Browse Prior Art Database

Anecdotes: Thomas J. Watson Sr. and the Perfect Computer Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129693D
Original Publication Date: 1991-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 2 page(s) / 15K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Harry Polachek: AUTHOR [+2]


11801 Rockville Pike Rockville, MD 20852 U.S.A.

This text was extracted from a PDF file.
This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 51% of the total text.

Page 1 of 2


Copyright ©; 1991 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: Thomas J. Watson Sr. and the Perfect Computer

Harry Polachek

11801 Rockville Pike Rockville, MD 20852 U.S.A.

Nowadays computers are extremely reliable. One can purchase a computer, plug it into an electric outlet, and expect it to perform for months or even years without incurring a single error. This was not at all the case with early computers. One must recall that the early computers (or calculators, as they were called) were driven by thousands of vacuum tubes, and their internal memories were constructed by the use of acoustic delay lines or Williams tubes all of which were subject to frequent failures. In order to insure accurate operation, computers were designed to contain checking circuits to verify each calculation or transfer of information. If an error occurred, it was sensed by the checking features engineered in the system, and the computer would stop indicating the general location of the error. It would then be the responsibility of the service engineers to find the cause of the malfunction, and correct it. Sometimes this would require a few minutes -- at other times hours.

The SSEC (Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator) was the first large scale electronic computer constructed by IBM. It was completed in 1948 and installed at IBM headquarters on Madison Avenue in New York City at street level so that it would be easily visible to the passerby. It was a one-of-a-kind computer, primarily used by IBM for demonstrations to potential clients and as a showpiece; and as proof that IBM was second to none in the new emerging technology of high speed computers. During 1950 I was working at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory at White Oak, Maryland, solving a shock wave reflection problem of interest to the Navy. It involved a horrendous amount of computation. Therefore, we made arrangements with IBM to use the SSEC to carry out these calculations. Thus I spent many nights at the SSEC solving my problem. The SSEC was the fastest computer in operation at that time, and its staff was competent and extremely helpful -- and so I was greatly impressed with the rapid progress I was able to make. However, like other high-speed computers of that era,...