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ERMA's Lost Battalion
July-September 2001 (vol. 23 no. 3)
pp. 64-72

Much of General Electric's work on the ERMA system for the Bank of America has been documented by scholars and memoirists. But these accounts gloss over or ignore the application programming effort required to make this innovative system operational. This article augments the record with a first-hand account of the rest of the story.

1. J.L. McKenney, "Developing a Common Machine Language for Banking: The ABA Technical Subcommittee Story," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 17, no. 4, 1995, pp. 61-75.
2. J.A.N. Lee, "Rise and Fall of the General Electric Corporation Computer Department," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 17, no. 4, 1995, pp. 24-45.
3. M. Yokoo, E.H. Durfee, T. Ishida, and K. Kuwabara, "Distributed Constraint Satisfaction for Formalizing Distributed Problem Solving," Proc. 12th IEEE Int'l Conf. Distributed Computing Systems, pp. 614-621, 1992.
4. T. Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine.New York: Little, Brand&Co, 1981.
5. In response to my review of his book (Informmagazine, Oct. 1996, pp. 62-63), Oldfield wrote to me in part as follows: "I think there are a number of reasons why [my] research leading to the story of the GE Computer Department did not reveal your part in the ERMA picture: Only one of your group of eight programmers (Herman Moss) remained as a member of the GE Computer Department Alumni, and he has not attended the reunions or even responded to the Newsletter announcing the 1997 reunion. Essentially, your group has become invisible…I specifically questioned both Bob Johnson and Al Zipf about the period from late 1958 until mid-1959 when the system became operational. Bob and Al agreed that it was a difficult period with lots of pressure on both the programmers and the engineers, but neither mentioned you or your group."
6. Specifications for General Electric Processors, Production Contract, Appendix A, 20 April 1957, pp. 1-10.
7. D.O. Woodbury, Let ERMA Do It, Harcourt Brace and Co., New York, 1956, p. 159.
8. R.V. Head, "Banking Automation: A Critical Appraisal," Datamation, July 1965, pp. 24-28.
9. Conversation with William Perry, vice president for personnel at Security First National Bank, Los Angeles, 1964.
10. R.V. Head, "The ERMA Laboratory—R.I.P.," Systems and Procedures J., July-August 1967, pp. 20-21.

Citation:
Robert V. Head, "ERMA's Lost Battalion," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 64-72, July-Sept. 2001, doi:10.1109/85.948907
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