Mainframe History Trivia

At Planet Mainframe’s Trivia Challenge, we’re continuing our journey through mainframe time, looking at some of the people who changed the course of computing history. Today we’re going back to a time when a computer referred to a person, not a machine. 

During the Second World War, a group of women were recruited by the US military to do ballistics research. When the war ended in 1945, six of those women were hired to work on a related project—programming the new The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC). 

These women were among the first programmers to work anywhere. They worked tirelessly to direct ENIAC and its punch-card equipment, programmed it for each job, and developed programs for new problems. Their names are little known, but worth noting: 

  • Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli
  • Jean Jennings Bartik
  • Frances (Betty) Snyder Holberton
  • Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer
  • Frances Bilas Spence
  • Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum

1. What information or tools were the ENIAC girls given before starting?


2. According to Jean Jennings Bartik, “We started with logical diagrams of the ENIAC, and we were supposed to study them to figure how to program the ENIAC:” What phrase did Bartik use to describe how the women experienced the process of programming the ENIAC?


3. Which of these firsts are the ENIAC girls given credit for today?


4. How much did the ENIAC weigh?


5. The ENIAC had about how many vacuum tubes?


6. After months of working with blueprints and diagrams to program the machine (even devising a system to pinpoint which of the vacuum tubes was burned out), they were finally allowed to see the ENIAC in person. How long did they have to work with the actual machine before the public demonstration?


7. The six women were eventually able to demonstrate to military brass how the machine worked, with the programmers setting the process into motion and showing how it produced an answer. After the demonstration, a celebratory dinner followed. Were any of the six ENIAC girls invited to that dinner?


8. In what year did the ENIAC programmers finally receive recognition for their work by being inducted into the Women in Technology Hall of Fame?


9. All six women remained in the field of computer science for the next several decades, working as early programmers and software designers.


Sonja Soderlund is an Oregon-based B2B freelance writer. Whether writing about mainframe computers, educational technology, or sustainable retail, she strives to bring clarity to complex issues. Connect with her at or LinkedIn.

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