the beginning there were two computers and a college in a garden...
the age of computing dawned at Pomona College in 1958, computers still
carried an aura of mystery left over from their early connections with
military intelligence and weapons research. Bulky first-generation computers
based on vacuum tubes and punch cards were the marvels of the day, though
their displacement by second-generation machines based on transistors
and printed circuits was just over the horizon. In September of 1958the
same month in which Jack St. Claire Kilby of Texas Instruments developed
the worlds first integrated circuitPomona was preparing to
open its new Robert A. Millikan Laboratory, so it wanted its own computeror
rather, computers. Since digital computing in those days still had a serious
competitoranalog computingPomona was determined to obtain
state-of-the-art computers of both types.
So that fall, not one, but two computers arrived at Pomona.
The analog computera type no longer in use todaywas assembled
from Heathkit components by Physics Department faculty and students at
a cost of about $4,000 and 130 hours of labor. (The two students who did
most of the workRichard Vernon 59 and Donald Lamb 59were
28-year-old Air Force veterans with computer and avionics experience.)
Using programmed equations, the Heathkit could carry out rapid calculations,
the results of which could be viewed on an oscilloscope or graphed on
The digital computer, the first of many in Pomonas future, was a
Bendix G-15a machine the size of a refrigerator containing 450 vacuum
tubes. Information was fed into it using punched paper tape or 80-column
cards, and internal memory was stored on a magnetic drum. RAM (Random
Access Memory) consisted of four channels with a capacity of four words
eacha total of 16. (Not 16Kjust 16.) Total memory was 4,000
characters. Promotional material for the Bendix boasted of its programming
power, noting that an operation for as many as 108 words may be
initiated by a single command. The output could then be recorded
and stored on large reels of magnetic tape using a separate unit the size
of a four-drawer filing cabinet.
1961 a third computer arrived at Pomona, thanks to the efforts of Geology
Professor Donald B. McIntyre. With the Bendix G-15 reserved for Physics
Department use, McIntyre wanted a computer for use in the areas of crystallography
and geochronometry. The Clary DE-60, built by the office machine manufacturer
Clary Corporation of Pasadena, attracted McIntyres interest. He
knew Pomona alumnus and trustee William W. Clary 11 and soon had
an appointment to meet his brother, Hugh L. Clary 15, founder of
the Clary Corporation.
At the same time McIntyre, with the blessings of President E. W. Lyon
and the Board of Trustees, approached Frank R. Seaver 05, the Los
Angeles industrialist whose vision and financial backing created the Seaver
Science Center. Seaver agreed to pay the sum of $20,000 for a DE-60.
Programs consisted of wired boards, writes McIntyre from his
current home in Scotland, and there was a slot for plugging in a
single cartridge that was pre-wired to compute a square root.
McIntyre also promoted the computer to his colleagues in the Chemistry
Department, Corwin Hansch and R. Nelson Smith, for the tasks of curve-fitting
and general statistics. After a visit to campus one Alumni Day, witnessing
first-hand the usefulness of his computer to scientific research, Hugh
Clary donated a second DE-60 to the Chemistry Department.
The Clary computer changed my life, says Hansch today. In
the years that followed, Hansch and his colleaguesincluding current
Chemistry Department chair Cynthia Selassiewent on to earn international
awards for their use of computers in advancing knowledge in the fields
of pharmaceuticals, cancer treatment, and toxicology. Today, based largely
on Hanschs pioneering work, computer modeling can help to predict
the biological activity of compounds that have not yet been made, thereby
guiding pharmaceutical research in the most promising directions.
The IBM Connection
The third generation of computing, based on integrated circuits, arrived
at Pomona in 1964, when the Seaver Institute purchased an early IBM 360now
recognized as one of the worlds first general-purpose mainframesfor
Pomonas newly constructed Seaver Laboratory for Chemistry. With
a price tag of $268,465, the IBM 360 boasted solid logic technology
as well as a larger memory core that allowed it to program itself for
start-up and other repetitive operations. Thanks to McIntyres promptness
(he actually drove to IBM offices in Riverside to place the order the
day the new computer was publicly announced) Pomonas 360 was the
second in the nation.
Unlike earlier computers, the IBM 360 could be used for a wide range of
purposesnot all of them in the sciences. McIntyre, the first director
of the Pomona Computer Center, as it was called then, became adept at
using the computer to plot contour maps showing not only elevation, but
such things as population density and mineral content. Professor Catalin
Mitescu used the computer to solve complex equations in low-temperature
physics. Even the humanities faculty got into the act, using the IBM 360s
sorting capabilities to produce a concordance of the poetry of Gerard
Manley Hopkins and to establish through textual analysis the authorship
of early journals.
Soon, administrative uses for the computer also began to emerge. Honnold
Library was awarded a grant from the Ford Foundation to expand the computers
memory so that it could handle data on book acquisitions and other library
operations. In college finance, budgets were projected with alternative
scenarios created by manipulating variables. Over time, the admissions,
alumni, business, development, financial aid, and registrars offices
all discovered benefits to computerizing their systems.
By the early 1970s, a large portion of the student body had also embraced
computing. Indeed, student interest was driving demand for time-sharing
terminals and computer education. A student computer study group was awarded
$10,000 from the Sloan Foundation in 1971 to fund a time-sharing terminal
and computer library. For several years thereafter, students ran most
of the non-credit courses on programming languages.
The fourth and latest generation of computing arrived at Pomona in 1975
with the first portable computerthe IBM 5100 minicomputer,
again funded by the Seaver Institute, which bought the computer and accessories
for the Chemistry Department for the sum of $17,000. Thanks to Pomonas
special relationship to IBM, it again received the second machine to be
delivered in the nation. Three years later a similar computer was acquired
for the Biology and Mathematics departments.
One notable use of this typewriter-sized machinewhich came with
a black-and-white monitor and keyboard similar to ones still in use todaywas
the chemical analysis of data radioed from Mars after the historic landing
there on July 4, 1975, of the American Viking spacecraft.
The Modern Era
Today, the entire Pomona campus is networked with fiber-optic cable, and
theres a personal computer on practically every working desk. Even
in Pomonas residence halls, theres a one-to-one correspondence
between network connections and pillows, and few students arrive without
their trusty laptop or desktop computer, complete with all its peripherals.
The computers the College owns now number around 700, and theres
an entire administrative departmentInformation Technology Servicesdevoted
to keeping them running, connected and productive.
No one recalls exactly what became of the old Bendix G-15 with which Pomonas
digital revolution began, but it was probably discarded or sold for scrap
in the mid-1960s. The original Heathkit analog computer, however, can
still be found closeted away in the physics laboratories of Millikan,
like a fossil from another age.
Holly Byers Ochoa