Comment from Dick Lord 2000 Jun 30

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From: Dick Lord
Date: 2000 Jun 30
Subj: Damned Yankees and early computers

It was fun to read your comments about the MIT Model RR Club and the crossbar switch "system". I'm a member and may have met you at the open house.

The arguability of "first" computers is a thorny one. Certainly, Howard Aiken's initial Mark I efforts were much more prominent than those of his contemporary, George R. Stibitz, but one could argue that between 1939 and 1943, the series of "complex number calculators" developed by Stibitz at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City were considerably more reliable and versatile than anything that came out of Harvard. The Stibitz Models I, II, III, and IV were all implemented with telephone relays. If you search on "Stibitz" you will find several references, including a somewhat belated recognition by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). A visit to the Smithsonian will net you a look at a reconstruction of the first experimental adder built by Stibitz with a couple of relays, a couple of light bulbs, two large dry-cell batteries, some strips of metal cut from a tin can, and an actual kitchen breadboard to mount it all on. From this simple beginning, the idea grew to fill a small room full of relays, and to eventually provide the Navy with a ordinance computer that not only saw service during the war, but continued to operate reliably, well into the 1960's.

Stibitz was a featured lecturer in the first years of the DEC computer museum. Unfortunately, since the museum has moved into Boston, much of the pre-Eniac work has been ignored.

Thought you might enjoy some more perspective on the "relay" computers !

Dick Lord

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