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General Electric Enters the Computer Business Revisited1

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129906D
Original Publication Date: 1995-Dec-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 17 page(s) / 67K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

H.R. (BARNEY) OLDFIELD: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Perhaps General Electric got into the ";Computer Business"; without tremendous foresight, but the first steps in that direction were immensely successful. Starting with the Bank of America's Electronic Recording Method of Accounting (ERMA) system, and combined with the development of Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICH) for the rapid processing of bank checks, and backed by one of the largest corporations in the world, GE had the opportunity to effectively chase and catch IBM in the field of data processing. Succeeding developments also portended well for the future but the continuing reluctance of the GE headquarters to support the Computer Department competitively with other companies whose one and only product was a computer eventually led to the sale of the operation to Honeywell Corporation. This is the story of those beginnings as seen and remembered by the first general manager of the Computer Department, H.R. (Barney) Oldfield.

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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.

General Electric Enters the Computer Business Revisited11

H.R. (BARNEY) OLDFIELD

Perhaps General Electric got into the "Computer Business" without tremendous foresight, but the first steps in that direction were immensely successful. Starting with the Bank of America's Electronic Recording Method of Accounting (ERMA) system, and combined with the development of Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICH) for the rapid processing of bank checks, and backed by one of the largest corporations in the world, GE had the opportunity to effectively chase and catch IBM in the field of data processing. Succeeding developments also portended well for the future but the continuing reluctance of the GE headquarters to support the Computer Department competitively with other companies whose one and only product was a computer eventually led to the sale of the operation to Honeywell Corporation. This is the story of those beginnings as seen and remembered by the first general manager of the Computer Department, H.R. (Barney) Oldfield.

MIT and World War II

My first contact with a calculator came in the autumn of 1934 when I purchased a technological marvel -- a ten inch slide rule -- from the MIT Coop. Having mastered that device by my senior year, I was introduced to the beautiful and delicate Coradi waveform analyzer. I was never sure why it worked, but it had a polished glass ball -- a low tech mouse if you will -- gimbaled in two dimensions such that it could be guided over a tracing of a complex waveform and, after a number of passes, produce a frequency spectrum. We used it to analyze propeller vibrations as picked up by an accelerometer and reproduced on film by a recording oscilloscope. Later, as a research associate in Stark Draper's Instrumentation Laboratory, I was permitted to manipulate the Vannevar Bush differential analyzer which we used to solve non-linear differential equations associated with wing flutter. I always stood in awe of these computing machines, never completely understood their inner workings, but became a reasonably skilled user.

Being a so-called Army Brat, I had enlisted in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) during my freshman year in college. In mid-1941 I was called to active duty and assigned to the Army's Antiaircraft Artillery Board in Fort Monroe, Virginia, to act as a Test Officer. Each branch of the Army had a board responsible for establishing the detailed requirements for new types of armament and associated materiel needed to accomplish that branch's mission, and then testing the prototypes and production equipment to make sure that they were capable of doing the job. The mission of the Antiaircraft Artillery, a split-off from the venerable Coast Artillery Corps, was to provide defense against air attack from e...