Saturday, February 27, 2016

Top secret Rosies were more than pretty faces

In 2011, the City Council of Philadelphia, PA, officially declared Feb. 15 as ENIAC Day, and you'll be surprised when you find out why. The story begins in 1942, when men were fighting overseas in WWII and mathematicians were needed to program the world's first general purpose computer, called ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer). Six young women from Philadelphia were chosen to work on the classified government project. The 1,500 square foot ENIAC hardware featured 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors and 10,000 capacitors. All the ladies had to do was program and debug it.

                  Photo from International Communications Agency/Wikimedia Commons
Working double-shifts, six days a week for three years, they wrote programs using mechanical calculators, and sometimes crawled inside ENIAC to replace faulty tubes. One said her job was to "look like a girl; act like a lady, and work like a dog." When ENIAC was unveiled in 1946 as a "Giant Brain," the young women who spent years debugging it were used as attractive models to help show off the machine. They were not even invited to the celebratory dinner after the unveiling, but when their hidden heroism eventually became known, the Philadelphia City Council named a day in their honor. In 2014 they were remembered in a documentary called "Top Secret Rosies." The trailer will touch your heart. To see it, visit

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