(updated 15 June 2011)

Minnesota's Hidden History in Computing

Charles Babbage Institute

University of Minnesota



 .mov | .mp4
 .mov | .mp4
17 September 2008 Why Not Silicon Valley?
What made California's Silicon Valley into a world-famous center for computing, and could Minnesota have claimed this title?  Minnesota's pioneering computer companies -- the Engineering Research Associates, Sperry-Univac, Control Data, Honeywell, Unisys, IBM-Rochester and others -- were second to none in innovative technology, people, and markets.  The University made important advances in the early World Wide Web.  These  achievements need to be better known.  Why were they difficult to see?  What are the lessons for today?



October 2008
Origins in the Engineering Research Associates
Did a Minnesota start-up company create the country’s first stored-program computer?  Organized in 1946, the Engineering Research Associates was a seedbed of innovative technologies and computer designs.  This St. Paul company also helped create the modern computer industry, evolving into the Univac Division of Sperry-Rand as well as spinning off the notable Control Data Corporation.  This talk surveys ERA’s accomplishments and discusses its legacy in shaping modern computing.
[video from 9 Sept. 2009 to Unisys Lockheed-Martin VIP Club]
01-cover QuickTime




19 November 2008
Lives and Legends at Control Data Corporation
How did a Minnesota company create the world’s fastest computers?  Organized in 1957, this prominent Minneapolis company built world-leading supercomputers and developed innovative educational computing.  CDC’s Bill Norris and Seymour Cray generated legends for the years.  This talk also unveils CBI’s on-line site where you can help document CDC photographs, part of CBI’s massive CDC corporate archive.

17 December 2008
The Legacies of Univac
How did the pioneering Minnesota computer company in the 1950s spawn a continuing legacy of computing innovation?  The legacies of the Twin Cities’ Univac Division of Sperry-Rand include a series of super-reliable computers for the U.S. Navy, early experiments in real-time networking, air-traffic control, and through to the creation of today’s Unisys corporation.

Partnerships and Patents: Honeywell and the Computer Industry
How did this Minnesota multinational company shape the history of computing in the markets -- and in the patent courts?  Founded in Minneapolis to manufacture furnace controls, Honeywell came to shape the computer industry through its own computer innovations, its corporate partnerships, and its foray in the patent courts that contested the landmark ENIAC patent.
Honeywell and the 'Oldest Question' in Computer History
[5 November 2009] see below


18 February 2009
IBM Rochester: A Half Century of Innovation
How did IBM choose Rochester, Minnesota, for a major new manufacturing facility in the mid-1950s?  And how did IBM Rochester soon become the home of a new development laboratory?  This talk focuses on innovation at IBM Rochester -- its midrange computer systems of the 1970s and 1980s as well as the powerful servers, path-breaking game chips, and embedded computing solutions of the past decade.

18 March 2009 The Origins of Minnesota's 'Medical Alley'
How did pioneering work in medical electronics in the 1950s lead to Minnesota's renown as a region for medical devices and electronics?  Dr. David Rhees (Executive Director of the Bakken Library and Museum) begins with Earl Bakken's invention of the first wearable cardiac pacemaker utilizing only two transistors, and tracks the growth and diversification of the Minnesota industry, which now produces implantable cardiovascular and neurological devices containing hundreds of thousands of transistors and sophisticated programming.

15 April 2009
Minnesota's Internet Gopher: The web before the WWW
Could the University of Minnesota's Internet Gopher client have become 'the' world wide web? This talk examines the creation and spread of Mark McCahill's remarkable hyperlinked, multimedia, searchable, web-like file-sharing system.  Gopher was the standard way access information on the Internet in the early 1990s, and it is still supported by (some) web browsers today.

20 May 2009
Minnesota's supercomputer: IBM's Blue Gene
How did Minnesota engineers develop IBM’s Blue Gene, the world’s fastest supercomputer? This informal evening event is the ninth in a year-long series of public lectures sponsored by the Charles Babbage Institute.  The centerpiece is Blue Gene itself, donated by IBM–Rochester to CBI and headed for a public exhibition in the EE-CS building.  Hear the amazing story of its development.  Don a white glove and touch Blue Gene’s circuits.

5 November 2009
Honeywell and the 'Oldest Question' in Computer History
“Who invented the computer?" is the oldest and most-contentious question in the history of computing. The talk briefly outlines the priority claims of numerous rival groups, working in Berlin, Cambridge, Manchester, Philadelphia, and St. Paul.  The main presentation analyzes the epic legal battle (1947-73) involving Honeywell and Sperry-Rand that settled the U.S. patent-law question. There is, however, surprising new evidence from the Charles Babbage Institute archives. The talk concludes with a present-day answer to the 'oldest question'.
oldest question


14 June 2011
One Hundred Years of IBM: A View from IBM Rochester
In 1956, IBM purchased nearly 400 acres of land in Rochester, Minnesota and launched a significant presence in manufacturing, engineering, and innovation across the state and around the world. This presentation sets Rochester's achievements into a wider context as IBM celebrates its centennial history (1911-2011). Rochester's manufacturing expertise evolved over the years into a specialty in engineering and innovation, resulting in notable achievements in computer storage, computer-game chips, mid-range computers, and the landmark Blue Gene supercomputer.  In many ways, IBM Rochester helped bring about the transformation of Minnesota into a "digital state."
Hidden History IBM 2011