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Anecdotes: General Electric Enters the Computer Business Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129547D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Dec-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 5 page(s) / 28K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

George Snively: AUTHOR [+2]


Technical Equipment Rental Corporation Phoenix, Arizona USA

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Copyright ©; 1988 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: General Electric Enters the Computer Business

George Snively

Technical Equipment Rental Corporation Phoenix, Arizona USA

There is no taller tale than the true tale of the beginnings of the General Electric computer business, which defies business school concepts you may have [regarding] thorough market analysis, careful planning, and organization. Substitute instead a philosophy of "Implement -- before the planners stop everything!!!"

When histories of the computer business are written they will undoubtedly mention a number of you gathered here. Unfortunately, they will likely omit mention of one of the business's principal pioneers and promoter -- Barney Oldfield. Without Barney there would never have been a General Electric computer business. In the face of severe and constant obstacles, Barney single-handedly bootstrapped GE into the computer business and then bootlegged its implementation while GE's management was distracted by a major reorganization. To the extent that the GE computer business made a lasting contribution to the industry, it is Barney Oldfield's legacy.

My association with this story begins in 1952, when I was supervisor of Accounting in GE's Electronics Laboratory, which built ORAC, one of the earliest digital computers, for Wright Field. Charlie Wayne, later the director of the Computer Science Laboratory at Syracuse University, was in charge of this effort. One of his engineers was Curt Cockburn, who later came to Phoenix and now lives just north of here in Cave Creek. As a result of ORAC'S success, business plans were periodically prepared by various GE departments requesting permission to go into the computer business. I was drawn into assisting in the preparation of these plans since I had what few cost numbers were available on computers. I did this reluctantly, as the plans' preparation required considerable time and were consistently returned from Ralph Cordiner, then GE's chairman, with a big "NO! RJC" scribbled over them in orange crayon.

In 1954, the famous Metcalf Report on the future of the electronics business was issued. This was a market research report on the future of the electronics industry, prepared by George Metcalf, general manager of the Electronics Division's Commercial and Government Equipment Department. The Metcalf Report's chapter on electronic computers, as we called them then, forecast that electronic computers, believe it or not, would become commercially feasible and would emerge as the fastest growing segment of the electronics market. In late 1955, the prescient Clair Lasher, who wrote the chapter on electronic computers in the Metcalf Report, orchestrated another business planning effort to go into the computer business. Again, Ralph Cordiner returned it with his customary "NO! RJC."

As part o...