The First Computer Bug

By abeard

When a problem happens with a computer program, it is called a bug. “The First computer bug” however was not the first problem to occur with a computer. The first computer bug is called so because it was the first documented case of a bug actually being found in a computer.

Grace Hopper, who was working at Harvard University at the time, enjoys telling the story of how on September 9 1947 at the Harvard University the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator was acting up. After searching the problem was found. A moth had gotten stuck in relay #70 panel F. the engineers removed the moth with a pair of tweezers and taped it to the log writing “First actual case of a bug being found” (See picture at the top of the page).

While the engineers there certainly made the term more popular, the term “Bug” existed long before the engineers at Harvard found the moth in Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator. The engineers who removed the bug were familiar with the term and called it “First actual case of a bug being found” for their own amusement.

If they did not coin the term then who did? There are many cases of people using the term “bugs” to describe problems with technological devices. In World War II problems with radar electronics were called bugs. Before that the term “Bugs in a Telephone Cable” might have been used to describe noisy phone lines. Even before that Thomas Edison used the term “bugs” to describe small problems that occur with electronics.

The term probably came from the Vibroplex Morse code telegraph keyer that, when held down, produced a stream of dots. While being able to send a rapid fire stream of dots was useful to a very good Morse code operator, it could be extremely annoying to an inexperienced operator who held it down to long, and sent a stream of nonsensical dots to whoever was on the other side.

While the First computer bug was not what most of us think of as a computer bug, the engineers went about solving it the exact same way you go about solving a bug today. They found the source of the problem; a moth stuck in relay 70, panel f, then attempted to fix it, the did so by removing it with an pair of tweezers, and finaly logging the problem in case it came up again.
The first computer bug was at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Computer Museum, and tried to give it to the Smithsonian Institution several times, but they wouldn not accept it until 1991. The moth was not actually displayed for several years do to space and money restrictions. The moth and the log book to which it was taped can still be found at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

Sources: Computer Bug on Wikipedia, First Computer Bug James S. Huggins’ refrigerator door, Internet FAQ Archives, and many other sites on the Internet.

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