Artifact Details


IBM Stretch: The Forgotten Computer that Helped Spark a Revolution, lecture by Fran Allen et al.

Catalog Number



Moving image




Allen, Frank; Brooks, Frederick P., Jr.; Kolsky, Harwood G.; Lohr, Steve


Computer History Museum

Place of Publication

Mountain View, CA, US




From abstract: " Please join us for a very special celebration of a little-known, yet incredibly important, chapter in computing history. IBM’s STRETCH program for the Government’s Los Alamos lab, later its commercial offering as IBM 7030, was IBM’s audacious gamble at creating the world’s most advanced computing system: “about 100 times faster than the most advanced computer working today” according to then IBM chairman Tom Watson, Jr.

This is a story about one of the most remarkable computer projects ever, one largely unknown to the general public, but which shaped the lives of all of us by defining what computers could do.

Design began in the summer of 1956, with a project team that eventually grew to 300 by 1959. When introduced, the Stretch was considered a failure within IBM as it did not meet advertised expectations: it was indeed the fastest computer available, but was only 30 to 40 times faster than other systems (not 100 times as advertised).

The Success of Stretch: Even though initial commercial expectations were not fully met, the technical, manufacturing, and managerial experience that came from creating Stretch fed directly into other IBM projects, including its System/360 – the single most successful family of computers (by revenue) of all time.

Concepts pioneered for Stretch are now used in the world’s most advanced microprocessors. These include:
- Multiprogramming, enabling a computer to juggle more than one job at a time
- Memory protection, preventing unauthorized memory access
- Memory interleaving, breaking up memory into chunks for much higher bandwidth
- Pipelining, lining up instructions in a queue, so that the computer doesn’t have to wait between operations

Join our moderator, Steve Lohr of The New York Times as he discusses the project’s challenges and successes with Stretch pioneers.

This event will review the technology landscape of the mid-1950s, the computing needs that spawned the Stretch program and the huge technical challenges that had to be overcome. It will also examine the legacy of Stretch innovations, how they provided the foundation of the world-changing System/360 mainframe and several components are still part of the fabric of computing today, in everything from laptops to iPods.

- Fran Allen, IBM, former Research Staff Member for Stretch
- Fred Brooks, former Advisory System Planner for Stretch
- Harwood Kolsky, former Member of the Stretch Product Planning Department