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
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
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.
Watson Lab Gallery (1945-59)
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Mon Jun 22 09:14:41 2020