Paul Ceruzzi’s Internet Alley November 3, 2010Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Book Club.
Tags: Charles Shrader, Christophe Lécuyer, Paul Ceruzzi
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Not too long after I arrived in Washington, DC for my post-doc at AIP, I gave a talk on some of my work on operations research and systems analysis at the National Air and Space Museum. Afterward NASM curator Paul Ceruzzi (who is, by the way, the primary contributor to the IT History Society blog) told me about the role that these fields took in his book Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005 (MIT Press, 2008).
Tysons Corner is an area in the Virginia suburbs just outside of Washington. While I worked at AIP, I lived in the city and commuted out to Maryland on the DC Metro. Nevertheless, I did cross the Potomac River into Virginia from time to time, and, when I went to Dulles Airport or the Leesburg outlet mall, I traveled through the region that is the subject of this book.
On the surface, the place is a typical stretch of the American suburbia that can be found in most metropolitan regions: highway, surrounded by housing subdivisions, chain stores in strip malls, and unremarkable office buildings. Ceruzzi is a longer-term resident of DC, and, in the opening to his prologue, he describes how this same scene captured his curiosity:
Many of the buildings had the names of their tenants displayed in bold lettering on the top floor. Some names suggested high technologies: names ending in ‘-tronics,’ ‘-ex,’ or the like. Others consisted of three-letter acronyms, few of which I recognized. As I drove by, all I could think of was the famous line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: ‘Who are those guys’?
This question, really, is the essence of “positive portraiture”, giving the development of knowledge about the past priority over interpretation of the past. As a regional study, Ceruzzi’s book has no particular topic aside from identifying a clear phenomenon — the presence of these buildings — and then studying the confluence of various contexts, which can explain that phenomenon. (more…)
Tags: Christophe Lécuyer, Emanuel Piore, Joan Lisa Bromberg, Ralph Gomory
One of my activities on my recent blogging hiatus was an oral history interview with Ralph Gomory. The interview was originally instigated as part of the AIP History Center’s History of Physics in Industry project, on which I’ve helped out here and there. Our discussions with researchers at IBM all pointed to Gomory as a crucial figure in that company’s history. Personally, I had a strong interest in the interview, because Gomory’s background is in mathematics, and he is a notable figure in the operations research (OR) community, primarily on account of his foundational work on integer programming. (For those keeping track, I wrote my dissertation, and am currently polishing up a book manuscript, on the history of certain sciences of policy analysis, including OR.) This post is mainly based on the background research I did ahead of the interview.
Gomory was director of research at IBM from 1970 to 1986. IBM Research had been established in its present form in the late 1950s by Emanuel Piore. Piore had spent much of his postwar career at the Office of Naval Research, culminating in a stint as Chief Scientist. Careful readers of Zuoyue Wang’s recent book on the President’s Science Advisory Committee (to be discussed on this blog presently) will know that Piore became a ubiquitous figure on various high-level government panels (i.e., though not well-known to historians, he was a big deal).
The idea behind establishing IBM Research was the general sense, widespread in the 1950s and ’60s, that technologically-oriented companies would be well-served by conducting their own basic research. Piore’s goal was to establish an environment — housed in a modern building designed by Eero Saarinen — where researchers could freely explore their own ideas. Gomory had originally been brought in to be part of the new mathematics department (along, incidentally, with fractal geometry pioneer Benoît Mandelbrot).
Now, going back to my previous post’s interest in basic research and the “linear model” in history: once one had established the importance of the link between research and technological development, one was faced with a series of subsidiary questions, to which one would have devoted more or less thought. (more…)
Primer: Silicon Valley Gadgetry February 18, 2009Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Primer.
Tags: Christophe Lécuyer, Fairchild Semiconductor, Varian Associates, William Hansen, William Shockley
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This post is a sequel, of sorts, to my previous post on the “100,000 garages” rhetorical device, and, more directly, to my Hump-Day History post on Fred Terman. It is also an extension of yesterday’s post on the AIP’s History of Physicists in Industry project, where I pointed out that analyses of firm behavior at the project level would be a useful thing for historians to do. Of course, there are cases where this has already been done, at least to an extent, with great success, as in the case of Silicon Valley vacuum tube and integrated circuit manufacturing firms.
Between the 1930s and the 1970s, the region around Palo Alto, California, just south of San Francisco, grew into a center for electronics innovation and manufacture, challenging the domination of the electronics industry by firms such as General Electric, RCA, Western Electric, and Westinghouse. The companies located (more…)