- Collection ID:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Physical Description:
10.3 Cubic feet
Includes 31 vertical boxes
Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
This collection consists of over 2,516 items, housed in 31 document boxes. The material is arranged into chronological order and covers the project dates of l945- l959. The items were originally classified Secret, Confidential, and Unclassified.
The collection is arranged into four series: Series 1, Summary Reports; Series 2, Bi-weekly Reports; Series 3, Correspondence, Memoranda, and Reports; and Series 4, Indexes. The summary reports include originals of "Summary Report #1, April, 1946" and "Summary Report #2," in twenty-two volumes, and photocopies of summary reports #3 through #40. The bi-weekly reports, covering the period December, l947 to May, l953, are arranged chronologically. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, notes, memos, and reports. These date from August, 1945 to January, 1959 and are arranged chronologically. A 210 page index to the reports and correspondence (prepared by Whirlwind project personnel) is located in box 31. This guide has a table of contents and lists topic, author, date, and identification number for all items in the collection. Other indexes are located in boxes 30 and 31.
The collection is arranged into four series.
Series 1: Summary Reports, 1946-1954
Series 2: Bi-weekly Reports, 1947-1953
Series 3: Correspondence, Memoranda, and Reports, 1945-1959
Series 4: Indices, undated
Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Project Whirlwind was sponsored by the Special Devices Center of the Office of Naval Research from 1945 to 1952. The original objective of the project was the development of a device that would simulate airplanes in flight. As the project progressed, other applications of the computer evolved.
The project was centered in the Servomechanisms Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). In the course of the research, Whirlwind evolved from an aircraft simulator into a high speed digital computer and finally into a key element of the United States' early air defense system. In 1948, M.I.T., believing that it was inappropriate for an educational institution to be so heavily involved in air defense research, transferred Whirlwind responsibility to the new M.I.T. Lincoln Laboratory in 1952. There, under the direction of Jay Forrester, pioneering work was done on magnetic core memory. MITRE's Whirlwind group spun off from Lincoln Laboratory to the new MITRE Corporation in 1958. Whirlwind served SAGE (Semiautomatic Ground Environment) air defense activities until being retired in May of 1959.
Whirlwind I was of the high-speed electronic digital type, in which quantities were represented as discrete numbers, and complex problems were solved by the repeated use of fundamental arithmetic and logical operations. Computations were executed by fractional microsecond pulses in electronic circuits, of which the principal ones were the flip-flop, the gate coincidence circuit and the magnetic core memory. Whirlwind I used numbers of 16 binary digits; this length was selected to limit the machine to a practical size.
The Whirlwind I Computer was utilized by such projects as Navy Fire Control, Air Traffic Control, the Cape Cod System, Experimental SAGE Sector, and many others. Whirlwind I spawned two computers, the MTC (memory test computer) and TX O (transistor computer), both developed by ESS Installation Group 63.
The Whirlwind I Computer and its facilities were later leased to the Wolf Research and Development Corporation, West Concord, Massachusetts, under Navy Lease Contract Nonr 2956(00) in 1963. Kent C. Redmond and Thomas M. Smith wrote a history of the project, Project Whirlwind: Case History (Bedford, Massachusetts: The MITRE Corporation, l975).
Existence and Location of Copies
Whirlwind Computer Collection records held in the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, were microfilmed by MITRE and the microfilm is (as of 2007) located in the Project Whirlwind Collection at the MIT Institute Archives (Series 16 of MC 665).
Digital copies of selected material are located in DOME (http://dome.mit.edu/), the MIT Libraries digital repository.
Existence and Location of Originals
Project Whirlwind Collection is located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives and Special Collections (http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/research/collections/collections-mc/mc665.html#ref31). Originals of material on microfilm in series 16 of this collection are held at the Archives Center, National Museum of American History. They were donated in 1970 by the MITRE Corporation.
Immediate Source of Acquisiton
This collection was donated by the MITRE Corporation, February 1983. The Whirlwind I Computer Project originated at the Servomechanics Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in 1945. The records were transferred in l959 to the MITRE Corporation.
This collection was transferred to the Archives Center from the Division of Physical Sciences and Mathematics (now Division of Medicine and Science), September 1987. Additional records were transferred to the Archives Center, January 1998.
Processed by Craig Orr (archivist), June, 1994, revised, Craig Orr, March 1998; revised Alison Oswald November, 2004; October, 2010.
Using the Collection
Whirlwind Computer Collection, 1945-1959, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research use.
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012