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Icons of Progress


The First National Air Defense Network

As perhaps the most ambitious computer project in history, SAGE brought IBM (hardware development and manufacturing) together with Burroughs (inter-site communications), Western Electric (building construction), and SDC (part of the RAND Corporation, software), all under the aegis of MIT's Lincoln Laboratories for overall system integration. IBM Vice President John McPherson was the company’s point person.

MIT professor George Valley, who co-founded the Lincoln Laboratories in 1949, worked with John Marchetti of the U.S. Air Force Cambridge Research Lab to create a plan to expand the U.S. air defense through computer-based radar technology that they developed during World War II. Their “Whirlwind” computer was the basis for what became SAGE. MIT professor Jay Forrester, himself an estimable computer scientist and now emeritus professor at MIT’s graduate business school, chose IBM to manufacture SAGE because of the company’s capacities for such an unprecedented project.

By the summer of 1953, 203 technical and 26 administrative IBM support employees were working on the SAGE project at a former necktie factory in Poughkeepsie, NY. A year later, Thomas Watson, Jr. said, “we had 700 hundred people working on SAGE. ...Within a couple of years we had thousands.”