Insider Accounts of Computing and Life at BBN

Good news - nearly 600 pages. Bad news - nearly 600 pages.

Licklider had been on staff only few months when he told me, in fall 1957, that he wanted BBN to buy a digital computer for his group. He wanted a then state-of-the-art digital machine produced by the Royal-McBee Co., a subsidiary of Royal Typewriter.

“What will it cost?” I asked.

“Around $30,000,” he replied, rather blandly, and noted that this price tag was a discount he had already negotiated.

I exclaimed, “BBN has never spent anything approaching that amount on a single research apparatus. What are you going to do with it?”

“I don’t know,” Lick responded, “but if BBN is going to be an important company in the future, it must be in computers.”

Although I hesitated at first — $30,000 for a computer with no apparent use seemed just too reckless — I had a great deal of faith in Lick’s convictions and finally agreed that BBN should risk the funds. I presented his request to Labate and Baruch, and with their approval, Lick brought BBN into the digital era. Lick sat at that computer many hours each day, literally hoarding the machine, learning how to do digital programming.

Perhaps Chapter 4 is a good place to start:

Chapter 4
Early Years of Basic Computer and Software Engineering
This chapter describes BBN’s early activities that were more aimed at creating the computing capabilities themselves.

and specifically:

4.1 The PDP-ls and PDP-1 time-sharing

Or perhaps Chapter 17 Data Networking (and ARPANET)


Highly recommended!

BTW, ex-BBNers are also maintaining a mailing list of their own, so, if you have any questions related to BBN or to the equipment used (as I had regarding the PDP-1), there may be a chance that there’s someone around who might know.

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