Early Years of the Mainframe

The mainframe is often considered the backbone of enterprise computing—and it has a rich history that is  intertwined with pioneering individuals who shaped its development. This month at Planet Mainframe, to mark the 60th anniversary of the mainframe, we’re looking back at the history of Big Iron and some of the industry’s biggest change-makers, past and present.

While there are many, many people who helped shape mainframe history, there are a few (okay, more than a few) that stand out as having an outsized influence on the evolution of the mainframe. We don’t have space to cover them all, but test yourself to see how much you know about some of the big names from the early years of the mainframe!

1. 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 computing project. According to Jean Jennings Bartik, “We started with logical diagrams, and we were supposed to study them to figure how to program it:” What were these six women working on?


2. Which of these firsts are the six “ENIAC girls” given credit for today?


3. Grace Hopper is another twentieth century mainframe legend. After receiving her commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), she joined a team working on the first electromechanical computer in the United States. The name of this computer was:


4. Hopper took part in CODASYL, the goal of which was to develop a common business language that could be used across industries and sectors. The finished product was COBOL, which was introduced in what year?


5. Who was called “the father of the mainframe” and is known, among other things, for his work on pipelining in computer architecture?


6. IBM’s Thomas Watson Jr. took an enormous risk on the creation of the world’s first fully integrated and compatible mainframe computer. That computer was:


7. Among his other achievements at IBM, for which of these was Watson responsible?


8. Which computer scientist is credited with coining the term “debugging” after removing a moth from a relay in the Harvard Mark II computer?


9. Who developed the concept of time-sharing, which allows multiple users to access a computer system simultaneously?


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 sonjasoderlund.com or LinkedIn.

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