Itching to find out about the nitty-gritty development of MIT’s first digital computer? You can now virtually dig through the Project Whirlwind Computer collection, a compilation of pioneering digital computing research conducted at MIT in the 1940s and 1950s. The collection, including formerly classified material, is back at the Institute and available to the public, thanks to the MITRE Corporation.
Whirlwind I—the fastest digital computer of its time—was completed in 1951 and occupied 3,300 square feet in the Barta Building (N42). The research project and documents eventually moved to Lincoln Lab and then to MITRE.
The precursor to modern-day computers, Whirlwind’s fingerprints are evident in today’s software and hardware. Parallel digit processing, random-access and magnetic core memory made the initial launch of commercial computers, and interactive visual computer displays, possible. The groundbreaking design also laid the foundation for simulation and real-time technology. In operation until 1959, Whirlwind formed the basis for the U.S. Air Force’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense system.
The Whirlwind documents now reside in the MIT Libraries Dome, a digital repository that contains 25,000 digitized images of art and architecture from the Rotch Visual Collections…and more.