Welcome to the archived version of the MIT Museum's online collections portal! This site was used to test features and content for the newly redesigned MIT Museum Collections site, which has now launched with over 106,000 objects. Please use the new MIT Museum Collections site for further research and discovery. Webmuseum.mit.edu remains online during the transition period but will not receive new updates or content.

Whirlwind Core Memory Unit

Major collection: Science & Technology
Object type: computer
Maker: Place made: United States, Massachusetts, Cambridge, MIT
Date made: 1950-1953
Materials: metal; wire; ceramic; glass
Measurements: With tubes installed (Side 1 is front): 80 in x 35 in x 40 in; 80 in x 32 in x 32 in

Whirlwind not only was the first digital computer able to operate in real-time, but also was the first digital computer at MIT. During WWII, the U.S. Navy asked MIT for help in designing a universal flight simulator that used an analog electromechanical computing system. Gordon Brown, head of MIT's Servomechanism Lab, thought this was just the problem to keep his brilliant young assistant director Jay Forrester at MIT. In the course of the preliminary work, the MIT team went to see the new ENIAC computer at the University of Pennsylvania. Immediately, the project shifted to the creation of a digital computer. As the project unfolded, there were many challenges, chief among them: How to make the computer operate in real-time? The breakthrough came with Forrester's idea for a three-dimensional array of magnetic cores that revolutionized the machine's performance. With the success came the creation of Lincoln Laboratory to turn Whirlwind into SAGE, a computer and radar-based air defense system. Whirlwind also created one of the most influential computer communities in the world. Venerated as "Bright Boys" (and a few "Bright Girls"!), Whirlwind alumni/ae have founded countless companies and have made numerous innovations in technology and software. [MIT 150 Exhibition label text]


From the Digital Equipment Corporation Museum Collection, A Gift of Compaq Computer Corporation

Related Media

Related Subjects

thumbnail Computers
thumbnail Whirlwind Computer