Exhibits At the Museum

This Day in History

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Today: April 19, 2014
Joe Thompson, one of the two first Whirlwind operators, in 1951

December 14, 1952

U.S. Navy Approaches MIT to create Whirlwind

U.S. Navy issues a formal Letter of Intent to MIT for development of the Airplane Stability and Control Analyzer (ASCA) program, the beginning of the project Whirlwind. Constructed under the leadership of Jay. W. Forrester, the Whirlwind was the first high-speed electronic digital computer that was able to operate in real time with the remarkable electronic reliability. By December 1954, the computer comprised 12,500 vacuum tubes and 23,800 crystal diodes, occupying a two-story building. It operated until 1959.

Whirlwind served as an experimental prototype for the IBM’s AN/FSQ-7 manufactured for the SAGE air defense system, and influenced the early IBM 700 series computers and computers developed by Digital Equipment Corporation.


Whirlwind, the first real-time, parallel-processing computer with core memory

December 14, 1954

Whirlwind Computer Appears on National TV

Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now program features the Whirlwind computer. Designed at MIT by Jay Forrester and a team of engineers, the computer was noted for its reliability: it had the capability to run 35 hours a week at 90-percent utility using an electrostatic tube memory (Williams Tube). The machine was started in 1945 and completed in 1951 and took up 3,100 square feet of floor space.