Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by portia. portia Wonders, “who was Ada Lovelace?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, portia!
Have you used a computer today? For most people, the answer is a loud, “Yes!” From smartphones to tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, we live in a technological world. If you use a computer every day, you have someone special to thank—Ada Lovelace.
Who was Ada Lovelace? Only the world’s first computer programmer! However, she lived more than 100 years before computers became common. Lovelace was born on December 10, 1815. Her name at birth was Ada Byron. Her father was the famed poet Lord Byron, and her mother was his first wife, Annabella Milbanke.
Lovelace’s parents separated shortly after she was born. In fact, Ada never met her father, who died when she was only eight. She grew up in London, England. Her mother didn’t want young Ada to become a poet like her father. She wanted her to study music, French, and math.
As a child, Lovelace was often ill. In fact, she spent years unable to leave her home. This gave her a great deal of time to study with her tutors. From an early age, she took an interest in math. Lovelace continued her studies her entire life. She became one of the most brilliant mathematicians of her time.
As a teenager, Lovelace met a mathematician named Charles Babbage. He was impressed with the young woman’s skill in math. Babbage had plans to build an early calculator. He called it the Difference Engine. He shared his plans with Lovelace, who became deeply interested in the idea.
Babbage also showed Lovelace his plans for an Analytical Engine. His idea for this machine was very advanced for the time. It would be able to carry out mathematical operations at a fast pace. The Analytical Engine wasn’t built during their lifetimes. Still, Babbage and Lovelace spent much of their lives on its design.
Lovelace was eager to help Babbage with his designs. In 1843, she translated a paper about the engine. It was written in French by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea. Lovelace re-wrote it in English.
However, she did much more than translate the paper. Lovelace added her own notes on the Analytical Engine and what it could do. In all, her notes were three times longer than the paper itself. She showed an understanding of the engine that went beyond that of even Babbage.
In her notes, Lovelace described how the Analytical Engine would carry out algorithms. She even gave an example—a string of commands that would make the machine calculate Bernoulli numbers. Today, this is considered the first computer program ever written. That makes Ada Lovelace the world’s first computer programmer.
In 1852, Ada Lovelace died from cancer. She was only 36. She had become the Countess of Lovelace in 1838 when her husband, William King, became the first Earl of Lovelace. When Ada died, she left behind her husband, three children, and a lasting legacy. Today, computer programming is one of the most rapidly growing career fields.
However, computer programming didn’t become a profession for nearly a century after Ada Lovelace died. In the late-1940s, six women became the first professional computer programmers. Their names were Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Elizabeth Holberton, France Bilas Spence, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum. They worked for the U.S. Army and programmed a computer called the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC).
Do you dream of becoming a computer programmer? If so, you can start learning today! There are many ways to learn the basics of computer programming online. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be as well-known as Ada Lovelace one day!
Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.SL.3, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.2