Cuthbert Corwin Hurd (1911–1996)


“Russian is turned into English by a fast electronic translator”, were the front-page headlines of the NYT on 8th January 1954. This came after a long effort by Cuthbert Hurd who was instrumental in convincing the skeptic management of the “International Business Machine” corporation on the potential and power of “calculators”.

Hurd, an entrepreneur and mathematician hired the eccentric John von Neumann as a consultant for his new Applied Science Department at IBM. Neumann suggested a concept of storing the program as well as data in computer memory. This was far simpler than programming the machines by plugging and unplugging wires manually into large panels and became known as the von Neuman architecture. The new system allowed the instructions to be fed into the calculater using punch cards which simplified the affair a great deal.

Hurd also hired the young John Backus who further revolutionized programming with the invention of Fortran, and Fred Brooks who was pivotal in the design of System/360.

Fun facts:

  • Initially all of IBM’s computer systems were leased rather than sold. This made it hugely competitive against the UNIVAC-I and allowed IBM to offer computing resources at a much lower cost which also appealed to mainstream business.

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