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In 1954, Michigan State University began looking into the possibility of having a computer system on campus. A proposal to the U.S. Army to obtain a donated computer was unsuccessful. In April of 1955, MSU staff members Dr. J. Sutherland Frame, Dr. Kenneth Arnold, John Hoffman, Francis Martin, Dr. George Swenson Jr., Dr. Lloyd Turk, and Dr. Charles Wells visited the University of Illinois to examine ILLIAC, and on their return, recommended that the University build a copy of that machine. President Hannah and the Board of Trustees approved the project within a month. Construction of the machine began in the summer of 1956 and was completed in 1957. The machine entered service on October 18, 1957, and served the University until it was replaced by a CDC 3600 in 1963.

The IAS machine was an implementation of the concept described in von Neumann's 1945 paper, which explained the machine in abstract terms. The ECP project which built the computer was directed by von Neumann, and the actual hardware was built by Julian Bigelow. The system began operation in 1951.

The ILLIAC was based on the Institute for Advanced Study's design. It entered service in 1952. Illinois actually built two machines: ORDVAC and ILLIAC. ORDVAC was completed in 1951, and was delivered to Aberdeen that fall.

Computers in this family were not necessarily 100% compatible, but software was largely interchangeable, and libraries of subroutines were exchanged between sites running hardware of this design. Other machines of the family included Johnniac at RAND, ORDVAC (built at Illinois) for the Army, ORACLE at Oak Ridge, MANIAC at Los Alamos, SILLIAC at the University of Sydney, and others.

MISTIC documents


CDC 3600



Fiftieth Anniversary

For the 50th anniversary of computing at MSU in October of 2006, MSU ACNS produced a web site, a video, and an open house with a panel discussion amongst former staff members. ACNS and the MSU Museum also developed a commemorative exhibit at the Museum. The University has allowed the web site to go missing (!), but most of it lives on at the Internet Archive:

50 Years of Computing at MSU

Unfortunately, the commemorative video (a flash movie) is not to be found at IA. The panel discussion video is still available from MSU's streaming server:

Computing pioneers panel discussion

The MSU Museum's page on the exhibit contains little detail, but is here:

MISTIC Memories

The MSU Archives hold several collections of material on computing at MSU:

Computer Laboratory Records