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Library Corner

May 17, 2012

'Computers' were once people

Computers are a relatively recent invention; for many, within our lifetime. The machines are an integral part of our everyday lives, and to tell the truth, I've not given the origin of the word computer much thought. While reading a book on the periodic table recently, there was a section that brought home the word's origin to me.

During World War II, scientists were working on plutonium, neutrons and neurons, trying to determine speed, atoms available and a host of other things. Their work required calculations of long lists of numbers. Wives of the scientists, bored with their lives at Los Alamos, were hired to calculate these long lists of numbers. Each woman did one type of calculation, passed it on to the next, forming an assembly line. These women crunched endless tables of data and were known as "computers."

So, the first definition of the word was someone who computes and now we know it as a machine. Interesting. As an aside, it was due to these women and their endless computing, that the Manhattan Project was able to move forward. Like me, you probably had never given a second thought to the origin of the word computer, but now you know.

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