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The Rise and of the General Electric Corporation Computer Department

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129905D
Original Publication Date: 1995-Dec-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

J.A.N. LEE: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

There are truly four intertwined, and in some aspects disjoint, stories that epitomize the almost 15 years of association of the General Electric Corp. with the production of computers for general consumption. -- First there is the story of the ERMA (Electronic Recording Machine Accounting) for the Bank of America; -- Second, the development of larger lines of computers from the NCR 304 to the GE 600 series; -- Third, the development of time-sharing; and -- Fourth, the story of the corporate management portion of the Company1 [Footnote] 1. As General Electric referred to itself. trying to achieve a second place standing in the computer market. Even before the stories told here had their start, the possibilities of developing a line of computers by GE appeared doomed. While the company had built special order machines including the OARAC and the OMIBAC, and had incorporated computer technology into their network analyzer and the power control simulator, there was no organized project to produce computers for the open market, and in particular there was a policy not to compete with IBM in this area. George Metcalf was general manager of the Specialty Electronics Department of the Electronics Division of GE, under the vice-president of the Electronics Division, W.R.G. (Doe) Baker, in the late 1940s. He had been responsible for the design and construction of a machine for the Wright Field Aerodynamics Laboratory, that he considered a candidate for sale to the insurance industry. After visiting two insurance companies in New York City in early 1950, he received a message through the president of GE, Ralph Cordiner, that he was to attend a meeting with the president of IBM, Thomas I. Watson, Sr. Metcalf recalled the one-sided conversation.2 [Footnote] 2. See Metcalf, 1992, pp. 79- 80.

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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.

The Rise and of the General Electric Corporation Computer Department

J.A.N. LEE

The computer department of the General Electric Corporation began with the winning of a single contract to provide a special purpose computer system to the Bank of America, and expanded to the development of a line of upward compatible machines in advance of the IBM System/360 and whose descendants still exist in 1995, to a highly successful time-sharing service, and to a process control business. Over the objections of the executive officers of the Company the computer department strived to become the number two in the industry, but after fifteen years, to the surprise of many in the industry, GE sold the operation and got out of the competition to concentrate on other products that had a faster turn around on investment and a well established first or second place in their industry. This paper looks at the history of the GE computer department and attempts to draw some conclusions regarding the reasons why this fifteen year venture was not more successful, while recognizing that there were successful aspects of the operation that could have balanced the books and provided necessary capital for a continued business.

Introduction

There are truly four intertwined, and in some aspects disjoint, stories that epitomize the almost 15 years of association of the General Electric Corp. with the production of computers for general consumption.

-- First there is the story of the ERMA (Electronic Recording Machine Accounting) for the Bank of America; -- Second, the development of larger lines of computers from the NCR 304 to the GE 600 series; -- Third, the development of time-sharing; and -- Fourth, the story of the corporate management portion of the Company11 trying to achieve a second place standing in the computer market.

Even before the stories told here had their start, the possibilities of developing a line of computers by GE appeared doomed. While the company had built special order machines including the OARAC and the OMIBAC, and had incorporated computer technology into their network analyzer and the power control simulator, there was no organized project to produce computers for the open market, and in particular there was a policy not to compete with IBM in this area. George Metcalf was general manager of the Specialty Electronics Department of the Electronics Division of GE, under the vice-president of the Electronics Division, W.R.G. (Doe) Baker, in the late 1940s. He had been responsible for the design and construction of a machine for the Wright Field Aerodynamics Laboratory, that he considered a candidate for sale to the insurance industry. After visiting two insurance companies in New York City in early 1950, he received a message through the president of GE...