Project Whirlwind comes home

May 25, 2009 Tom Rosko
Stephen Dodd, Jay Forrester, Robert Everett, and Ramona Ferenz at Whirlwind I test control in the Barta Building, 1950. Photo / The MITRE Corporation

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Project Whirlwind Computer collection -- a compilation of pioneering digital computing research conducted at MIT in the 1940s and 1950s -- has been transferred back to the Institute from the MITRE Corporation, and its contents are being opened to the public for the first time.

The research project, which included the creation of "Whirlwind I" -- the first digital computer at MIT and the fastest of its time -- began at the Institute and had been moved to Lincoln Lab and then later to MITRE. Materials in the collection were previously unavailable to researchers, but with its transfer to MIT, the collection is now accessible to the public. Key documents from the Whirlwind collection have also been digitized and will soon be made available online.

Whirlwind I was completed in 1951, the same year that Project Whirlwind was detached from the Servomechanisms Lab to become the MIT Digital Computer Laboratory. Unclassified research projects using the computer were managed by the Digital Computer Lab staff on the MIT campus, where Whirlwind I occupied 3,300 square feet within the two-story Barta Building (N42).

The precursor to modern-day computers, Whirlwind's fingerprints are evident in today's software and hardware. Parallel digit processing, random-access and magnetic core memory made the initial launch of commercial computers, and interactive visual computer displays, possible. Its groundbreaking design also laid the foundation for simulation and real-time technology. In operation until 1959, Whirlwind formed the basis for the U.S. Air Force's Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense system.

The project materials have been transferred to the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections. Documents on the project will soon be available through the MIT Libraries' web site at: libraries.mit.edu/archives/whirlwind . There will also be a reunion of the Project Whirlwind team at the Meridien Hotel (formerly the Hotel at MIT) on Tuesday, June 30.

Provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (news : web)

Explore further: Bose sues Beats over headphone patents

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New project sets sights on future of computing

Apr 11, 2005

MIT has teamed up with Quanta Computer Inc. on a five-year, $20 million joint research project designed to change the way people interact with technology. Project TParty, announced on Friday, April 8, will address the com ...

Nokia, MIT to research on mobile tech

Oct 27, 2005

Nokia said Thursday it will work with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to research on mobile computing and communications technologies.

MIT develops lecture search engine to aid students

Nov 08, 2007

Imagine you are taking an introductory biology course. You're studying for an exam and realize it would be helpful to revisit the professor's explanation of RNA interference. Fortunately for you, a digital ...

African students get web link to MIT labs

Mar 22, 2005

Students in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria can now perform sophisticated engineering and science experiments at MIT--without ever getting on a plane. "If you can't come to the lab, the lab will come to you," said Jesus del ...

Recommended for you

Scalping can raise ticket prices

18 hours ago

Scalping gets a bad rap. For years, artists and concert promoters have stigmatized ticket resale as a practice that unfairly hurts their own sales and forces fans to pay exorbitant prices for tickets to sold-out concerts. ...

User comments : 0