17 June 2011

Documentary: Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II

Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II (2010)

Good little one-hour long documentary about the lady mathematicians employed during World War II to calculate out trajectory tables for our weapons and bombers. Unsung heroes - their story is now told, almost 70 years later.

Back before we had electronic computers the term 'computer' was a job description.  A computer was a mathematician employed to perform calculations. After the U.S. was drawn into World War II the government employed mathematicians to perform trajectory calculations by hand and with the assistance of mechanical calculation equipment. With the trajectory solutions in hand our forces in the field and in our bombers were able to aim better.  As many of our men were sent off to fight, the war department turned to employ women mathematicians.
Some of these ladies were later employed as the first electronic computer programmers, for ENIAC, though they never received public credit for their work.

The documentary has interviews with some of the ladies employed as computers during WWII, and a couple of the gents that either worked with the ladies directly or benefited from use of their solutions in the field.

Great watch for folks interested in lesser-known World War II history. Also great for folks interested in the history of human computers, the first electronic computer used by the US Government, and the ladies behind the first programming of the computer. I don't recall hearing about these ladies in any of the college courses I attended that told of the history of computers and programming. I'd heard of Ada Lovelace and even had the humbling opportunity to meet Adm Grace Hopper, both big names in the pioneering of computation machines and programming; I don't recall ever hearing the story of the female computers of World War II before now.

This documentary is streaming on Netflix as of this post.
Documentary website: http://www.topsecretrosies.com/

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