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Issue No.03 - July-September (2007 vol.29)
pp: 82-85
David Anderson , University of Portsmouth
ABSTRACT
The dominant discourse in the history of computing holds that the world's first stored-program digital electronic computer--the Manchester "Baby"--was developed under the sole leadership and direction of the Department of Electro-Technics. This biography, which arises out of a detailed re-examination of the historical evidence, suggests that the physicist P.M.S. Blackett was much more influential in the genesis, enabling, staffing, and funding of the project than has previously been recognized.
INDEX TERMS
Blackett, Baby, Manchester, SSEM, Kilburn, Newman, Williams
CITATION
David Anderson, "Patrick Blackett: Physicist, Radical, and Chief Architect of the Manchester Computing Phenomenon", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.29, no. 3, pp. 82-85, July-September 2007, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2007.44
REFERENCES
1. At the time, admission to Osborne was thought of as having more or less the same status as having a place at an English Public School like Winchester College.
2. M.S. Partridge, History of the Royal Naval College: Osborne, 1903–1923 , Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000.
3. This was just at the time when the Cavendish was starting to flourish under the direction of Ernest (later Lord) Rutherford.
4. , To their friends, Constanza and Patrick Blackett were known as the two Pats. See M.J. Nye, Blackett: Physics, War, and Politics in the Twentieth Century, Harvard Univ. Press, 2004
5. Sir William Lawrence Bragg (1890–1971) was the youngest ever Nobel laureate when, at age 25, he shared the 1915 Nobel Prize for Physics with his father Sir William Henry Bragg. He left Manchester to become director of the National Physical Laboratory, a post he held for just one year before becoming Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics, Cambridge, from 1938 to 1953.
6. Douglas Rayner Hartree (1897–1958). Having learned about Vannevar Bush's differential analyzer, Hartree visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1933 to discover more. He came back to Cambridge with a copy of the design and, using Meccano parts, built a similar machine, For more information on Hartree, see P.A. Medwick, "Douglas Hartree and Early Computations in Quantum Mechanics," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 10, no. 2, 1988, pp. 105-111.
7. B. Lovell, "Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, Baron Blackett of Chelsea," Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Soc., vol. 21, 1975, pp. 1-116.
8. P.M.S. Blackett and F.C. Williams, "An Automatic Curve Follower for Use with the Differential Analyser," Proc. Cambridge Philosophical Soc., vol. 35, pp. 494-505.
9. F.C. Williams, interview by C.R. Evans, 1976; "Pioneers of Computing 7: F.C. Williams," audio recording, Science Museum, London; transcription, C.D.P. Anderson, 1998.
10. In private communication with Bernard Lovell, cited in "Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, Baron Blackett of Chelsea."
11. Personal correspondence, P.M.S. Blackett to M.H.A. Newman, 22 June 1942. Facsimile available (box 3, folder 1, item 1, page 2) at The Newman Digital Archive, the History of Computing Group, Portsmouth, and St. John's College, Cambridge, http://www.tech.port.ac.uk/staffweb/andersod/ NewmanNewman.php?Show=Home.php.
12. Brian Randell, personal communication with author, 20 January 2005.
13. Letter from Lyn Newman to Hella Weyl, March 1945. Cited in W. Newman, "Married to a Mathematician: Lyn Newman's Life in Letters," The Eagle, St. John's College, Cambridge, 2002, pp. 47-55.
14. Letter from Lyn Newman to Antoinette, Viscountess Esher, 1948. Cited in W. Newman, "Married to a Mathematician: Lyn Newman's Life in Letters."
15. M.H.A. Newman, letter to the Secretary of the Royal Society, 28 January 1946. Facsimile available (box 6, folder 2, item 4) at The Newman Digital Archive, the History of Computing Group, Portsmouth, and St. John's College, Cambridge, http://www.tech.port.ac.uk/staffweb/andersod/ NewmanNewman.php?Show=Home.php.
16. M. Croarken, "The Beginnings of the Manchester Computer Phenomenon: People and Influences," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 15, no. 3, 1993, pp. 9-16.
17. Minutes of the meeting of the Government Grant Board B, 11 April 1946. Facsimile available (box 6, folder 2, item 12) at The Newman Digital Archive, the History of Computing Group, Portsmouth, and St. John's College, Cambridge, http://www.tech.port.ac.uk/staffweb/andersod/ NewmanNewman.php?Show=Home.php.
18. A few months after Newman submitted his bid to the Royal Society, Willis Jackson resigned his chair at Manchester and moved to the chair in electrical engineering at the Imperial College London recently vacated by the retirement of C.L. Fortescue. Jackson's departure created a vacancy for Williams, which was particularly fortunate: Williams probably could not have been tempted to Manchester to take up a less senior post. At that time, the only Manchester department having two professors was Physics where both Hartree and Blackett held chairs. It is most unlikely that a second chair would have been created in Electro-Technics had Jackson stayed in post.
19. R. Coopey, "Technology Gaps and National Champions: The Computer Industry and Government Policy in Post-War Britain," Computers in Europe Symp., 1998; http://www.icfcst.kiev.ua/Symposium/Proceedings Coopey.pdf.
20. Personal correspondence with Sir Ieuan Maddock (deputy controller in the Ministry of Technology, 1965) cited in Lovell, Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, Baron Blackett of Chelsea, pp. 1-116.
21. A. Hodgkin et al., "Memorial Meeting for Lord Blackett, OM, CH, FRS, at the Royal Society on 31 October 1974," Notes and Records of the Royal Soc. of London, vol. 29, no. 2, 1975, pp. 135-162.
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