You're showing your ignorance here. A quick reading of Abramowitz and Stegun (that's *IRENE* Stegun) would enlighten you that, because the calculations were carried out by hand, a large number of algebraic approximations to special functions using asymptotic analysis for various parameter ranges were actually developed by the women doing the work. You'll notice their names in the bylines of each chapter. The use of special functions and asymptotic analysis of course goes beyond just optimizing hand calculations -- a lot of the optimizations used to implement special and algebraic functions in science and engineering libraries (e.g. NAG, IMSL) go back to Abramowitz and Stegun and beyond. Furthermore the use of special functions in the spectral solutions to ordinary and partial differential equations are made a lot easier by the work these women did. For example, Donna Elbert, as a graduate student of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (who later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics), determined the zeroes of the modified Bessel functions in support of his ground-breaking work in the hydrodynamic and hydromagnetic stability of fluids in self-gravitating spherical shells (e.g the sun, the earth's outer core) using asymptotic analysis, which is, last time I took a course in it, usually reserved for upper-level engineering mathematics and first-year graduate students in mathematical physics. I'd hardly call it "assembly line work."