Artifact Details


IBM SAGE computer system

Catalog Number



Still Image




Clark, Jeremy


Wilson, Aerin


Computer History Museum

Place of Publication

Mountain View, Calif. United States


1,529 KB


Electronic image


This is a color image of the SAGE computer system developed by IBM for the US Air Force. IBM built the SAGE hardware based on the Whirlwind computer design at MIT. The many technical advances include modems for communication between sites over telephone lines, networking, light guns, graphical displays, and reliable magnetic core memory. Each of the 27 SAGE installations had two separate computers, the second serving as a "hot standby" in case the active computer failed. With this backup, availability was an unprecedented 99.6%, when many other computers from that era would fail every few hours. The computer weighed 300 tons and typically occupied one floor of a huge windowless 4-story concrete blockhouse. On another floor, dozens of Air Force operators watched their display screens and waited for signs of enemy activity.

The software was written by The Rand Corporation and the System Development Corporation (SDC) and employed about 20% of the world's programmers at the peak of the project. When it was complete, the 250,000 lines of code was the most complex piece of software in existence.

Some SAGE centers continued to operate until 1983, more than 20 years after its technology was obsolete and its mission rendered militarily insignificant by the ICBM. As a final irony, in the last years of its use, replacement vacuum tubes had to be purchased from Soviet-bloc countries where they were still being widely manufactured.


Identification photograph; Digital photograph; Publicity photograph


Computer industry--History; International Business Machines Corporation (IBM); Computer industry--United States; Computer industry-United States--History

Series Title

Virtual Visible Storage images