July 4, 1956, doesn’t quite rank with July 4, 1776, in terms of independence, but it was a remarkable day in terms of freedom for computer users—freedom from punch cards, dials, and switches, that is. On July 4, 1956, researchers at MIT first used direct keyboard input with the Whirlwind, one of the earliest large-scale high-speed computers.
The Whirlwind had been in operation for five years when the use of keyboard input began. Initially conceived as a flight simulator when its development began during World War II, over time the Whirlwind project evolved to become an experiment in high-speed digital computing.
#DidYouKnow: On July 4, 1956, researchers at MIT first used direct keyboard input with the Whirlwind @SmarterMSP
Whirlwind’s other big innovations
Under the leadership of Jay W. Forrester and Robert Everett, the Whirlwind achieved several computing firsts after going online on April 20, 1951. The Whirlwind’s innovations included:
- The 1953 invention of magnetic core memory, which replaced electrostatic tubes as a standard memory device for computers and was used until the early 1970s.
- Its status as the first computer with the ability to perform real-time computations, as demonstrated by Edward R. Murrow in this 1951 episode of See It Now.
- The first graphical display, which consisted of a large oscilloscope screen with a 256×256 dot resolution.
- The use of the Director, a paper tape set of programming instructions. The Director is considered the predecessor of modern operating systems as the first example of a Job Control Language-driven operating system.
With that impressive resume, Forrester and Everett earned their rightful place as two of the Founding Fathers of computing.