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British Industrial History

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Winifred Hackett

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Winifred Hackett (1906-1994) was an electrical and aeronautical engineer, working on guided weapons systems and the DEUCE computer.

1906 October 02nd. Born in Smethwick, the daughter of Alfred George Hackett, a Mechanical Engineering Draughtsman (Aeroplane Work), and his wife Annie.

Attended King Edward’s Girls’ High School in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Hackett was an exceptional student and won a scholarship whilst at the school. She originally planned to study architecture and for a time attended UCL with this purpose, but decided to change academic direction, returning to Birmingham to study engineering instead.

1929 Became the first woman to graduate from the University of Birmingham with an engineering degree, and won the prize for the 'Best Engineer in the University of Birmingham' in 1930. Hackett’s academic success resulted in the award of the Bowen Scholarship for Electrical Engineering, which enabled her to stay on to earn an MSc. A further grant by from the Institution of Electrical Engineers' War Thanksgiving Education and Research Fund in 1930 supported her a to earn a PhD on selenium cells, again at the University of Birmingham.

She then became an aeronautical engineer.

Hackett’s first job was at the British Electrical and Allied Industries Research Association at Perivale and then Leatherhead, where she worked as a Junior Technical Assistant. During this time she was researching dielectrics and published a number of papers on dielectrics, capacitors and DC design.

1939 Listed at 9 Creffield Road, Ealing, Electrical Engineer Reserach.

By the 1950s Hackett was head of the Guided Weapons Division at aerospace and defence company English Electric, working on Mathematical Physics, and based first in Luton and later in Stevenage. She was in charge of the DEUCE computer and its programming on punched cards and paper tape. The Deuce was a commercialised version of Alan Turing’s ACE computer. of which 33 were sold and which had a library of over 1,000 programmes. The period when Hackett ran the guided weapons division also saw the development of the Thunderbird surface to air missile and other ballistic missiles.

In the early 1960s Hackett joined the Manchester Business School as a Senior Research Fellow where she undertook statistical analysis. It was here that the future software designer Judy Butland became her mathematical assistant and computer.

Having been involved with the Women’s Engineering Society since 1929, particularly the Manchester branch, in 1943 Hackett was elected to the governing council. In August that year she chaired a meeting which set up a branch in Birmingham, and shortly afterwards was elected vice president of the main organisation.

1946 She became the President of the Women's Engineering Society (WES).

Hackett's interests included fashion and the theatre, and very accurate map reading. Even in retirement, when her own health was suffering, she devised various aids for disabled people.

1994 June 03rd. Died.

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