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Digital State

The Story of Minnesota's Computing Industry

2013
Author:

Thomas J. Misa

Digital State

The rise of Minnesota computing after World War II—the country’s first fully realized hotbed of computer technology

Drawing on rare archival documents, photographs, and oral histories, Thomas J. Misa’s groundbreaking history shows how Minnesota recognized and embraced the coming information age through its leading-edge companies, its workforce, and its prominent institutions. Digital State reveals the inner workings of the birth of the digital age in Minnesota and what we can learn from this era of sustained innovation.

Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, Thomas J. Misa’s impressive new book tells the story of a revolutionary group of companies and individuals who, during the middle of the twentieth century, transformed the computing industry right here in Minnesota. Digital State provides a much needed look at the roots of Minnesota’s high-tech economy.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, president and CEO of Minnesota High Tech Association and former Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives

Accounts of the early events of the computing industry—the Turing machine, the massive Colossus, the ENIAC computer—are well-told tales, and equally well known is the later emergence of Silicon Valley and the rise of the personal computer. Yet there is an extraordinary untold middle history—with deep roots in Minnesota. From the end of World War II through the 1970s, Minnesota was home to the first computing-centered industrial district in the world.

Drawing on rare archival documents, photographs, and a wealth of oral histories, Digital State unveils the remarkable story of computer development in the heartland after World War II. These decades found corporations—concentrated in large part in Minnesota—designing state-of-the-art mainframe technologies, revolutionizing new methods of magnetic data storage, and, for the first time, truly integrating software and hardware into valuable products for the American government and public. Minnesota-based companies such as Engineering Research Associates, Univac, Control Data, Cray Research, Honeywell, and IBM Rochester were major international players and together formed an unrivaled epicenter advancing digital technologies. These companies not only brought vibrant economic growth to Minnesota, they nurtured the state’s present-day medical device and software industries and possibly even tomorrow’s nanotechnology.

Thomas J. Misa’s groundbreaking history shows how Minnesota recognized and embraced the coming information age through its leading-edge companies, its workforce, and its prominent institutions. Digital State reveals the inner workings of the birth of the digital age in Minnesota and what we can learn from this era of sustained innovation.

Digital State

Thomas J. Misa is Engineering Research Associates Land Grant Chair in History of Technology in the Program for History of Science and Technology and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as director of the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota. He has written or edited nine books, including Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing and Leonardo to the Internet: Technology and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present.

Digital State

Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, Thomas J. Misa’s impressive new book tells the story of a revolutionary group of companies and individuals who, during the middle of the twentieth century, transformed the computing industry right here in Minnesota. Digital State provides a much needed look at the roots of Minnesota’s high-tech economy.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, president and CEO of Minnesota High Tech Association and former Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives

Minnesota's role in the rise of computing gets the thoughtful and big-picture attention it deserves in an impressive book by Tom Misa.

Pioneer Press

Engaging and lavishly illustrated.

Journal of American History

Digital State should be an addition to the “must read” lists of serious students and practitioners of the history of computing.

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing

Digital State is the book we’ve all been waiting for - a thoroughly researched and delightfully written history of how this region was a center of computer design and manufacturing for decades, what sustained it, and how it adapted to change.

Minnesota Historical Society Review

This richly detailed book is the most significant work about the early U.S. computer industry to come out in the last decade, and it will greatly deepen our understanding of the industry’s evolution and regional geography.

Technology and Culture

Digital State

Contents

Preface
Abbreviations

Introduction: Minnesota Goes High-Tech

1. Philadelphia Story: Wartime Origins of Minnesota Computing

2. St. Paul Startup: Engineering Research Associates Builds a Pioneering Computer

3. Corporate Computing: Univac Creates a High-Tech Minnesota Industry

4. Innovation Machine: Control Data’s Supercomputers, Services, and Social Vision

5. First Computer: Honeywell, Partnerships, and the Politics of Patents

6. Big Blue: Manufacturing and Innovation at IBM Rochester

7. Industrial Dynamics: Minnesota Embraces the Information Economy

8. High-Technology Innovation: Medical Devices and Beyond