... The Computer, MIT, NASA's Apollo Project and "The Broadside"
My first encounter with the creature we call the computer was in the summer of 1953, the year between my sophomore and junior years at Melrose High School. My father was a department manager in the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company in Boston and he had arranged for me to have a summer job there. It was my duty to keep the data processing department supplied with printer paper and blank IBM punch cards. I became familiar with the various IBM machines; the cardpunch, the printer, the sorter, the interpreter and the keypunch machines. None of these were classified as a computer; in fact, at this time, IBM did not have a computer on the market. In a large room on the floor below us was the Univac 1, one of the first computers on the market. It was something to see!
But I would like to skip forward about ten years and tell you about the beginning of writing and publishing using the computer as a tool. The beginning of what is now called "word processing."
In the early 1960s I worked for Honeywell's Electronic Data Processing Division as a computer field engineer at MIT's Instrumentation Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Instrumentation Lab was under contract with NASA to develop the guidance system for the Apollo project's space missions to the moon. They had a Honeywell H-800 computer system (later a more powerful H-1800 system) to assist in the project. As an on-site field engineer, I worked rotating shifts around the clock to keep the system running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was during the nighttime hours that I became involved with the development of one of the first word processing computer programs in the world.
Dave Crocker was an MIT engineer assigned to the Apollo project. One of his endeavors was to produce the documentation associated with the guidance system's development. Dave was a far-sighted engineer and visualized the computer as a tool to accomplish his goals. In the beginning, he enlisted a large number of volunteers, mostly MIT students, I believe, to keypunch the entire Webster's Dictionary onto IBM cards, one word per card, and feed them into the computer. The end result was to create a word processing program that could do spelling checks and correction, hyphenation, word wrap and left, right and center justification. During the long, boring night-shift hours, while the computer ran with no problems, I keypunched a few of those words alongside of the volunteer students.
Also working at the Instrumentation Laboratory, as an administrative assistant at the time, was a girl named Daphne Henderson who was associated, in her private life, with a small, underground, publication called "The Broadside." This privately published weekly newspaper dealt with the social, political and entertainment scene around the MIT and Harvard University communities in Cambridge's Harvard Square. Daphne reasoned that, in order to eliminate countless hours of manual typing, correcting and retyping the input to the "Broadside," she could use the new, emerging word processing system to produce the original copy for the publication of the "Broadside." She provided her input during her off-hours by keypunching paper-tape and typing directly into the computer's console typewriter. Then, the Honeywell high-speed printer, during the nighttime hours, would print the copy that was later edited, cut and pasted into the final published version of the "Broadside" newspaper.
An interesting sidelight to this story is the involvement of a girl named Musgrave. I wish I could remember her first name. She was possibly a Harvard student and was the person to whom Daphne Henderson and I delivered the computer copy output of the "Broadside" for printing and distribution. All I can remember is that the Musgrave girl came from a family in western Massachusetts that operated a large dairy farm called Musgrave's Dairy. If you are a student of our space program and it's successful accomplishments over the years, you may have heard of Doctor Story Musgrave, one of the pioneering astronauts in space walking and involved in the repair of the Hubble space telescope back in the 1990s. Doctor Musgrave also came from a dairy farming family in western Massachusetts and, no doubt, is related to the Musgrave girl I remember from Harvard Square in the 1960s.
From the Internet (www.jsc.draper.com):
Dr. Charles Stark Draper, "the father of inertial navigation", founded the original "Instrumentation Laboratory of MIT" in 1930. In its early years, the laboratory pioneered the development of gyroscopically based gun pointing and firing systems for shipboard and fighter-aircraft use. This enabled the development of a system that remembers an object's course in flight and can measure changes in that course. As early as 1957, the laboratory designed the U. S. Fleet's ballistic missile guidance systems for the Polaris, Poseidon, Trident I and Trident II. The laboratory has also pioneered in the application of inertial technology to guidance, navigation and control systems for missiles, spacecraft and other vehicles. Examples include Apollo, Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle and Peacekeeper.
In 1970, the laboratory was renamed in honor of its founder, "The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory," and in 1973, it became a separate, nonprofit, research and development corporation and is now called "The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc."
January 7, 2005