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Ken Olsen

1996 Fellow

For his introduction of the minicomputer as co-founder Digital Equipment Corporation.


Ken Olsen on cover of FORTUNE
Ken Olsen on cover of FORTUNE

Ken Olsen was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1926. He received a B.S. (1950) and M.S. (1952) from MIT in electrical engineering.

Olsen began working at MIT's digital computer laboratory after graduation and mastered high-speed transistor circuit design from the tx-2 computer project there. He also contributed to the practical implementation and testing of magnetic core memory, a key enabling technology for digital computers.

In 1957, Olsen left MIT and, with funding from America's first venture capital firm, founded Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) with colleague Harlan Anderson. Although it grew slowly at first, DEC was known as a creative and technically oriented employer that attracted some of the country's best engineers. By the mid-1980s, DEC was the second-largest computer company in the world

DEC enjoyed a steady rise in growth under Olsen and produced genuinely innovative computer systems until the personal computer revolution occurred and DEC had no clear strategy. Olsen left in 1992 and DEC was acquired by Compaq in 1998.

Olsen received many awards, including the U.S. National Medal of Technology (1993).

With Gwen and Gordon Bell, Ken Olsen was a founder of The Computer Museum. He passed away in 2011.