The Burroughs 205
A Part of California Computing


Although the earliest electronic computing devices were developed east of the Rocky Mountains, the itch to build a machine quickly spread to California.  Two papers available on the Internet catch the flavor of the California computing community in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

A third paper, published by Richard Sprague in the July, 1972, Communications of the ACM,  documents many of the early efforts but is limited to machines that developed out of Northrop's efforts.

East coast computing work was encouraged, communicated and documented by the Eastern Association for Computing Machines formed in 1947 largely at the instigation of Prudential's Edmund C. Berkeley.  The group quickly dropped the word "Eastern" from its name as membership swelled, but meetings remained on the East Coast.  This was a real hardship for Californians interested in participating.  Even by air, the trip from Los Angeles to Boston was a grueling 24-hour experience, frequently involving three or four refueling stops.

Three key events brought electronic digital computer development to California.  All happened in 1948.

While the east coast computing projects shared information through the somewhat academic and mathematically oriented ACM, a very different group formed in southern California to interchange ideas.  The Los Angeles chapter of the IRE's Professional Group on Electronic Computers provided a forum for exchange of information between the groups starting to build electronic computers.  And there were many.

The PGEC group met monthly.  At the January, 1951, meeting, the organizations currently working on new computers were asked to report on development and progress to date.  These fourteen organizations gave reports:

  1. Benson - Lehner Corp.
  2. California Institute of Technology
  3. Computer Research Corporation
  4. Douglas Aircraft Company, Inc.
  5. Electro - Circuits Company
  6. Electronics Engineering Company.
  7. Hughes Aircraft Company
  8. Institute for Numerical Analysis
  9. North American Aviation, Inc.
  10. Northrop Aircraft Corporation
  11. Rand Corporation
  12. U. S. Naval Air Missile Test Center
  13. University of California College of Engineering
  14. William Miller Company

The PGEC group met regularly at the INA building on the UCLA campus.  There were fifty members of the group present at the September, 1951, meeting when Henry Kenosian from the Burroughs research center in Philadelphia addressed the group to describe the "building blocks" used in the Burroughs Lab Computer.

Notably absent from that January, 1951, list of active projects was Consolidated Engineering Corp.   In spite of Cliff Berry's advocacy, the company was not yet willing to commit to developing their own machine.  On September 25, however, Burroughs' Henry Kensosian determined that CEC was "...getting ready to explore the digital computer field preparatory to getting in it.  One week later, IBM's Los Angeles based scientific computing representative, Donald Pendery noted, "...a policy decision to enter the digital computer field had been made" (by CEC).  A week after that, C. C. Hurd had relayed that news to Messrs. Learson and Birkenstock at IBM's NYC headquarters.

It's worth taking a closer look at several of these early California computer projects. 

(more California computing)