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The People Are the Computers

People working in Computing Division office in 1924
Computers at Work in 1924.

Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (2nd ed.), 1934, defines a "computer" as “One who or that which computes ….” It also contains the word “computist,” defined as “One skilled or employed in computing ….”

The 1924 photo of the “Computing Division, Computing Section” shows people calculating bonus payments for returning World War 1 veterans. Departments of this type were common in banks, insurance companies, research facilities, government agencies, anywhere massive amounts of calculations were required.

As is evident in the photo, most of the computers were women. NASA’s Langley Research Center has a detailed history of its human computers — “When the Computer Wore a Skirt: Langley’s Human Computers 1935-1970.”

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  1. Photo from Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

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