Technitrol, Inc., lawsuit records
Hagley Museum & Library
Manuscripts & Archives Department
P.O. Box 3630
Wilmington, DE 19807-0630
23 linear ft.
Technitrol Inc., was incorporated on April 15, 1947 by John F. Koch, Jr., E. Stuart Eichert, Jr., Gordon Palmer, Jr., and T. K. Sharpless. The company was organized in order to develop computer technology for military and industrial purposes. Prior to working for Technitrol, Eichert, Koch, and Sharpless had been employed at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering, where they worked on the ENIAC project. In the summer of 1947 Technitrol began working on a computerized airline reservation system. On May 26, l948, Sharpless demonstrated this "Reservisor" system to American Airlines, but the airline declined to purchase it. The key component of this system was the magnetic storage drum for which Technitrol received a patent on Sept. 23, 1952. However, during the 1940s Engineering Research Assoc. (ERA), a St. Paul-based firm that was doing top secret research as part of the U.S. Navy's cryptographic program, had developed a similar system. When Technitrol tried to license its invention, a bitter patent infringement suit resulted. The principal parties to this litigation were the United States Government, Sperry Rand Corporation, successor to ERA, and Control Data Corporation, which had been established by a breakaway group of former ERA engineers. The collection consists of copies of trial records collected by Seymour C. Yuter, a patent attorney for Technitrol, Inc. They include documents from the interlocking suits of Technitrol v. Control Data Corp., Technitrol v. Sperry Rand, and Technitrol v. U.S.A., which came to trial between the late 1950s and the mid 1970s. The principal point at issue was, who was the inventor of the magnetic storage drum. The records provide a fascinating picture of the early history of the computer industry and trace the role played by the military in the years immediately after World War II. The first series documents the work done at Harvard University's Computation Laboratory between 1948 and 1955 under the direction of Howard Aiken. Included is a copy of Aiken's "Investigation for the Design of a Digital Calculating Machine," which describes the development of the Mark IV computer. The discovery documents shed some light on the history of Engineering Research Associates, which has always been shrouded in secrecy because of the firm's involvement with the Navy's cryptographic program. The documents show that as early as 1943 the Navy recognized that the computer, with its ability to rapidly manipulate data streams, was a natural tool for encoding and decoding messages. The Navy's most successful wartime unit was led by Commander Howard T. Engstrom, in peacetime a professor of mathematics at Yale, and Lt. Commander William C. Norris, who had been a sales engineer for Westinghouse. After the War, Norris established ERA with the encouragement of Secretary of the Navy Forrestal, and it was soon the most advanced computer company in the world. It developed the ATLAS, the first stored-memory digital computer. The development of the Atlas computer is documented in great detail, including a component-by-component chronology, weekly and monthly progress reports, correspondence, memoranda and engineering notebooks of key engineering personnel (Arnold Cohen, John Coombs, William Keye, and Lowell Brown). The records reflect the secrecy imposed by the Navy. The records include copies of ERA's contracts with the Office of Naval Research and correspondence with Dr. Mina Rees, head of the Mathematical Division at ONR, and John Curtiss, head of the Computing Division of the National Bureau of Standards. There are also copies of ERA reports on magnetic storage and MIT's Project Whirlwind. Series III consists of other records collected during the discovery process. This file contains documentation on John Atanasoff's computer, the Harvard Mark IV, the ENIAC, BINAC, EDVAC and UNIVAC. Most of these documents were drawn from the suit of Honeywell, Inc. v. Sperry Rand but were entered as evidence by Technitrol's lawyers to raise questions about ERA's claim to the magnetic storage drum patent. The prior art files contain documentation on Atanasoff's computer, the Harvard Mark IV, and Eckert-Mauchly's ENIAC and UNIVAC. There is also information on Rockwell International's Gun Direction and Minuteman computers, projects which applied the principles of automatic command and control first explored at ERA. The court records include trial transcripts, briefs, affidavits, depositions, and related docments which trace the progress of the trial through the court.