Jan. 18, 1973: pages 44-55

Interview Day 2, Tape 1, Side 1, pages 44-55

Jan. 17th, tape 1, side 1 pages 1 through 43
Jan. 17th, tape 1, side 1, pages 44 through 86
Jan. 17th, tape 1, side 2, pages 87 through 166

Jan. 18, tape 1, side 1, pages 1 through 43

Jan. 18, tape 1, side 1, pages 44 through 55

In 1972, Joseph Desch, Robert Mumma and Donald Eckdahl of NCR were approached by the Smithsonian Institution and asked to donate their recollections to its History of Computing project, now part of the National Museum of American History. Desch and Mumma were interviewed on the 17th and 18th of January, 1973 by Henry Tropp.

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RM: He, he – I remember he had a cathode ray tube. I think that might have been his indicator or something like that, that cathode ray tube.

JD: Well, I just looked at the one there and I just saw, I just thought, well, I just got done saying

RM: Yes.

JD: that we found 17 drawings where he had all the girds and all the’ anodes tied together. And, so, what he was – I don’t know what he was doing anymore. You know that’s been so long ago.

HT: Right, I’ll have to ask him.

RM: Yes. HT: I was looking for the dates but they don’t …..

JD: Well, they’ll be on there.

HT: Right.

JD: But, .. .. we can look at that just in a minute when I’ve finished what I’m saying and then, we can go back to that one. ..

Then from there, the lawyers prepared .. prepared the summary of the cases and the briefs for the court in the Department of Commerce, .. Patent Department, where three judges stood in judgment on .. on the presentation of testimony. Meanwhile, this, all this testimony had been

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sent to Washington and these men had been reading it. And, they made the decisions. Of course, briefs were presented by both sides and the briefs are in there, too. .. I just noticed one of ’em there — brief for Dickinson, brief for Desch

HT: Aha.

JD: in separate volumes. And.. they, they passed judgment on it and awarded us 8 and 3 for .. IBM on these electronic approaches, and we, we had the advantage of an earlier date having .. thrown out so much of their evidence because it was faulty.

HT: Right.

JD: They couldn’t stand in court

HT: Yes.

JD: and say these things would work. And it became apparent that they hadn’t built anything,

HT: Yes.

JD: over that period.

HT: You know it’s unfortunate, when you really stop to think about it. Many diagrams, when you’re sketching a circuit diagram, you’ll forget to put in a ground here or do something there which, if taken literally, will make it – will flaw it.

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But, once you start to build it, you look at that circuit carefully. You say, “Well, gee, nothing is going to flow between these two terminals. I’ve got to fix this.” and it’s in that plan. And that’s a very common error.

JD: Well, I’ll tell you – yes. I’ll tell you Bob and I always did work under this assumption because our management wanted it that way and that is that everything that they patented up here, we had to have a model.

HT: Mhm.

JD: And, oh, it was only very late in the, in the, , in the ’45, ‘6, ‘7, someplace along in there, where I think we filed one paper patent.

HT: Mhm.

JD: That’s all I recall and then I don’t know the circumstances of that because Bob was running the department at that time and I don’t recall why it was done. But it, it was of no cons,. quence anyway. ‘ .

RM: Yes. Here’s a picture of what they came up with, . really a mass of wires.

JD : Sure is.

HT: Now what was that machine supposed to be able to

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do — the one you’re showing a picture of in that book of blueprints?

RM: It was an electronic calculator. It had an accumulator, an impulse generator and I think the indicator was on the scope, to my recollection of it.

HT: Now that’s dated June 8th, ’39.

RM: ’39.Yes.

HT: Aha.

RM: I think they ended up at the hearing.

JD: You see that was probably involved in the defective .. .. claims because Bob didn’t finish until when? September of ’39?

RM: Yes. I forget when it was.

HT: Yes, September of ’39 sounds like the right date.

JD: So many of the dates –

RM: Yes, but we proved this inoperative. I think that’s the reason — oh yes, here’s the picture I had the recollection of. They had the special scope here, which was the indicator or read-out device.

HT: And that’s the diagram of the –

RM: Yes.

HT: of the device?

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RM: Mhm.

JD: Yes.

RM: That’s some type of indicator here on the scope.

HT: That one is labeled count 6.

RM: Yeah, this is expanded in its description.

HT: Totalizing apparatus, they called it.

RM: Bob Blakely witnessed this in 1937.


D: Blakely worked with me during the war.

RM: Yes. At the time he never did say anything about this device.

JD: Well, he gave a deposition. I wasn’t present at the time but he gave a deposition also.

RM: Yes. I never heard of that.

HT: That will be interesting talking to Mr. Dickinson.

JD: You know I had –

RM: Yes, you’ll enjoy talking to him.

JD: had quite a few IBM men working for me during the war.

HT: Talent was hard to get. You just – that was on your top secret military project.

RM: They were military men at the time.


D: They were in uniform at the time.

RM: They were military men sent down here because of their background.

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JD: They didn’t get hold of any of our – our counter work. That was

HT: That was in another area.

JD: put away. Strange as it may seem, our people and their people never did quiz each other about that. They never did violate security on our commercial stuff.

HT: Aha.

JD: Never did.

HT: .. We might talk a bit about the post-war period, which, I guess, would begin with CRC and your later military work that you alluded to very quickly just in passing yesterday. We might want to start looking at that in – in general.

JD: Well, let me explain. The way the operation, the super secret operation, ended, I left the operation and Bob remained in charge of it and, and terminated it. And I guess it was in ’46 when you finally terminated it, was it not?

RM: We were starting to move people back up to Building 10.

JD: Up to the third floor.

RM: Yes, we sent our better people, who wanted to stay with NCR, as they were released from war work,

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back up to Building 10. But, I think it was in 1946 before we sent any people. The war was over late in 1945.

HT: Right.

RM: And – but, but we finally got all of our people up to Building 10.

JD: We finally got all of the Navy transferred and we — and then the question was what programs should we follow. And one of Bob’s problems was to get that, that add-subtract-and multiply device and we still wanted to put the division in it at that time. …. We wanted that as one of the projects and also Trimble, at that time, had an idea of adding and subtracting and multiplying, using voltages and so forth and he, he wanted to work on that one. And, you can think of some more.

RM: We tried magnetic storage, we had drums, made drums in which we worked on – for magnetic storage and –

HT: Mhm.

RM: We made drums for magnetic storage. We wrapped wire with high magnetic retentivity and coercivity in a spiral around an aluminum drum. The read

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head contacted the wire following it around the drum.

But, the big job, just after the war, like, say, when I took over, was started when Mr. Allyn called me and told me that he was very much interested in picking up the old balance off of a ledger card in a bank as part of the posting operation.

HT: Right.

RM: And so I told him I would work on that and was up casting about for how to do it. And we picked up a, a 2000 bank machine which had what they call a right angle printer on it. The right angle printer is a printer in which the passbook is swallowed and pushed back out again. We had this .. type of motion, front and back motion, that was available. I knew that for magnetic pick-up – I was sort of thinking about magnetic pick-up – we had to have relative motion between the document and the pick-up head.

HT: Mhm.

RM: And so we took that machine and adapted it to .. putting into it a ledger card on which we had the magnetic material deposited on the back of

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-a ledger card. And, as we were doing the printing on the frontside, we were using a bar code on the backside, or magnetizing in the form of a bar code on stripes of magnetic material on the back side of the ledger card. The permanent numbers were printed on the front side. And then when that card was placed in the machine again for a subsequent operation, the first scan, which was a non-printing scan, would pick up this number and set up the keys on the keyboard. We had little solenoids to activate the keys. It was kind of a first.

JD: Class 29.

RM: Class 29, Postronic, yes.

HT: And this was strictly for posting in, in banks?

RM: For posting, yes.

JD: Posting in banks. The bank statements we got every month had those stripes on the back, and we – finally, instead of coding the whole thing, we just had stripes.

RM: Stripes, yes, recorded.

JD: and recorded in stripes — five stripes, six stripes, seven.

RM: The stripes, were printed on the back of the ledger card.

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JD: I remember.. my bank statements don’t come that way anymore,

RM: No.

JD: so they don’t use the 29 now at Winters, anyway. But, they, there for a long time they did. We sold an awful lot of those machines. And we developed the prototype and then the engineering division did a re-engineering on the thing to perfect it because it was a complicated machine. And up until just very recently we were still making them

RM: Oh, yes.

JD: over in, over in Building 29 where I had this military division during the last ten years. They.. they had a part of that floor that I was on that was involved in reconditioning the Class 29s that were coming back.

HT: They’re still in use then?

JD: Yes. They were coming back for .. maybe something burned out or broken and then we shipped back that to the customer. And it was quite a quite a traffic in ’em over there but they, they were extremely complicated machines.

RM: Post-tronic was the name I was trying to think of.

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JD: Yes. Post-tronic.

HT: Post-tronic. I’ve heard that, that …

JD: Class 29 is the way we called it.

HT: Mhm. What were some of the ideas you had in the immediate post-war period about the ways in which electronics could be used to improve the product line?

JD: Well, the .. .. the thing that constantly.. bothered us was the application of electronics to our mechanical machines to enhance them. The first thing that we did — I remember this because our Product Development Department asked me to do it. We put a punch paper tape device on a Class 21 cash register. And this was coded. I don’t know what the code was anymore, whether it was a five bit or a six bit code, I don’t remember. But anyway, that – that tape then could be fed -we didn’t have a computer –

HT: Right.

JD: could be fed into an .IBM machine – and they cooperated with us on this – to punch cards, which would then go through sorters and so forth, and we, we could do a respectable job of accounting and control by this method by capturing from the machine.

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