Digital State Published
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Digital State Published

Sometimes, a “perfect” project comes our way.  The recipe might read: Take an irresistible and mostly unexplored historical topic, add rich archival and oral history sources also mostly untapped, leaven with a dose of regional interest and outreach to the community, and locate an enthusiastic academic publisher with the rare ability to publish a book with more than 100 photographs for less than $30.  This is the happy situation of CBI director Thomas Misa’s latest book, entitled Digital State: The Story of Minnesota’s Computer Industry, just out from the University of Minnesota Press.

Minnesota’s notable computing industry may be familiar to some long-time readers of the CBI Newsletter.  After all, the state’s prominence in computing helped originally bring CBI to the University of Minnesota in 1980.  From the mid-1950s through the 1980s, Minnesota had an unusually active and nationally prominent computer industry.  From the pioneering Engineering Research Associates, formed in 1946, came the Univac division of Sperry Rand, a computing powerhouse in government and air-traffic control.  A 1957 spin-off from there resulted in Control Data Corporation, the notable supercomputer company.  And by 1960 IBM–Rochester and Honeywell were each adding additional computing muscle to the region.  A full-fledged “industrial district” centered on computing had taken form, creating also dozens of smaller specialized supplier companies and interacting with such regional giants as General Mills and 3M.  Digital State tells the entire story, relating also the important roles played by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, the regional economy, and the University of Minnesota.

An important lesson that Digital State conveys for “high tech” districts today is the critical, but often behind-the-scenes role played by specialized suppliers and engineering and design companies.  They flourished with active business from the state’s computer industry for three decades, then in recent years have helped propel the state’s medical-device industry to national prominence.  The book contains firm-level data on nearly 250 Minnesota high-tech firms, including such unsung heroes of the regional economy as Hutchinson Technology, which was formed in a chicken coop and has gone on to employ 3,000 Minnesotans in the hyper-specialized world of precision assemblies for disk-drive units and medical devices.

You can find more at <>, but then you can also get a copy — while having the satisfaction of supporting the Charles Babbage Institute — by joining the CBI Friends at any level.  (You’ll receive the four quarterly issues of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing as well.)  Misa will do a book signing at Magers & Quinn, in downtown Minneapolis, from 7 to 8.30 pm on November 8th and has scheduled numerous talks to local groups.

Digital State


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