In 1996, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 32-cent stamp commemorating the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator).
ENIAC, with its 18,000 vacuum tubes, required 1,000 square feet of floor space. John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert had first used it in a calculation for Los Alamos Laboratories in December 1945. It was formally dedicated in February 1946.
The task of “programming” ENIAC was given to a group of women who had all previously been working as computers at the Moore School: Kathleen Antonelli, Jean Bartik, Frances “Betty” Holberton, Marlyn Meltzer, Frances Spence, and Ruth Teitelbaum. Although their contributions were instrumental to ENIAC’s success, their stories were nearly lost to history and only more recently was their work formally recognized.
Then, when ENIAC was moved to Aberdeen Proving Ground, its six original programmers’ paths varied and their contributions were nearly lost to history. Thanks to Kathy Kleiman, who learned about the ENIAC six while doing research for her undergraduate thesis, the stories of the ENIAC programmers were finally brought to life and all six women were inducted into the Women in Technology Hall of Fame in 1997.
The ballistic research laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland used ENIAC to more quickly prepare firing and bombing tables. Until ENIAC, which was developed in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, a continuous variable calculator produced the tables, slowly.
The Computer History Museum quotes from the 08 October 1996 news release marking its 50th anniversary:
Long before PCs became standard office equipment and surfing on the information superhighway became a national obsession, calculations were done the “old-fashioned way” by hand. And, as is often the case, it took a war to bring the world into the computer age specifically, the need for the United States Army to rapidly compute ballistic firing tables.
Designers reportedly used a computer to create the artwork, which seem apropos.
The Army retired ENIAC on 02 October 1955.
Issue Date: October 8, 1996
City: Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD