some unknown gap]
Bartik: …you know, all the math routines and stuff. So we were busily doing those things. And so John said he felt that we needed an easier way to program rather than use machine language, although the UNIVAC had a lot of mnemonics, so it wasn’t terribly hard to program in machine language. So he had the idea—and she was brought in to work on the assembler language. I never worked directly with Grace [Hopper], actually. I knew she was there.
Maureen: [To Kay Antonelli:] Did you get—?
Antonelli: I just knew her socially, when she would come visit the house and stuff. But I never worked again in the computer field.
Maureen: After that. Betty Holberton.
Bartik: Well, Betty Holberton, I would have to say… Now, I don’t know how you work, but the way we worked at that time were in teams. And Betty and I worked as a team to develop the trajectory, and she was the best…well, she was my best friend that I’ve ever had in my life. And she also was the best partner I’ve ever had in my life, because we worked together on the trajectory. And the thing about her that always fascinated me was we would be working on a problem and couldn’t figure out how to do something, so we’d work and we’d go home. The next morning she’s day, “You know, I was thinking this morning how to do this.” Now, she works in her sleep. It was absolutely amazing to me because her logical mind…because it just happened too often for that to be an accident. She had to be doing logic in her sleep. So yeah, she was a fabulous programmer. And she did the console for UNIVAC I. It was huge. So basically she was like an ergonomics engineer for the console. A lot of people worked on it, but she did more work than anybody on the UNIVAC code, the instruction set, testing the instruction set.
Maureen: Lila Todd Butler. Did you get to work with her?
Bartik: I worked for her.
Maureen: She was your manager, right?
Bartik: She was my manager when I first came. She was head of the group where we did the calculations and the trajectories. So I worked for her a couple—
Antonelli: She was a programming supervisor…I mean, for calculating the trajectories.
Maureen: Was she also a computer and then a programmer?
Bartik: She became one later. She wasn’t one of the ENIAC group. But she worked on the ENIAC after it went to Aberdeen.
Maureen: So she became your supervisor even though she didn’t have—
Antonelli: She never was our supervisor.
Bartik: No, when I first came there, I was hired to do these trajectories. So she was my supervisor when I did the trajectories, but then later…I mean that was only for two months. Very bright gal.
Maureen: Okay. Somebody out of history, Ada Augusta Lovelace. We’re wondering if you knew about her back then. [Bartik and Antonelli laugh] I guess I hit a nerve.
Antonelli: That takes us back a time.
Maureen: Yeah, I know.
Bartik: I don’t remember her very well, do you?
Maureen: I hope not. We were wondering if you had known about her and known about the work she had done.
Bartik: Oh, yes.
Antonelli: No, no. We didn’t know anything at all about—
Maureen: Not at the time.
Antonelli: Not at the time. As a matter of fact, the fellow that she worked for who tried to build that computer over in England. What’s the name?
Antonelli: Yeah, Charles Babbage. [crosstalk]
Maureen: Another one of those non-romances.
Antonelli: Eckert and Mauchly didn’t even know about Charles Babbage. I mean, nobody was talking about computers. It wasn’t written up in the encyclopedias or anything like that. He was like a flash in the pan way back in 1870, or earlier than that. And so Ada Lovelace only developed later, I think, when they were looking for a name for a computer language or something.
Maureen: She actually developed—
Antonelli: But very little was known about her.
Maureen: Who were your role models at the time? Or were you just creating it on your own?
Bartik: Well, my role model as a woman, or as a person?
Maureen: As an engineer.
Bartik: As an engineer? No, I didn’t have a role model as an engineer, but I mean I had a role model. I had an aunt who got out of Missouri. [laughter]
Maureen: It worked. That was a good one.
Bartik: But uh, well John and Pres. Please. You can’t imagine what it was like. I worked for John and I worked for Pres
Maureen: I’m not going to let her talk about John because she married him. Why don’t you talk about John?
Bartik: Well, John Mauchly, I’ll tell you. I adored the man.
Antonelli: She could probably tell you more about him, because she worked for him.
Bartik: He was the most charming person I think I’ve ever met. You would go up to John Mauchly, if you approached him and you quoted a lime from Alice in Wonderland, he’d finish it. I mean, you could talk to him about anything in the world, and he was so responsive to you. You know, a lot of people you say hello and they go, “Uhhhh.” Not John Mauchly. You go up to John Mauchly and you say hello, I mean, he’s made your day. And creative, and he always pushed us, because I really learned to program the ENIAC from John Mauchly. The first time I met him, when we came back we were sitting there with these block diagrams, and we were on the second floor of the Moore School and they were putting on a third floor. So they were hammering and oh, it was hideous. So Betty and I were sitting there trying to figure out the accumulator block diagram, and this man walked in the room, and he walked all around the room, and he didn’t say a word to us. And then he came over and he said, “You know I’m just checking to see if the ceiling’s falling in.”
Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever even seen John Mauchly. So then he introduced himself. Well, we were thrilled. We said, “Oh my god, we’re happy to see you. Tell us how this accumulator works.” So then his office was next door, so we used to go in every afternoon and get our questions cleared up.
He was a born teacher, and a talker. Both Pres and John were teachers and talkers. You know, if you’d ask them about something, they didn’t just give you a yes or no answer. They told you all about it, so you were always in a learning situation.
Antonelli: I’ll tell about Pres.
Bartik: Oh, you talk about Pres. But I adore Pres, too.
Bartik: Want to jump in about Pres Eckert?
Antonelli: When I first came to Moore School in 1942, Pres Eckert was a graduate student still, at the time, working for his Master’s degree, and it was because he had been teaching John Mauchly in a particular class that they had actually met each other and then John was hired to teach at the Moore School.
But Pres at the time that I came to the Moore School, and shortly after I came to the Moore School, about two weeks later, I was assigned to work on this differential analyzer, which was in the basement of the Moore School. But it was the only air conditioned room in the whole building. And so everybody that had any priorities whatsoever would come down to the analyzer room to cool off. That was a hot summer that year. And at that time, Pres Eckert and a group of other engineers were working doing radar work on the roof of the Moore School. And they would be up there…they’d actually strip down till they had nothing on but shorts, working up in the hot sun that summer.
Pres Eckert would come down with them when they came down to cool off in the analyzer room, and he would still have on his white linen shirt, monogrammed, and a black necktie, and those long black pants that he ever wore. He never dressed down. I don’t think he ever had any informal clothes. And one time, he and I were writing a paper together. This was years and years later, and John Mauchly had already died. He died in 1980. And Pres and I were writing a paper together. So at the time, I started telling about my first recollection of him, about the white shirt and the black necktie and so on. And I said, “Didn’t you ever have any other colored shirts? Any colored shirts?”
And he said, “Yes, I had some colored shirts.”
So I said, “How come you always wore white shirts?”
And he said, “Well, that’s what my mother laid out for me every morning.”
So the next—
Maureen: Oh, the analogies are just racing.
Antonelli: I mean, he just didn’t live in the world—
[Video cuts out]
WITI Hall of Fame profile on the ENIAC Programmers.
Prior to this even, “WITI audaciously asked [Jean and Timothy Bartik], as a writing exercise, to fill in the Hall of Fame nomination form once again.” [PDF]
The three WSJ articles by Tom Petzinger: