A Harvard What? 1950s Computing

Yes, folks, Harvard University was the birthplace of digital computing, a dozen years before Bill Gates was born. I was a little young to take part in the 1944 rollout of Mark I, but when Bill was not quite a year old I started learning how to program that beauty. It has been preserved, in abridged form, as a centerpiece of history in Harvard's Science Center.

What made it possible, starting that year, for us unworthy undergraduates to worship at the temple was the gift of a Univac I, on which we could actually run our programs and so become genuine Harvard Computer Guys. Immediately on graduation, I went to work for a seminar on water resources design at Harvard's Littauer School of Public Administration, bringing the limitless resources (OK, actually 12k bytes) of the Univac to the very cutting edge of simulation modeling.

Limitless? Well, Gordon Moore was not only alive but mature at that time, yet nearly a decade passed before he published Moore's Law, and even that took four more decades to advance the state of the art to where it got really hard to bring a computer to its knees with a single application. The water resources problem soon burst the dam of the Univac's capacity, and I had to move the operation down the river to MIT, where a yet more limitless 704 from IBM (200k bytes!) was shared by all the universities of New England.

With no kind of digital communications, all use of the 704 had to be on-site at MIT's Karl Taylor Compton Lab (Building 26, made entirely of sleek glossy materials, causing one Harvard professor to remark, "Humph. Ivy will never grow on that!"). As a bonus, I became known to the MIT computing establishment, a sort of instant auto-networking that brought me into a small moonlighting project in the aerospace field, admittedly more parachute science than rocket science. The MIT Instrumentation Lab staffer running that mini-project easily persuaded me to be poached down the Charles River.