New Computer Exhibit
Charles Babbage Institute

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A New Computer History Exhibit

legacyOn 14 August 2013, the Dakota County Historical Society (DCHS) opened an exhibit at their Lawshe Museum in South St. Paul, MN.  Titled “From ERA to Lockheed Martin: Minnesota’s Computer Industry,” the exhibit presents a remarkable story of technological innovation and contribution to the computer industry.  In 2005, the Twin Cities Lockheed Martin (LMCO) branch and the retirees VIP Club had formed an Information Technology (IT) Legacy committee to gather and catalog hardware artifacts and documents to preserve local computer history. 

When LMCO announced their Eagan facility closing in 2010, committee member Bernie Jansen asked the DCHS to become the permanent repository of our legacy artifacts and to exhibit them.1  Chad Roberts, then the DCHS executive director, toured the Eagan plant; understood the significance of this computer systems history; and set up the DCHS exhibit vision. 

The Lawshe Museum entryway poster reads as follows:
“Most of the history of computers is focused on the contributions from Silicon Valley in California, but Minnesota also played an integral role in the computer industry; so much so that it could be considered the ‘Silicon Valley’ of the 50s and 60s.  This rich history is analyzed in CBI Director Thomas Misa’s new book Digital State (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).”

Minnesota’s legacy in the computer industry began with Engineering Research Associates, Inc. (ERA) which was founded in 1946.  The legacy continued with ERA’s successor companies, which include Remington Rand (which acquired ERA in 1952), Sperry, Unisys, and Lockheed Martin.  Over the years the corporate name of the company changed many times but its ingenuity endured.  These companies have had a vital presence in the computer and defense industries. 

In 2010 Lockheed Martin announced that it would close almost all Minnesota operations by the end of 2012, including its Eagan facility in Dakota County.  This marked the end of an epoch of Minnesota’s innovation in the computer industry.

With the Eagan facility closure, a large collection of artifacts – representing the companies’ legacy – was donated to the Dakota County Historical Society.  The collection includes objects from the 1940s up to the present day, covering all time periods in Lockheed Martin’s history.  There are archival records for once top-secret projects, naval computer workstations, pictures of early computer production, a Japanese airplane computer, and many other artifacts.  “We are honored to be able to help preserve this legacy of innovation through the preservation of these artifacts and the presentation of this exhibit,” stated the DCHS Board of Directors.

Photo courtesy of Keith Myhre

One aspect of the exhibit and the Minnesota computer legacy are three configurations of AN/UYQ-70 workstations.  The AN/UYQ-70 is the Naval Tactical Data Systems (NTDS) fourth generation standard computer (embedded microprocessors).2 S/N 8000 UYQ-70 is now aboard the recently launched SSN-783 submarine, the USS Minnesota. 

Long before the Q-70 was the AN/USQ-17, a first generation transistorized computer. Six were delivered to the Navy in 1958.  In 1960, UNIVAC delivered the first of the 16 ‘service test’ AN/USQ-20/CP642 computers for sea trials.  UNIVAC delivered the first of 142 CP642A computers in the fall of 1961.  In February 1963 UNIVAC delivered the first of the 241 AN/USQ-20B/CP642B computers.  On April 21, 1969 Sperry delivered the first of over 3,000 second generation integrated circuit AN/UYK-7 processor units.  Models of NTDS first and second generation computers are shown in this Lowell A. Benson photo, the Q-17 at the left and UYK-7 at the right.


On May 27th, 1983, the Navy awarded Sperry the third generation (VLSI and gate array logic circuits) AN/UYK-43 production contract.  Over 400 US Navy ships received NTDS Command and Control systems with these computers and UNIVAC/Sperry-developed systems software.


Although the Lawshe Museum exhibit focuses on the defense industry aspects of this IT legacy, commercial aspects of the ERA to UNIVAC to Sperry to Unisys history in Minnesota are included on our web site,  Over a dozen shadow boxes showing the 1100 computer series technologies from the 1950s to the 1990s are in a hallway in the Unisys, Roseville plant.3  The original ERA prototype drum is on display (photo at right courtesy of L. A. Benson) in the “Greatest Generation” exhibit at the Minnesota History Center.  LMCO has also donated pallets of historical documents to the Charles Babbage Institute.

Lowell A. Benson (UNIVAC 1960 to UNISYS 1994), BBE, UMN, 1966
Unisys Lockheed Martin VIP Club

1 Bernard Jansen is a DCHS Board Trustee and a VIP Club Member Emeritus.

2 When Computers Went to Sea: The Digitization of the United States Navy, by Capt. David Boslaugh, USN Ret. relates the early story of NTDS.

3 published on the web August 2012.

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