When Minnesota Was on the Precipice of Dominating the New Field of Computers

Around 1971 our neighbor across the street, Tom Thiers, pulled up in his bright blue Chevrolet Camaro. As a 16 year old kid close to getting my own car, I rushed across the street to talk to him and check-out the new car (new to him as it was a used 1st generation Camaro).

Tom was not much older than me so I blurted out, “How could you afford that car?” Sitting like a cool guy in the driver’s seat, he slid down his sunglasses and said, “Because I’m now working in the field of computers.

You see, Tom had gone to work at Control Data Corporation (CDC), the mainframe and supercomputer firm, which Wikipedia states was “…one of the nine major United States computer companies through most of the 1960s; the others were IBM, Burroughs Corporation, DEC, NCR, General Electric, Honeywell, RCA, and UNIVAC.”

Seymour Cray (whom I wrote about here in 2007) ended up creating Cray Research, for a time one of the most important supercomputer companies in the world.

As a guy who grew up knowing so many people who worked at Remington Rand’s ERA, Control Data, Cray Research, at the University of Minnesota Supercomputer Center — and was endlessly fascinated by computing — it was obvious to me that I’d end up working my entire career in technology.

At the same time I feel a great sense of sadness on what did not happen in Minnesota when it comes to the evolution of computing toward minicomputers, workstations, then personal computers, and finally all the devices we use today with computing chips in them like smartphones, tablets, Internet of Things devices, and much more. My home state could easily have become the dominant place where the future was invented.

Here are a few short videos you might enjoy:

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