The plethora of donated hardware, including a functional model of IBM’s Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator Operator Console from 1948, is more than enough eye candy to lure in any fan of computer history. The allure becomes all the more compelling given the fact that “Silicon City” presents rather complex information in an accessible way. For example, when explaining the importance of COBOL and FORTRAN—the first two “high level” programming languages developed by the Department of Defense—the exhibition doesn’t get too granular with trying to explain procedural programming and the nuances of creating a compiler. Instead, “Silicon City” focuses on the outcomes of these innovations by highlighting how they influenced a larger timeline of programming and computing.
Another strength is that rightful attention is paid to the importance of women programmers and leaders within technology. Though the boys club of the tech sector can be overwhelming at times (especially in the pamphlets comparing IBM Systems/360 to feminized secretarial work), the exhibition does more than politely recognize the contribution of women to the history of computing. Grace Hopper’s innovations—which include developing COBOL, and being one of the first programmers to work on the legendary Harvard “Mark I” computer—are given particular credit. The significant influence of Jean Jennings Bartik and Frances Bilas, who programmed the ENIAC—a massive room-sized machine often cited as the first electronic computer—is also prominently on display. Edidin himself stresses the need for women engineers, programmers, and technologists to not merely be present within this narrative, but to be lauded as central actors.