Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Robert G. Chamberlain Numerical Control Collection, 1954-1984


Collection ID:
Chamberlain, Robert G.
Physical Description:
3.5 Cubic feet
8 boxes
2 Motion picture films

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
Chamberlain's review of his work in the field of numerical control is detailed in his personal "Recollections of a Pioneer Numerical Control Programmer," which comprises Series 1. This is a roughly chronological summary of his career, presenting his major work experiences and accomplishments at Gidding & Lewis from his initial employment there in 1954 through his retirement in 1983, along with some post‑retirement free‑lance work. Major technological problems and challenges that Chamberlain encountered are described, together with the changing roles he played at Giddings & Lewis as he was promoted or shifted from position to position. Several important foreign trade missions in which Chamberlain participated, including a 1979 trip to China, are also described. Series 2 of the collection includes numerous speeches and articles that Chamberlain gave or wrote over a period of more than 20 years on the subject of numerical control of manufacturing operations. They relate to the use of computers in controlling machine tools and to problems of ensuring accuracy in metal cutting and forming operations under computer controls. These are arranged in chronological order. From 1963 to 1973, Chamberlain was intimately involved in the work of the Numerical Controls Committee of the National Machine Tool Builders Association (NMTBA). Records of this group found in Series 3 of the collection document the expanding use of numerical control technology. They include projects to increase the accuracy of numerically‑controlled machining operations and to standardize the computer language used in such operations. Series 4 of the collection documents an official trade mission to China in which Chamberlain participated (1979), as well as his meetings with French numerical control industry colleagues in the U.S. (1971) and in France (1980). Series 5 of the collection consists of slides used to illustrate some of Chamberlain's lectures. Series 6 contains 2 reels of film about Giddings & Lewis' development of numerical control technology. Series 7 consists of two Giddings and Lewis reports on programming the Numericord system and one proposal to the Atomic Energy Commission entitled "Project Prometheus," ca. 1968.


Collection arranged into 6 series. Chronologically arranged.

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Robert G. Chamberlain graduated in 1949 from Iowa State University with a degree in mechnanical engineering; he later did graduate work towards an MBA in finance at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. In 1954 he went to work for Giddings & Lewis, Inc., a Wisconsin machine‑tool builder. Chamberlain became involved in the early development of technology and processes for the computer‑programmed control of heavy machinery, known in the industry as numerical control (NC). In fact, he was one of the first numerical control programmers in the United States. Chamberlain rose through the ranks to management level at Giddings & Lewis, holding successive positions as Vice President of Information Systems, Vice President and General Manager of the Giddings & Lewis Electronics Company, Group Vice President‑‑Industrial Products, and Executive Vice President‑‑Industrial Products. Before his retirement in 1983, he also served on the firm's Board of Directors. Chamberlain was also a very active member and officer of several professional societies in the NC field, including the national Machine Tool Builders Association and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In addition, Chamberlain is the author of several articles on numerical control of machine tools, computer‑assisted manufacturing, information systems, and quality assurance.


Don Darroch
Immediate Source of Acquisition
This collection was donated to the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History by Mr. Chamberlain in February 1995. The three reports in series seven were donated by Mr. Chamberlain in March 1997.
Processing Information
Collection processed by Don Darroch, April 13, 1995.

Using the Collection

Preferred Citation
Robert G. Chamberlain Numerical Control Collection, 1954-1984, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
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.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Photographs -- Phototransparencies -- 1950-2000 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Machine tools -- Numerical control -- Programming Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Slides (photographs) -- 1950-2000 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs -- 1950-2000 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lectures -- 1950-2000 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Machine Tool Builders Association. Numerical Controls Committee. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
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Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012