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Control Data Corporation: The Norris Era

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129845D
Original Publication Date: 1995-Apr-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 14 page(s) / 57K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

JAMES C. WORTHY: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

From a modest start in 1957, Control Data Corporation under the leadership of its founder, William C. Norris, grew rapidly to become a worldwide, multibillion-dollar enterprise, the major producer of the world's most powerful computers end peripheral products, and provider of a wide range of vital computer services. Along the way, the company explored means for applying digital technologies to aid in the solution of critical problems of contemporary society. From a pinnacle of achievement by the early 1980s, Control Data slipped into a series of technological and financial crises from which it is still struggling to emerge.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1995 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Control Data Corporation: The Norris Era

JAMES C. WORTHY

From a modest start in 1957, Control Data Corporation under the leadership of its founder, William C. Norris, grew rapidly to become a worldwide, multibillion-dollar enterprise, the major producer of the world's most powerful computers end peripheral products, and provider of a wide range of vital computer services. Along the way, the company explored means for applying digital technologies to aid in the solution of critical problems of contemporary society. From a pinnacle of achievement by the early 1980s, Control Data slipped into a series of technological and financial crises from which it is still struggling to emerge.

I had the good fortune to be closely associated with Control Data Corporation for 20 years, initially as a consultant to its founder, William C. Norris, and subsequently as a director. These 20 years embraced the period of the company's highest levels of achievement and the time of troubles that followed.

Control Data corporation was in many ways a unique enterprise, and Norris stands alone among corporate entrepreneurs in the pioneering of innovative applications of digital technology and in his concept of the role of business in society. The article that follows recounts the highlights of what I learned firsthand about the company and the man.*1

Laying the foundations

Control Data Corporation first opened for business in 1957 with a handful of employees in rented warehouse space in St. Paul, Minnesota. It had taken 12 years of preparation to arrive at these modest beginnings. William C. Norris, then 46 years old, had played a pivotal role at each stage leading up to this event.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Norris, a graduate electrical engineer, joined the US Naval Reserve, where he was assigned to the Navy unit engaged in super secret intelligence work: code-breaking, pinpointing enemy ship locations by intercepting high- frequency radio transmissions, and other activities requiring the processing of vast streams of data. The fastest calculating devices then available were woefully inadequate for the task, and Norris was named to a group charged with designing new electronic technologies that could be applied to intelligence work. He was deeply impressed by the men with whom he worked: in his words, "an almost unbelievable assemblage of talent" that included mathematicians, engineers, and physicists from leading universities and corporations, some of whom already had international reputations.

The urgent needs of all-out war gave powerful impetus to the swift evolution of new devices that were the forerunners of the digital computer. As the end of the war approached, it became obvious to those in a position to know, that the emergence of the compute...