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December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

Posted December 08, 2016 1:00 PM by MaggieMc
Pathfinder Tags: December 8

On December 8, 2001, Betty Holberton died in Rockville, Maryland. Holberton, born Francis Elizabeth “Betty” Snyder, is most widely known for her role as one of the ENIAC’s six programmers.

The ENIAC was one of the first all-electronic digital computers, “a huge machine of forty black 8-foot panels,” that required the programmers to “laboriously [set] the switches and cables” in order to “route the data and program pulses through the machine.” The U.S. Army funded this project at the University of Pennsylvania during World War II as an extension of the work being done by eighty women at the UPenn Moore School of Engineering, where they calculated ballistic trajectories. From the eighty original female “computers,” Holberton and five others were selected to work on ENIAC. (You can learn more about these women in our Woman of the Week blog.)

According to the New York Times, colleagues recall Holberton as “particularly adept at figuring out the best path for guiding the complex calculations through the electronic labyrinth of the ENIAC. Frequently, these insights came to her overnight.” Jean J. Bartic, another ENIAC programmer described Holberton further, saying, “Betty had an amazing logical mind, and she solved more problems in her sleep than other people did awake.”

Holberton had ended up at the Moore School of Engineering because she had chosen to attend the University of Pennsylvania for journalism, hoping it would offer her the opportunity to travel. However, following her work on ENIAC, Holberton instead worked on the Univac with two ENIAC designers, John Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly. It is said that “[w]hile working on the Univac, Mrs. Holberton did some of her most innovative work. She developed a program for sorting and merging large data files, which at the time were stored on reels of magnetic tape.”

Holberton’s career didn’t stop there, in 1953, she joined the Navy’s Applied Mathematics Laboratory at the David Taylor Model Basin, and in 1959, as Chief of the Programming Research Branch at the lab, she helped develop the Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL). While Holberton, and other critics, recognized this as a flawed language, Holberton supported the place COBOL held as a steppingstone for other languages.

1997 was a particularly big year for Holberton as she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame, along with the other ENIAC programmers, won the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award, and received the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award from the IEEE Computer Society.

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#1

Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/08/2016 1:51 PM

One of the famous human 'calculators' during WWII.

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Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/09/2016 4:41 AM

An early electronic machine was Colossus, designed by Alan Turing for the British military in 1943. This machine played an important role in breaking codes used by the German army in World War II. Turing's main contribution to the field of computer science was the idea of the Turing machine, a mathematical formalism widely used in the study of computable functions. The existence of Colossus was kept secret until long after the war ended, and the credit due to Turing and his colleagues for designing one of the first working electronic computers was slow in coming.

They were made in quite large numbers, during and after WW2, the USA making copies for their own usage against Japanese ciphers in particular!!

It followed other units, previously used to crack the German Cipers that were more mechanical in design!!

Colossus Computer

Colossus was a set of computers developed by British codebreakers in 1943-1945 to help in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher. Colossus used thermionic valves (vacuum tubes) to perform Boolean and counting operations. Colossus is thus regarded as the world's first programmable, electronic, digital computer, although it was programmed by switches and plugs and not by a stored program.

ENIAC was first switched on in 1947!!! Many years later!!!

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Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/09/2016 9:44 AM

I'm disappointed to learn my information was incorrect. Thank you for letting us know!

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Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/09/2016 10:37 AM

Its OK.

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Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/27/2016 10:39 AM

I changed it for you, now it says "The ENIAC was one of the first all-electronic digital computers." Thanks for reading!

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Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/27/2016 11:31 AM

My pleasure.

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Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/09/2016 3:18 PM

The Imitation Game is a very nice dramatic movie on cracking the Enigma Code with Colossus. I'm certain a dramatic license was employed to make the story interesting for the masses. The movie also shows the tragic end of Alan Turing in the last third of the movie.

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Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/09/2016 3:43 PM

It is a great movie, but full of errors of facts, to try and make it more interesting!!

This is not even complete:-

Some Imitation Game Goofs

This one is far better:-

Imitation Game Goofs

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Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/09/2016 4:24 PM

A pivotal factual point in the movie was the recognition of a key phrase for decoding. I don't think Alan Turing was the one to recognize this but...

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Re: December 8, 2001 – The Death of Betty Holberton

12/10/2016 3:42 AM

It was a team effort, several people contributed in reality.....Alan (a distant relative of mine by the way!) was unusual in that he could build drévices as well.

There are several good books on Alan, Andrew Hodges, himself a brilliant Homo sexual mathematician/scientist, wrote the best one I feel....Check here:-

Andrew_Hodges

Hodges is best known as the author of Alan Turing: The Enigma, the story of the British computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing. Critically acclaimed at the time — Donald Michie in New Scientist called it "marvellous and faithful" — the book was chosen by Michael Holroyd as part of a list of 50 'essential' books (that were currently available in print) in The Guardian, 1 June 2002.

I have read most of the books about Alan, you should read this one first.....

There are nowadays many books about the cracking of Enigma, many miss out completely some important names, even the very first book was not complete, partly due to the "need to know" of wartime Great Britain.....so you need to read about 6 of them to try and get a fairly complete picture.....

I have been at it for over 20 years now!!! (but not exclusively I hasten to add!!)

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