High-Tech Heroes

An Unlikely Band of Heroes Saves the Skies Over North America

THE CORRIDORS OF MIT, 1949:



Valley bumped into his good friend Jerome Wiesner (the future 13th president of MIT and future science adviser to President Kennedy (1960)).  


Valley inquired of Wiesner: Jerry, you know best what’s going around here. Any word on anyone with a digital computer or with plans to build one?

Wiesner was quick to respond: Matter of fact, yes, there is one machine like that. It’s over in the old laundry building right here on Mass Ave. Everyone thinks the guys building it are a bit crazy over this digital stuff that they’re up to. The engineering department wants them thrown off campus; the math department is up in arms about them teaching night classes on what they call binary math.  

But they do have an electronic digital computer that works; one that I’ve been told has never crashed. It’s the size of a small gymnasium, and the air conditioning for it is just as massive.

But, John von Neumann loves them, continued Wiesner. Someone told me that John actually kissed one of their engineers. 

Valley arrived in the old laundry building the next morning. The bright boys cranked up their computer, which they called Whirlwind, and put it through its paces.


Valley was more than pleased. They all shook hands, and the air defense of North America began.