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Anecdotes: The Use of "Bug" in Computing Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129807D
Original Publication Date: 1994-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 3 page(s) / 22K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

I. Bernard Cohen: AUTHOR [+2]


Harvard University

This text was extracted from a PDF file.
This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 36% of the total text.

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Copyright ©; 1994 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: The Use of "Bug" in Computing

I. Bernard Cohen

Harvard University

There has been much speculation concerning the early use of the word "bug" in the language of computer science, technology, and practice. In an earlier issue of the Annals, Grace Hopper recounted how an actual bug had been found in one of the relays of the Harvard Mark II computer. She alleged that the computer in question was the Harvard Mark II, but it was pointed out by John Palmer7 that the date in question, 1945, is not consistent with the chronology of the development of the Mark II. In any event, this bug was appropriately mounted in the log book, which for many years was at the Naval Museum, Surface Weapons Center, in Dahlgren, Virginia.* 1 Others have pointed out that the word "bug" had been used earlier in the literature of technology.3 The purpose of this note is to indicate what may be the earliest application of "bug" in the context of computers.

When the IBM ASCC/Harvard Mark I was installed at Harvard University, Robert V.D. Campbell was in charge of the operation of the machine. In 1942, after Aiken had been called into active duty in the Navy and assigned to the Mine Warfare School, he selected Campbell, then a graduate student in physics at Harvard, to serve as his deputy during the final stages of completion of the machine and its subsequent installation at Harvard. Campbell provided liaison between Aiken and the IBM engineers -- Francis (Frank) Hamilton, Clair D. Lake, and Benjamin Durfee -- who were in charge of the construction of the machine at Endicott, N.Y.16

Following a series of test runs, the ASCC/Mark I was disassembled, shipped to Harvard, and then reassembled in the basement of the Research Laboratory of Physics (now the Lyman Laboratory)**2 under the supervision of Hamilton, Lake, and Durfee. Bob Campbell supervised the testing and first runs of the machine and remained in charge of the machine and its operation until the spring of 1944, when Aiken was transferred to Harvard7 to become the Navy's first commanding officer of a computer.***3 Campbell kept a detailed "Log Book," recording almost every aspect of the operation of the new machine, including the preparation of the first programs and the various kinds of difficulties that arose. Durfee of IBM remained in Cambridge during the preliminary operation period, to help in setting up two large problems, one relating to antennas and wave functions for Professor Ronald P.W. King of Harvard, the other a problem in ray tracing in a lens design for James Baker of the Harvard College Observatory.6 s

On April 17,1944, Campbell recorded:

1 *The Annals has reproduced a photograph of this celebrated bug in the two articles cited here.23 [And in Vol. 14, No. 3, p. 7. The logbook has recently been tr...