Reprogramming ENIAC involved a hike (part 1)(Once the army agreed to fund ENIAC, Mauchly and Eckert worked around the clock, seven days a week, hoping to complete the machine in time to contribute to the war. Their war-time effort was so intense that most days they ate all 3 meals in the company of the army Captain who was their liaison with their military sponsors. They were allowed a small staff but soon observed that they could hire only the most junior members of the University of Pennsylvania staff because the more experienced faculty members knew that their proposed machine would never work.
One of the most obvious problems was that the design would require 18,000 vacuum tubes to all work simultaneously. Vacuum tubes were so notoriously unreliable that even twenty years later many neighborhood drug stores provided a "tube tester" that allowed homeowners to bring in the vacuum tubes from their television sets and determine which one of the tubes was causing their TV to fail. And television sets only incorporated about 30 vacuum tubes. The device that used the largest number of vacuum tubes was an electronic organ: it incorporated 160 tubes. The idea that 18,000 tubes could function together was considered so unlikely that the dominant vacuum tube supplier of the day, RCA, refused to join the project (but did supply tubes in the interest of "wartime cooperation"). Eckert solved the tube reliability problem through extremely careful circuit design. He was so thorough that before he chose the type of wire cabling he would employ in ENIAC he first ran an experiment where he starved lab rats for a few days and then gave them samples of all the available types of cable to determine which they least liked to eat. Here's a look at a small number of the vacuum tubes in ENIAC: