Browse Prior Art Database

Anecdotes: More on General Electric's Start In the Computer Business

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129657D
Original Publication Date: 1990-Mar-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 11 page(s) / 44K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

JAMES E. TOMAYKO: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

The Anecdotes column is an opportunity for participants in the history of computing to contribute reminiscences of salient events. These stories can vary in scale from the origins of a term to first-person accounts of critical fuming-points.

This text was extracted from a PDF file.
This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 8% of the total text.

Page 1 of 11

THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1990 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: More on General Electric's Start In the Computer Business

JAMES E. TOMAYKO, EDITOR

The Anecdotes column is an opportunity for participants in the history of computing to contribute reminiscences of salient events. These stories can vary in scale from the origins of a term to first-person accounts of critical fuming-points.

Since the material in this column often represents personal views tempered or sometimes weakened by memory, the editor invites other opinions and evidence.

In this issue we are publishing an interview with Dr. Robert Johnson, at the time of the interview he was Manager of Engineering for General Electric's Computer Department and is now a professor at the University of Utah. In the first issue of Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 10, George Snively's anecdote detailed how Barney Oldfield dragged GE into computing and established the Phoenix division (Johnson is the "boy genius" on p. 75 of Snively's piece). In the Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. II, No. 1, Herb Grosch related his experiences getting some NASA business for GE in Phoenix in order IO keep the operation solvent. Here Dr. Johnson returns to the technical problems inherent in adapting the SRI ERMA computer as a commercial product. His story contains some still valuable examples of how to satisfy the customer, and also of the power of general purpose computing, as well as giving some background into the, then new, technology of magnetic ink character recognition.

Our thanks to Bob Bemer for obtaining the text of this interview from Ernie Lassen, an ex-GE employee still living in Phoenix, and to Bob Johnson for supplying some missing paragraphs.

The date of the interview is Tuesday, 7 February 1961 and it describes events beginning in the spring of 1956, when GE got the computer contract.

Note: the interviewer, who's remarks and questions are noted in italics, was a Datamation reporter who's name has been "lost."

Dr. Robert Johnson Interview

I think the first impression or earliest awareness I had of the ERMA program was in November or December of 1955, when a couple of people from GE in Syracuse and Schenectady went out to California to look at the Stanford Research Institute's ERMA -- the model of the machine that SRI had built -- in order to find out whether or not we should bid on this big production contract to manufacture it for the Bank of America.

In the course of the winter, let's say January - February of 1956, it became quite apparent that Barney Oldfield, manager of the Industrial Computer Section, as it was then called, was quite anxious to bid on this contract, and he told me that Doc Baker (the late Dr. W.R.G. Baker, former vice president and general manager of General Electric's Electronics Division) was very enthusiastic to bid on it as an...