Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Founded

ACMToday in 1947, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) was founded as the Eastern Association for Computing Machinery at a meeting at Columbia University in New York. From ACM’s website:

Its creation was the logical outgrowth of increasing interest in computers as evidenced by several events, including a January 1947 symposium at Harvard University on large-scale digital calculating machinery; the six-meeting series in 1946-47 on digital and analog computing machinery conducted by the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers; and the six-meeting series in March and April 1947, on electronic computing machinery conducted by the Department of Electrical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In January 1948, the word “Eastern” was dropped from the name of the Association. In September 1949, a constitution was instituted by membership approval.

The original notice for the September 15, 1947, organization meeting stated in part:

“The purpose of this organization would be to advance the science, development, construction, and application of the new machinery for computing, reasoning, and other handling of information.”

The first and subsequent constitutions for the Association have elaborated on this statement, although the essential content remains. The present constitution states:

“The Association is an international scientific and educational organization dedicated to advancing the art, science, engineering, and application of information technology, serving both professional and public interests by fostering the open interchange of information and by promoting the highest professional and ethical standards.”


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The Evolution of Watches


Source: XKCD

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ERMA: A milestone in bank automation

ERMA_wiringToday in 1959, Bank of America received the first ERMA (Electronic Recording Machine, Accounting) system.

From Wikipedia: In 1950, Bank of America was the largest bank in California, and led the world in the use of checks. This presented a serious problem due to the workload processing them. An experienced bookkeeper could post 245 accounts in an hour, about 2,000 in an 8-hour workday and approximately 10,000 per week. Bank of America’s checking accounts were growing at a rate of 23,000 per month and banks were being forced to close their doors by 2:00 PM to finish daily postings…. In July 1950 bank of America contracted SRI for an initially feasibility study for automating their bookkeeping and check handling…

The final prototype for the ERM (Electronic Recording Machine) system contained more than a million feet (304,800 metres) of wiring, 8,000 vacuum tubes, 34,000 diodes, 5 input consoles with MICR readers, 2 magnetic memory drums, the check sorter, a high-speed printer, a power control panel, a maintenance board, 24 racks holding 1,500 electrical packages and 500 relay packages, and 12 magnetic tape drives for 2,400-foot (731-metre) tape reels.

ERM weighed about 25 tons (22.7 tonnes), used more than 80 kW of power and required cooling by an air conditioning system. By 1955, the system was still in development, but Bank of America was anxious to announce the project. At the time, computers (still known as “electronic brains”) were all the rage; if Bank of America could announce that they were using them, it would convey a sense of futuristic infallibility. In September 1955, the Bank of America froze the design.

By this point, no fewer than 24 companies had expressed interest in building the production machines, and General Electric won the competition. The company took the basic design, but decided it was time to move the tube-based system to a transistor-based one using core memory.… 

The first production ERMA (Electronic Recording Machine, Accounting) system the GE-100, was installed today in 1959. Over the next two years, 32 systems were installed, and by 1966 twelve regional ERMA centers served all but 21 of Bank of America’s 900 branches. The centers handled more than 750 million checks a year, about the number they had predicted to occur by 1970.

The automation was so effective that it allowed Bank of America to be the first bank to offer credit cards attached to a user’s bank account. ERMA machines were replaced with newer equipment in the early 1970s.

See also: From Analog to Digital: Bank Checks

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They Saw it as Destiny

Stock Exchange, Chicago, 1903

Stock Exchange, Chicago, 1903

Louis H. Sullivan, the father of the modern skyscraper, said this about Chicago in 1875, as it emerged from the Great Fire of 1871 and the Economic Panic of 1873:

As everybody said: “Chicago has risen phoenix-like from its ashes.” But many ashes remained, and the sense of ruin was still blended with ambition of recovery. Louis thought it all magnificent and wild: A crude extravaganza: An intoxicating rawness: A sense of big things to be done. For “Big” was the word. “Biggest” was preferred, and “the biggest in the world” was the braggart phrase on every tongue. Chicago had had the biggest conflagration “in the world.” It was the biggest grain and lumber market “in the world.” It slaughtered more hogs than any other city “in the world.” It was the greatest railroad center, the greatest this, and the greatest that. It shouted itself hoarse in réclame. The shouters could not well be classed in the proverbial liars of Ecclesiastes, because what they said was true; and had they said, in the din, we are the crudest, rawest, most savagely ambitious dreamers and would-be doers in the world, that also might be true. For with much gloating of self-flattering they bragged: “We are the most heavily mortgaged city in the world.” Louis rather liked all this, for his eye was ever on the boundless prairie and the mighty lake. All this frothing at the mouth amused him at first, but soon he saw the primal power assuming self-expression amid nature’s impelling urge. These men had vision. What they saw was real, they saw it as destiny… When Louis came to understand the vast area of disaster, he saw clearly and with applause that this new half-built city was a hasty improvisation made in dire need by men who did not falter.

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The computer software bug makes its first appearance

firstbugToday in 1947,  operators of the Mark II traced the cause of the computer’s malfunction to a moth caught in a relay and wrote in their logbook “First actual case of bug being found.”

See also Debugging the Origin of the Term “Bug”  and  Grace Hopper and Other Programmers

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Youth Solves a Typewriter Problem


A 1910 Anderson automatic carriage return

Today in 1906, the New York Times reports that “Youth says he solved a typewriter problem” by inventing the automatic carriage return. “Springs cause the carriage to slide back to starting point when end of a line Is reached,” said the New York Times about the solution of the 18-year-old Robert Eugene Turner to “a problem that has puzzled manufacturers of typewriters for years” as “it was recognized long ago, experts assert, that an automatic carriage return would add from 25 to 30 percent  to the speed of the operation.”

Robert Messenger, in the World of Typewriters 1714-2014, says that “the automatic carriage return was invented by Neal Larkin Anderson, a Presbyterian minister and doctor of divinity of Salem-Winston, North Carolina, who was issued with a series of six unassigned patents on the device over 20 years between 1897-1917.”

See also The Rise and Fall of Typewriters

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Farnsworth Succeeds in Transmitting Images Electronically

Farnsworth's_Image_DissectorToday in 1927, 21-year-old Philo T. Farnsworth succeeded in transmitting through purely electronic means an image of a line with a device he called an “image dissector.”

From the IEEE Global History Network

“Farnsworth’s Image Dissector worked pretty well, but it was not sensitive enough to capture scenes unless there was lots of light. Very hot and bright arc lights sometimes had to be used, and these made it hard for people to stand near the camera. Although Farnsworth improved the tube later and showed how it could be used for TV, his competitors at RCA, most notably Vladimir Zworykin, were working on a different tube they call the Iconoscope. When commercial broadcasts began in the late 1930s, Farnsworth’s tube was left behind. However, it had certain advantages over the Iconoscope, and it remained in use for many years, but not for regular TV. There were certain uses of closed-circuit TV where an Image Dissector was useful, such as when engineers wanted to monitor the bright, hot interior of an industrial furnace.

Eventually, Farnsworth won a patent battle with RCA over his claim to have invented the first “all electronic” television camera, but that victory would have been more glorious if his technology had become the standard in TV broadcasting.”

farnsworthToday in 1957, the original version of the animated NBC peacock logo, used to denote programs “brought to you in living color,” made its debut at the beginning of “Your Hit Parade.” Quoting Wikipedia: “In a 1996 videotaped interview by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Elma Farnsworth recounts Philo’s change of heart about the value of television, after seeing how it showed man walking on the moon, in real time, to millions of viewers:

Interviewer: The image dissector was used to send shots back from the moon to earth.
Elma Farnsworth: Right.
Interviewer: What did Phil think of that?
Elma Farnsworth: We were watching it, and, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Phil turned to me and said, “Pem, this has made it all worthwhile.” Before then, he wasn’t too sure.
In March 2013, Philo Farnsworth was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
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