If he could have kept it, he would have …

mauchly_4The first three series of the John W. Mauchly papers are now available for research!  It feels like ages since I first surveyed the MANY boxes of Mauchly material that were filling my office space on my first day of work here in the SCPC.  I can honestly say, without hesitation, that I have truly enjoyed Dr. Mauchly’s company.

Construction on our processing room and surrounding areas has precipitated the need to temporarily move collection material to safer locations and so the first installment of the finding aid comes a bit earlier than anticipated.

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Baby, It’s Hot Outside

Scene:  Collegeville, Pennsylvania, Summer, 1934.  The windows are wide open, but there is little relief from the steamy Mid-Atlantic heat and humidity.  A brilliant young physicist sits down at the dinner table and his lovely wife places his meal before him.  He smiles and thanks her, picks up the salt shaker and upends it over his plate. Nothing happens. He shakes, and still nothing.

“Jeepers!” he cries, “There must be a way to fix this! I need a pencil!”

Okay, I made that up in my mind … there is absolutely no evidence in the collection that John Mauchly said “Jeepers” (although that is a nice authentic 1930s exclamation!) or that he was driven to say it by his salt solidifying due to the humidity.

However, there is evidence that Dr. Mauchly thought that a solution to this problem was necessary.  Residential air conditioning was not common in American homes until the latter half of the 20th century, so it is possible that Dr. Mauchly may have experienced a scene similar to the one I have depicted.  And if I know anything about Dr. Mauchly, it is that he was a problem solver and a creative thinker.  Below is his suggestion for a way to keep  salt and sugar dry in a pre-air conditioned home!

Mauchly_sugar_and_saltThere is no indication whether the General Electric Company ever implemented such a creation, but I am always amazed by the way that Mauchly thought and how diverse his interests were!

The marvelousness in Mauchly’s papers

I am still processing John Mauchly’s amazing papers (see previous posts on this collection) and keep discovering items that make me love Mr. Mauchly just a bit more.  As I sift through the many boxes of material that document his work with early computers, I am always most drawn to the material that documents Mr. Mauchly as a human being.

Today, I would like to share one of my favorite things I have ever found in an archival collection.  For those who have not read other posts on Mauchly, these are a few things that he loved:

  • data
  • lists
  • comments about and interpretation of data and lists

(please note that I have provided this information as Mr. Mauchly would have).  His love of data and lists was not limited to his professional life, and throughout his collection one finds many, many delights, including this one about possible names for his new baby girl who was born on April 30, 1951.  No other comments are needed–but please, do read all the way to the bottom of his note!


Fact:  This baby was eventually named Kathy (according to information I found online, she was Kathleen (after her mom) rather than Katherine on the list)!

If John Mauchly was a superhero …

… he would have been called DATAMAN! What he did with data (collecting, creating, analyzing, and saving) certainly required skills that are beyond the typical human.  To provide a little background, Mauchly was the co-inventer of the first computer, ENIAC, which was developed here at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Engineering in 1946.  His co-inventor, J. Prosper Eckert, and he continued to work together on other computer related projects, including the first commercial computer, the EDVAC.

When I started working on this massive collection (approximately 500 linear feet of material), I was baffled by the sheer volume and types of data that Mauchly collected and saved.  But as I get to know Mauchly, I understand, more and more, why he was such a data pack-rat!  It is just how his brain worked and how he learned — and it how his brain ALWAYS worked and how he ALWAYS learned.

boys-quizMay I introduce you to DataBoy, DataMan’s early persona?  It turns out that as early as age 10, Mauchly was actively collecting data and recording it in a nice, standardized format.  What did DataBoy collect information on at age 10?  Why, his friends’ likes and dislikes, of course!  I have not found that Mauchly analyzed any of this data, so  I did a quick and incomplete analysis:  Douglas Fairbanks and Marguerite Clarke were the clear winners in the favorite actor and actress categories; ice cream was the favorite dessert, followed by pineapple, brown betty, and pie; and blue was the favorite color.  One snarky ten-year-old listed flirting as his favorite sport and kissing as his favorite game!  Scandalous!

In addition to learning all this outstanding information about a group of ten to eleven-year-olds in Chevy Chase, Maryland in 1918, we have evidence of  Mauchly’s delightfully charming methodology to ensure that the same questions were asked of each kid.  Both boys and girls filled out the data request in separate sections of the notebook (they are ten, after all), and in a happy coincidence, Mauchly and “his girl” both identified each other as their special person.

diary_1diary2Things only became more structured for DataBoy in his high school years. The collection includes a couple of Mauchly’s diaries in which he records a great deal of data:  when he went to sleep, when he awoke, the number of hours he slept, and where and how he spent his evenings.  I was entertained and awed by his discipline, but I was thunderstruck when I discovered that he had used his data to prove his mother wrong in an argument about his staying out too late too many evenings.  Not only does he present his argument in “The Somerset Affair,” but he provides supplements to the data!

special_attentionsBy college at Johns Hopkins University, DataBoy was evolving into DataMan, if for no other reason than the subject of his data; in this case:  “Girls to whom I have given special attentions!”  Not only does he record the lady’s name, but also the number of times and the reason for giving the ladies his special attentions (with a numeric code)!  Don’t worry, he defined the code: 1. Because I wanted to; 2. Because I thought she wanted me to; 3. Both of the above; and 4. Because I wanted to see what would happen.

So, after learning about Mauchly’s love of data as a boy, is it really surprising that he collected and saved boxes and boxes (and boxes) of weather data?  That he kept more than fifty boxes of scholarly (and not-so-scholarly) journals? That he recorded from whom he received Christmas gifts and if and how those gifts were reciprocated each year?  No, it is not surprising and that is why archival collections, and especially collections as rich as Mauchly’s, are so amazing–no one piece of paper tells the whole story, but taken as a whole … oh, what a delightful tale this collection tells!

Keep an eye out for more posts on Mauchly … every box presents another fascinating picture of who this man was and how he was able to create the first computer!

Happy Thanksgiving, circa early 1960s

Holiday cards are always fun finds in archival collections and handmade cards are even better!  While I am quite used to finding Christmas cards, thanksgiving cards are a bit less common.  So, the day before Thanksgiving in 2013, I share a thanksgiving greeting from Virginia Mauchly (born 1954) to her mother, Kathleen R. Mauchly.  Viriginia, or Gini as she was known, is the daughter of John W. Mauchly, the co-inventor of the first computer, ENIAC, which was developed right here at Penn in the Moore School.  Processing of his important (and enormous) collection is underway, so keep an eye out for future posts.

Enjoy!  I particularly love the use of the interrogation mark!

**NOTE: Based upon wonderful information from John Mauchly’s daughters (Eva, Gini, and Kathy), I am getting even more of a picture of who their dad was!  In this case, Eva tells me that she, not Gini, is the creator of this great card (please see her comment at the bottom of this post, for full details!). [September 29, 2014]


Mauchly_Thanksgiving_Page 1

Virginia Mauchly's Thanksgiving Card, page 2

Virginia Mauchly's Thanksgiving Card, page 3