Columbia University Computing History   
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IBM Watson Laboratory at Columbia University

IBM Watson Lab #1: 612 West 116th Street
IBM Watson Lab #2: 612 West 115th Street
IBM founded its Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory at Columbia University February 6, 1945, during the final months of World War II, first to provide computing services to the Allies, and then to advance the state of the art of scientific computing throughout the world. Its story is told in The IBM Watson Laboratory at Columbia University: A History, by Jean Ford Brennan, IBM, Armonk NY (1971), and in the Columbia University Computing History website, of which this is a subpage, as well as in Herb Grosch's book, COMPUTER.

The founder and director of Watson Lab was Columbia Astronomy professor Wallace Eckert, who had previously founded and operated the world's first scientific computing laboratory in Pupin Hall in the 1930s, and served as director of the US Naval Observatory's Nautical Almanac Office during the War. Watson Lab was a department of Columbia University, giving academic courses and sponsoring PhD theses. Watson Lab staff held Columbia faculty appointments, and Watson Lab provided access to and training on computing machines for Columbia researchers before Columbia had its own computers. The first computer courses were taught here and on campus by Watson Lab scientists.

Several historic computers were designed and/or built at Watson Lab, including SSEC (1948, arguably the world's first true computer); NORC (1954, the first supercomputer); and the IBM 610 (1956, the first personal computer). Eckert used the SSEC to perform the lunar-orbit calculations that would guide the Apollo moon missions. A great deal of other scientific work, notably in physics, molecular chemistry, and thermodynamics also took place at Watson Lab.

In 1970, IBM moved its Watson Laboratory to Yorktown Heights, New York, and left the two "612" buildings to Columbia; the 116th Street building is now Casa Hispanica, and the 115th Street building has been occupied in whole or in part by the Columbia Computer Center in its many incarnations, name changes, and reorganizations, since 1970.

Columbia Spectator articles about Watson Lab from the 1940s and 50s (found by Allan Olley 22 Sep 2023); click each image to read:

Spectator 1948 article   Spectator 1951 article

Also see: Watson Lab Gallery (1945-59)

Translations of this page courtesy of...

Language Link Date Translator Organization
Belarusian Беларуская 2023/08/21 Vladyslav Byshuk | Владислав Бишук
Finnish Suomi 2023/08/31 Kerstin Schmidt
French Français 2023/08/31 Kerstin Schmidt
German Deutsch 2023/08/21 Vladyslav Byshuk | Владислав Бишук
Hungarian Magyar 2023/08/31 Kerstin Schmidt
Italian Italiano 2023/01/27 Valeria T. Global Translation Services
Lithuanian Lietuvių 2023/08/31 Kerstin Schmidt
Norwegian Norsk 2022/05/26 Rune Bildeler på nett
Russian Русский 2023/07/16 Alexey Plastic Recycling Company
Spanish Español 2023/08/31 Kerstin Schmidt
Swedish Svenska 2023/08/31 Kerstin Schmidt
Ukrainian Українська 2023/08/21 Vladyslav Byshuk | Владислав Бишук

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Columbia University Computing History Frank da Cruz / This page created: January 2001 Last update: 5 September 2023