The First Computers Were People

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Computers compute

Back in the days ‘computer’ was a job description, not a machine. The history of computers reaches long before the invention of electricity. Before all the fancy modern computers, some of the science’s greatest achievements were done by hand. What’s more, this hard work wasn’t done by the scientists themselves. Most of the time it was assigned to people who wasn’t the part of the research at all. And here comes the shocker- usually they were women! This was a matter of practicality more than equality. Women were hired because they charged less money than the men with the same knowledge in mathematics. Despite this prejudice, some women overcame their inferior status. And even contributed to the invention of the first electronic computers.

Goose-quill pen and paper

Have you ever wondered would it be possible to live and perform without computers, smartphones, calculators? Well, that was pretty much reality a few centuries and even decades ago. In 1757 the scientists who calculated the date of Halley’s Comet return did it with goose-quill pen and paper. In the late 1800s, the U.S. needed a nautical journal to give navigators data on the distances of the sun, moon, and planets. Guess how they did it? A bunch of people did the math by hand. Even NASA hired humans to do pencil-and-paper math in the early years. It is very interesting that this math was so important for all discoveries, yet the scientists left the calculations to others.

Women computers

We mentioned earlier that computers were mostly women. Sometimes, male students did the task as well. According to journalist David Skinner, by the early 20th century women had largely dominated the computer world. It was so notable that even terminology changed. “Respected mathematicians would approximate the problem-solving horsepower of computing machines in ‘girl-years’ and describe a unit of machine labor as equal to one ‘kilo-girl,'” Skinner writes. It’s important to remember the contributions women made to science and technology, although men dominate tech world today.