Project Whirlwind Collection
Scope and Contents
Progress of daily research activities can be followed in the various chronologically numbered memoranda and notes. Memoranda are the most numerous and informal presentations of technical work. Classified research was conducted at Lincoln Laboratory, unclassified research in the Digital Computer Laboratory at MIT, each research group creating its own series of documents. Overall progress of research can be followed chronologically by consulting across series. Research staff numbered and dated reports, so that chronology of work is easy to follow. Summary reports were created to share information with other researchers and the government offices funding the research.
Some material is grouped by specific projects, which are represented by their own series in this collection. For example, Whirlwind I led to the development of two other computers, the MTC (memory test computer) and TX-O (transistor computer) by Group 63 of Lincoln Laboratory, Division 6. Memoranda from both MTC and TX-O are included in this collection, as series 10 and series 14.
During academic year 1952-1953 a series of seminars on magnetism was given by Arthur L. Loeb. Notes were taken by Norman Menyuk. “M” Memoranda on the subjects of “Classical Magnetism and Qualitative Discussion of the Solid State,” “Principles of Quantum Mechanics: Quantitative Explanation of Fermi and Exchange Energies,” and “Review of Some Recent Fundamental Research in Magnetism” can be found in series 7.
Records created during the development of the computer were transferred from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and MIT's Lincoln Laboratory to the MITRE Corporation when test projects were complete and Division 6, Lincoln Laboratory was phased out. Records were pulled for legal counsel defending the magnetic core patent. After the patent suit was settled those records were transferred to the Institute Archives (collection AC-0337). Jay Forrester's research notebook #47, which documents his initial notes on random-access, coincident-current magnetic storage for memory, is located in AC-0337, along with other computation notebooks and documents used to defend the patent lawsuit.
Another subset of documents were sent by MITRE to the Smithsonian in 1970, and are held by the Archives Center, National Museum of American History. Microfilm of those records can be found in series 16 of this collection, and digital copies of those documents can be found in DOME, the MIT Libraries digital repository. Photographs of Whirlwind I research are located at the MITRE Corporate Archives.
- 1944 - 1959
- Forrester, Jay W. (Person)
Intellectual Property Rights
A public announcement was made in late 1951 that the computer known as Whirlwind I was operational and available for scientific and military research. In 1951 Project Whirlwind was detached from the Servomechanisms Lab to become the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Digital Computer Laboratory. Unclassified research projects using the Whirlwind I computer were managed by the Digital Computer Lab staff on the MIT campus, where Whirlwind I occupied the Barta Building (N42), which had been acquired in 1947 to provide sufficient space for the computer as it was designed and constructed. In 1952 staff working on classified projects left to be part of the newly organized Lincoln Laboratory off campus, to form Division 6, Digital Computer Division. Although their projects were classified, the Whirlwind computer itself was not, and remained in the Barta Building. Jay Forrester served as director of both the Digital Computer Laboratory and Division 6, Lincoln Laboratory until 1956, when he became a member of the MIT faculty pursuing interests in system dynamics in management. Robert Everett served as associate director of both labs until he succeeded Forrester as director.
Division 6 – Digital Computer Division was initially comprised of six groups that were primarily concerned with Whirlwind I, Whirlwind II, Cape Cod System, Magnetic Materials, and Storage Tubes. The Division was eventually expanded to nine groups:
Group 60 – Administration and Services Group 61 – System Design Group 62 – ESS Installation Group 63 – Digital Comuter Development Group 64 – ESS Shakedown Testing Group 65 – Vacuum Tubes Group 66 – Special Studies Group 67 – Advance SAGE Program Development Group 68 – System Office
The U.S. Air Force provided substantial financial support for Whirlwind applications and it was a key component in the design of the Air Force's SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) air defense system in the 1950s. Research projects at Lincoln Laboratory resulted in the further development of two additional computers, the MTC (memory test computer) and TX-0 (transistor computer), by Group 63 of Lincoln Lab, Division 6.
In July 1958 the MITRE Corporation was incorporated as a non-profit organization to continue classified research and development projects that had transitioned to an operational stage and needed to be phased out of Lincoln Laboratory. Robert Everett joined MITRE at that time as technical director, later serving as president of MITRE from 1969 to 1986.
As described in MIT's Tech Talk, "the Beast" of the Barta Building, the Whirlwind I computer, was shut down on May 29, 1959. It was leased by the Navy to the Wolf Research and Development Corporation of Massachusetts, and was disassembled and moved out of the Barta building in the spring of 1960. Computer artifacts from Whirlwind I and related Whirlwind projects are held by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum and the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California.
3.9 Gigabytes (4035 MB in 1835 digital files in 31 folders)
56.3 Cubic Feet (189 boxes including 142 microfilm reels)
Language of Materials
Other Aids to the Collection
MITRE’s copies of the Whirlwind Log Books were water-damaged at some point, probably prior to the 1959 transfer date. Damage was so severe that the decision was made, with corporate approval, to photocopy the Log Books and then destroy the original water-damaged ones. Photocopying was done on archival quality paper, photocopies constitute series 2 of the Project Whirlwind Collection
The Division 6 Engineering Drawings (series 15) were transferred in hard copy form to MITRE when the corporation was formed in 1959. In 1960 the drawings were microfilmed and the original drawings destroyed. Two microfilm sets were made, one negative, one positive.
Digital objects in PDF format were created by MITRE staff from the microfilm (see series 16) and sent to the Archives on 8 CDs.
Source of Acquisition
Materials in series 1-16 were assembled and arranged by the archives staff of the MITRE Corporation prior to transfer to MIT in 2008. Additional documents from the holdings of the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) technical reports were added to create series 17-24. Series 17, A memos, combines holdings from MITRE and existing reports holdings of the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections).
Digital versions of documents on microfilm were created by the MITRE Corporation and transferred as pdf files to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections), then cataloged by staff of the MIT Libraries for deposit in MIT Libraries' digital repository, DOME.
Location of Originals
From the set of original Whirlwind records items were pulled for the use of legal counsel when MIT became a party to the litigation of the core memory patent. Those records were later transferred from the law firm to the Institute Archives and Special Collections and accessioned into the holdings as AC 337, Patent Litigation records.
Photographs created by Project Whirlwind staff are located at the MITRE Corporate Archives.
Location of Copies
Digital copies of selected material are located in DOME, the MIT Libraries digital repository.
- Redmond, Kent, and Thomas Smith. Project Whirlwind: The History of a Pioneer Computer. Bedford, MA: Digital Press, 1980.
- Everett, Robert R. A History of Computing in the Twentieth Century, chapter on Whirlwind. Academic Press, 1980.
- Wildes, Karl, and Nilo Lindgren. A Century of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, 1882-1982, chapter 17 "From Whirlwind to SAGE,” 280-301. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985, pages 280-301.
- Redmond, Kent, and Thomas Smith. From Whirlwind to MITRE, the R & D Story of the SAGE Air Defense Computer. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.
Processing Information note - Digitization
- Computers -- History Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- DIC 6345. Subject Source: Local sources
- Electronic digital computers -- History Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Everett, Robert R.
- Forrester, Jay W.
- Lincoln Laboratory. Division 6
- Magnetic cores Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Digital Computer Laboratory
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Project Whirlwind
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Servomechanisms Laboratory
- Mitre Corporation
- Whirlwind computer. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Guide to the Project Whirlwind Collection
- Elizabeth Andrews and Mikki Macdonald of the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections). Descriptions for Series 1-16 were created by the staff of the MITRE Corporate Archives.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Items on microfilm in series 16 were digitized by MITRE Corpoation and transferred to the Department of Distinctive Collections, MIT Libraries.
- 2021 July 9: Edited by Lana Mason for compliance with DACS single-level optimum requirements.
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