Computer History and Such
In the spring of 1965 I was working at the main office of Wolf Research and Development Corporation. The founder, Bill Wolf, had learned to program on the Whirlwind (one of the earliest computers – it resided at MIT.) and then had started his own software services company. After the company was big enough to build its own offices he acquired the old Whirlwind. Technically it still belonged to the government but in fact nobody wanted it, so Bill was renting it for a dollar a year or some such arrangement.
It occupied the second floor of the building, and was quite impressive to walk through. I recall looking at a seven foot high rack of electronics and being told that it was bits 1-3 of the accumulator. Today, of course, your toaster probably has more computing power.
Although the machine was technologically ancient even then, it was ahead of its time in some ways. For example there was a separate register associated with each device – a rather intelligent scheme that DEC used later on in its popular PDP-11. One of the endearing features of the machine was that it only had 16 instructions. The only one I remember is the SI instruction which would start a device if it was stopped and stop it if it was started. Because of its device addressing scheme there was no difficulty in hanging any number of devices on it, and at that time it supported a numbers of scopes, some very primitive mag tapes, a flexowriter, and other odds and ends.
Bill Wolf had the somewhat misguided notion that he could develop a management information system on it. Those of us who were on this ill starred project did our best to get reassigned. I managed to escape to NASA. One of the vice presidents of the company lost his job after he did an elaborate calculation that purported to show that if we sold time on the Whirlwind and charged rates that were competitive with the IBM 7090 we would have to charge a dollar an hour for it.
As far as I know, no one keeps the Whirlwind running anymore. For a while part of it was in DEC’s computer museum. However DEC is no more, so I don’t know where all of the bits and pieces have gone.
This page was last updated August 14, 2006.