The Untold Story of Everything Digital
The amazing journey of Jay Forrester and his team of feisty, brilliant engineers, who, in a single, white-hot decade of fantastical invention, made the world go digital.
(New book based on the true story & Amazon best seller
Bright Boys by Tom Green)
The Most Important Building in the History of Computing
The provenance of everything digital has but one address:
211 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA
If only the Barta Building could speak
Top 10 First-Evers in the Barta Building
"Unrecognized creativity: engineers are omnipresent but invisible. We need to start recognizing what we can learn from them." —NewScientist
“I was delighted to learn of MIT's nomination to receive an IEEE Milestone Award for the development of the Whirlwind computer, the first digital computer with a magnetic-core memory that could operate in real, interactive time.”
—Susan Hockfield (2011)
President, MIT 2004-2012
Jay Forrester invents first-ever magnetic-core memory (RAM): tiny magnets whose orientation could represent ones or zeros. Magnetic-core memory
became the computer industry standard for 20 years, until Intel’s first processor.
First-ever software: Code warriors, J. Halcombe Laning , Jr & Neal Zierler combined shorthand English and algebraic formulas for first algebraic compiler. IBM’s John Backus visited the Barta Building for a demo, then returned to IBM and invented FORTRAN (the first widely used high-level programming language).
Impatient using punched paper tape, first-ever keyboard
and monitor installed on Whirlwind computer.
Bob Everett designs first-ever “light gun” (precursor to modern mouse).
Touch the light gun to the monitor, and the computer responds.
First-ever networking as data is transmitted via microwave
from Bedford, MA to computer in Cambridge, MA (20 miles).
Proved to be too expensive; opted for telephone lines.
First-ever modem (modulator-demodulator): When AT&T protested
that copper-wire telephone lines were unable to transmit data,
John Harrington invents the modem.
First-ever air-traffic control: Combined flight radar data and Whirlwind computer to organize and control air traffic. Became international standard.
First-ever digital reservation system: Transformed manual airline reservations from centralized reservation centers into the Sabre digital reservation system.
First-ever microchip: Dudley Buck invents the Cryotron―an early form of the microchip―while working on Whirlwind computer.
First-ever computer graphics program: Douglas Ross secretly develops computer graphics program for Whirlwind, and used his fingertip as a stylus while drawing directly on computer monitor.
Incredibly, there were hundreds more
First-Evers created in the Barta Building.
The Barta Building is arguably the most important building in the history of digital computing. Digital computing was born there. Behind its walls sat Whirlwind, the digital oracle.
Throughout the 1950s, thousands traveled to its door seeking answers to problems which for some would have otherwise taken decades to solve.
The guest list was amazing: future Nobel Laureates, pioneers of modern digital technology, and industry legends came as young unknowns. Eldon Hall and his wife were but two (Hall later conceived of and built the computers aboard Apollo 13).
The door at 211 was never closed to anyone. Whirlwind’s young builders were determined to share their digital creation with whoever knocked at the door.
By day they worked their great machine; by evening they were teachers, offering free classes on binary math, algorithms, and programming to anyone who asked for help…the first STEM kings! They democratized computing and their machine inspired a generation.
Thousands passing by on the sidewalk outside had no idea…except maybe the mailman.