After the end of World War II, top-secret research continued across the United States as engineers and programmers rushed to complete their confidential assignments. Among them were six pioneering women, tasked with figuring out how to program the new Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC).
The world’s first general-purpose, programmable, all-electronic computer, ENIAC was built to calculate a single ballistic trajectory in 20 seconds rather than 40 hours by human hand—but there were no instruction codes or programming languages in existence to guide the women. They succeeded, but their story was never told to the reporters and scientists fascinated by the huge computer after it became public—and it was lost.
Author and documentary filmmaker Kathy Kleiman founded the ENIAC Programmers Project to bring their achievements out of the shadows. For more than two decades, she met with four of the original six programmers, pored over documentation and images, and recorded extensive oral histories with the women about their work. She found stories that had been relegated and dismissed by even computer history experts, who had assumed the women posing with ENIAC in old black-and-white photos were nothing more than models.
Join Kleiman as she traces her campaign to restore these women to their rightful place as technological revolutionaries and shares why the ENIAC programmers’ groundbreaking work still deserves to be celebrated.
Kleiman’s book Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer (Grand Central Publishing), is available for purchase.
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