“…With the advent of the everyday use of elaborate calculations, speed has become paramount to such a high degree that there is no machine on the market today capable of satisfying the full demand of modern computational methods. The most advanced machines have greatly reduced the time required for arriving at solutions to problems which might have required months or days by older procedures. This advance, however, is not adequate for many problems encountered in modern scientific work and the present invention is intended to reduce to seconds such lengthy computations…” From the ENIAC patent. In 1939, When World War II broke out, the United States was severely technologically disabled. Therefore, the government placed great emphasis on the development of electronic technology that could be used in battle. It started off as a simple machine. It would aid the army in computing tables for artillery, eventually, the end result was the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer).
In 1942, a physicist by the name John Mauchly proposed an all-electronic calculating machine. Meanwhile, the U.S army needed to calculate involute wartime ballistics tables. The proposal met patron. The result was ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), built between 1943 and 1945, the first sizably voluminous scale computer to run at electronic speed without being slowed by any mechanical components. For a decade, until a 1955 lightning strike, ENIAC may have run more calculations than all mankind had done up to that point.This revolutionary piece of equipment was approximately 1500 square feet; the ENIAC was one of the most complex electrical systems ever built at the time.
However, this was not the first computer. The basic element that makes a computer is the ability to store and process data and there is nothing in this world that can do that better than Homo sapiens. Till 1943, we were the ones who had to compute and crunch numbers using our own mental capability without the use of any technological devices. This meant that all the information needed from day to day tasks had to be located in or around the organization including any type of book, document, and general information.
Each person had to be there own computers, figuring out what is the fastest and most efficient way to access needed information and consolidates that into something they could use. When the ENIAC was completed, it could complete such a complex problem in 30 seconds. The ENIAC was used quite often by the military but never contributed any spectacular or necessary data.
The main significance of the ENIAC was that it was an incredible achievement in the field of computer science and can be considered the first digital and personal computer. The ENIAC was also important for social reasons. For the first time in the American workplace, women were allowed to work alongside men in programming. Although history gives them little credit, women earned some equal status among men that was necessitated by the terrible situation created by World War II.
The origins of the ENIAC project lie within the Moore School at the University of Pennsylvania. The Ordnance Department of the military had the task of organizing and preparing firing and bombing tables for the air force. These tables would be given to artillery units as well as pilots in airplanes to calculate the force and trajectory needed for their shells. These calculations took into account several factors that were all thrown together in a massive equation that would give the appropriate useful data Harry Reed, who worked on the ENIAC, said “This contains a whole bunch of stuff starting with the range, the elevation you would shoot at, and a whole bunch of things that would tell you how you have to change things if the wind were blowing or if there were more dense air or whatever.”(1) The Department was looking for a reliable calculator that could convert several factors into firing data in a very short period of time. The Moore School had such a calculator, at that time known as a Bush Differential Analyzer, which had the potential for making such computations. The ENIAC was an incredibly complex and gigantic machine for its time. Although simple calculators that were able to add and multiply had existed for several years, the ENIAC was unique for several reasons.
The ENIAC had rapid adding machines, which were able to add digits 0 through 9 very quickly. The fascinating part of the ENIAC was that it was able to remember and store each computation and use it later on. “ENIAC could discriminate between the sign of a number, compare quantities for equality, add, subtract, multiply, divide, and extract square roots. ENIAC stored a maximum of twenty 10 digit decimal numbers. Its accumulators combined the functions of an adding machine and storage unit. No central memory unit existed.
Storage was localized within the functioning units of the computer.”What makes the ENIAC the first “digital” or personal computer is the fact that it had a central programming unit that would determine which accumulators to activate and what to do with their outputs. This central programming unit used repeating loops so that different units of the ENIAC could work at the same time. Basically, several different units were combined into a single one through this program. “The first fundamental technical innovation had to do with combining very diverse technical components and design ideas into a single system that could perform 5000 additions and 300 multiplications per second…this was two to three orders of magnitude faster than existing mechanical computers or calculators.”(4) This was quite an achievement for 1942 even though it pales in comparison to today’s computers. Although history has failed to document and give the proper credit, women were instrumental and absolutely key in the production, creation, and innovation of the ENIAC.
During World War II the male population from 18 to 40 was decimated by the draft and the call to enlist in military services. Even though many scientists moved into the military to work on projects like these, there was a serious shortage of experienced men that were available to work. At this time, women were not given much credence and their place in society was seen mostly as a homemaker. “It was generally expected that a college-educated woman could do one of two things, marry or teach. These women wanted to apply for their knowledge and work in the field of mathematics.” However, the imperative needs that war provides such as the ENIAC project transcended social barriers. Women were given the ability to participate in this project and several were promoted to important programming and managerial positions. Finally, the last computer innovation that was truly developed in the ENIAC was something that is quite familiar to our computer science class today.
“By connecting one of the data lines of an accumulator into the control line of another, the ENIAC’s operations could be controlled based on the content of its data.” This, in essence, was the first conditional. The central programming unit would send pulses to different accumulators based on the value of what they had stored from previous calculations. Therefore the ENIAC became much more efficient and was also able to compute much more quickly.
Although there is little historical evidence, there are rumors that women programmers took the initiative in developing this computer language.