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Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum was one of the programmers for the ENIAC computer and one of the first computer programmers in the world.
Ruth Teitelbaum was born in 1924. She attended Hunter College and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. She was hired by the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania to compute ballistic trajectories. The Moore School at UPenn was funded by the US Army during the Second World War. Here a group of about 80 women worked manually calculating ballistic trajectories - complex differential calculations. These women were called ‘computers’. In 1945, the Army decided to fund an experimental project – the first all-electronic digital computer and six of the women ‘computers’ were selected to be its first programmers. Among these six was Ruth Teitelbaum.
The ENIAC was the first all-electronic digital computer, a huge machine of forty black 8-foot panels. The programmers had none of the programming tools of today and it was a challenge to make the ENIAC work. The six programmers had to physically conduct the ballistic program using 3000 switches and dozens of switches and digital trays to route the data and program pulses through the machine. Ruth Teitelbaum and Marlyn Meltzer were a special team within the ENIAC project. They used analog technology to calculate ballistic trajectory equations. In 1946, the ENIAC computer was unveiled before the public and the press. The six women were the only generation of programmers to program the ENIAC and they went on to teach programming techniques to others. Teitelbaum moved with the ENIAC to the Ballistics Research laboratory at Aberdeen, Maryland. Here for two more years she taught the programming tools she had developed to the next generation of ENIAC programmers.
Ruth Teitelbaum died in 1986 in Dallas, Texas. Though she played a pivotal role in the rise of computers, Teitelbaum received little credit during her lifetime. In 1997 she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame along with the five other programmers who were also included. However, while the other five women were physically present, Teitelbaum’s husband accepted in the memory of his wife.