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DUCC, TUCC, and the origins of digital computing in North Carolina

The feature image is”Triangle University Computation Center IBM System/370 Hardware Configuration,” from Network Management Survey, published in 1974.

The Cut Study and DUCC

The Fall semester of 1958 saw deep concern among the Duke student body with a pressing issue – cutting class. The Undergraduate Faculty Council Committee had taken up a study of class attendance, and planned to issue recommendations for policies on “absence limitations.” Its chair was John Jay Gergen, who had been on the faculty at Duke more than 20 years at that point, serving most of them as head of the Mathematics Department. In September, the Chronicle urged him to “make a sincere effort to show the students the seriousness of the situation and to explain their findings.” They warned him not to “announce suddenly a new policy to the students,” which would be a form of “[t]actless communication” that might “breed discontent among the students.” By all indications, Gergen ignored them.

While the “Cut Study” may have seemed enormously consequential to the students at the time, Gergen was leading a different effort that would have far more lasting impact at Duke. By at least one account, he was a large and imposing man, which could also describe his influence on campus. He channeled some of that influence into his work as the senior faculty member and administrator who oversaw the effort to bring digital computing to the university. While Gergen acted mainly in an administrative role, it was a protege of his who authored the grants that brought in the funding, and did the legwork on setting up an operational computing center.

Clipping from the Chronicle of an article about Tom Gallie
From the Duke Chronicle, February 25, 1958

Thomas M. Gallie, who like Gergen earned his Ph.D. at Rice University, got started with computers while working with the Humble Oil Company in 1955-6, and what he would refer to later in life as a “remarkable group, the Ratchford, Peaceland, Douglas group that used punch card machinery to solve partial differential equations of oil flow.” After a pitch to the National Science Foundation had failed the previous year, Gallie joined the Duke faculty in Mathematics in 1956 and went to work on a new proposal. That proposal succeeded, and as he would say later, “I had an unbroken record for decades of writing proposals that were successful, one of my few claims to something. I guess I am proud of that.”

The NSF at that time was taking its initial steps to foster the establishment of computing centers in universities, and by 1958 Duke had taken advantage of that effort to purchase a computer, the IBM 650. Gallie was always very conscious of the impact that computing would have on the academy. In a “From the Faculty” piece in the Chronicle in February of 1958, Gallie said that “our computer will affect nearly every department on campus.” He kept driving to boost facilities and integrate the computer into research and instruction, and in December of that year, of the Chronicle reported on more grants received from the NSF. One, $50,000, would be used for “research in the University’s computing laboratory.” The other, for $22,300, would support “a summer institute for college teachers of mathematics on the digital computer and its mathematical applications.”

By September of 1961, the Gergen-Gallie team had replaced the IBM 650 with a new IBM 7070 in the laboratory in the Physics Building. The Chronicle described it as “costing nearly one million dollars and capable of adding more than 10,000 ten-digit numbers in one second.” It would be available for research and instruction, and Gallie mentioned plans to use it “on a trial basis to schedule and section all students for next semester.”

Clipping from the Duke Chronicle of the members of the Undergraduate Faculty Council
From the Chronicle article, “Upperclassmen Lose Free Cut Privileges,” November 25, 1958

Still the push for increased computing power was relentless, and in the same Chronicle piece, Gallie shared plans to replace the 7070 in 18 months with IBM 7072-1401, which would be “ten times faster than the just installed 7070.” Indeed, minutes from a meeting of the University Committee on Digital Computers one year later, in September of 1962, show Gergen informing the group that the replacement was in progress, and that the 7072-1401 should be operational by mid-month. By January of 1965, a memorandum addressed to the same committee shared news of a “proposal … for additional support in order to replace our present machine with one having better capability.” One of the machines under consideration at that point was the IBM 360.

Gergen* and Gallie worked together for about a decade on the DUCC and other computing initiatives. Their partnership ended with Gergen’s retirement in 1966, due to esophageal cancer; he died in January of 1967. While his lasting influence on Duke could be seen in the computing facilities and programs that were in place by then, of course, the students of 1958 mostly cared about the Cut Study. The Undergraduate Faculty Council Committee voted in November to end unlimited class cuts for students carrying less than a B average. The Chronicle editorial page was curiously silent on the change.

* If Gergen’s name seems familiar, it may be because he is the father of David Gergen, an advisor to several US Presidents, and a frequently seen commentator on television news programs.

: ; < > [ ] and TUCC

Tom Gallie wrote a letter in January, 1964, responding “a couple of months late” to Bill Hanson, who was director of the computing center at UNC-Chapel Hill. He wrote on letterhead for the Digital Computing Laboratory, Department of Mathematics at Duke, and signed it as Director. He provided Hanson some information in response to what must have been a few questions – one of them the name of an “instrumentation man” who joined him at one of Hanson’s lectures.

Gallie also provided some details about an 026 Printing Card Punch that they had at Duke. The card punch was an essential part of the human-computer interface, a device with a keyboard that allowed users to punch holes in cards that would be fed into the computer. Printing card punches like the 026 also printed the characters in a row along the the top of the card, making them human-readable. The standard 026 card punches printed a character set that supported accounting uses, but lacked characters that were required for programming in languages such as FORTRAN, including those in the title of this section, : ; < > [ ]. Gallie shared information about a keypunch that Duke had which would print them. He also told Hanson “We now have a chain on the 1401 (mainframe computer) that prints these characters. We’re delighted with the results.”

Then, almost as an aside, he wrote:

Would you have any interest in sharing a very large computer with Duke? We will need more computing power in a few years, but it is hard to see how we can swing the cost by ourselves. The obstacles to sharing a machine are great, but the rewards could be great too. Several people here are interested in this idea.

A little over a year later, the idea had reached the presidential offices of the universities. A memorandum dated February 2, 1965 relates the discussion at a luncheon that included UNC system President William Friday and Duke President Douglas Knight. They agreed to appoint a joint planning committee charged with “conduct of overall planning for a Research Triangle Computing Center,” as well as preparing a request to the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology – a division of the state’s Department of Commerce – for money to support planning.

From there, the very capable technocrats of the three major research universities in the Triangle moved with efficiency to find space, purchase equipment, and set up the administration of what they would call the Triangle University Computing Center. Less than a year later, in January of 1966, the TUCC’s Board of Directors approved a set of by-laws that laid out the corporate structure of the cooperative. Members of the board included faculty members Tom Gallie, UNC’s Fred Brooks, who is well-known as the author of the seminal text on software development, The Mythical Man-Month, and David D. Mason, Department Head for Statistics at NCSU, who was one of the early leaders of the project that led to the establishment of the SAS Institute. Gallie served as chair of the board, and the acting president was James K. Ferrell, a professor of Chemical Engineering at NCSU.

The next few months saw a number of important developments. In February, TUCC announced the receipt of $1.5 million in funding from the NSF, to be shared equally among the three universities. Then in the final week of March, the board hired Morris Davis, an astronomer and director of the computing center at Yale, as president of TUCC. And that same week, the first central computer of the TUCC network went online.

In November of 1975, TUCC held a ten-year anniversary celebration, and a foldout brochure from the event describes the assembly of the initial network:

The first computer of the TUCC network, an IBM System/360 Model 30, was installed at UNC-CH in January, 1966. The first central computer, a Model 40, was installed at TUCC on an interim basis in March, 1966. In April, the first high-speed Telpak-A communication line was installed between the two machines. Shortly thereafter, two other Model 30’s were installed at Duke and NCSU. In November of 1966, after all communication lines were installed and functioning and after preliminary communications software was operation, a System/360 Model 75 replaced the Model 40 at TUCC.

When that Model 40 went online in March, NCSU sent out a press release announcing that TUCC “begins solving problems for three university campuses Thursday (March 24), two years ahead of schedule.” A list of employees at the center from the first year shows that at this point the staff consisted of Ferrell as president, a systems programmer, systems manager, two operators, operations manager, Manager of Information Services, secretary, and a teleprocessing manager.

As the 20-year anniversary of TUCC rolled around (possibly celebrated in 1986), a TUCC staff member uncovered the letter that Tom Gallie wrote to Bill Hanson in January of 1964. The then president and acting director of the center, Leland Williams, sent a copy to Gallie at Duke, along with a cover letter. “This becomes the earliest documentary evidence known to me of the TUCC idea,” he wrote. “Could it be,” he asked, “That TUCC was conceived and exists because of a 1964 IBM 1401 print chain deficiency?” He cc’d the letter to Bill King, then the University Archivist at Duke, along with a note, “Bill, please add this letter to the TUCC archives.”

The Story So Far

A colleague of ours at the Libraries retired at the end of February, just shy of 35 years of service at Duke. He began his career helping to develop and implement the first electronic library catalog used at Duke, which was a shared effort among the Triangle Research Library Network, and ran on the TUCC infrastructure. He also supported a Technical Services database that ran at TUCC. These reflections spurred my interest in writing about the early days of computing at Duke and in the Triangle, first for a blog post, then possibly as a longer piece for publication. Since the records for TUCC, and other related collections, are held by our own Rubenstein Library, I paid some visits to the reading room, starting with a few boxes from the TUCC records, and a few from Tom Gallie’s papers, planning to work my way toward the records of the Department of Computer Science, and probably some others.

While I expected that the story outline of, say, the first 20 or so years of computing in the Triangle would construct itself around the actions of a number of brilliant, idealistic technocrats, likely to be almost exclusively white men, I wanted to try to pick up on the stories of some of the other people who made it happen. I wanted to know who the staff were in the computing centers, what kind of culture developed around those spaces, who were the technical experts who made the places run, who were the teachers who helped scholars conceptualize and execute their jobs. While the importance of men like John Gergen and Tom Gallie is evident, I wanted to identify in the story the kinds of people with whom I work, the technically skilled problem-solvers and high-level thinkers, the ones driven to do it because they just want to make it work, the ones who talked with users, the code monkeys, the pullers of cables, punchers of cards, the “instrumentation man” – in short, the early days of the staff whose expertise drives the digital engines that move so much of the scholarly and instructional mission of the university. I started to get a gleaning of it, but I’ll have to share some of those stories in a later post, and anyway, it will take a lot more work to tease it out.

Between March 5 and 10, I managed three visits to the Rubenstein’s reading room, and combined with the Duke Chronicle online and a few other external resources, I was able to put together the story that I’ve shared here. March 11 was my final day on the Duke campus. The Libraries closed to the public a week later, and to staff two days after that.

I’ve worked in libraries going back to 1996, when I was a graduate assistant in the Manuscripts Department at UNC-Chapel Hill, and I’ve never doubted that libraries are a gift. To tell a story like this one, the ability to visit an archive, sit in a reading room, and interact directly with primary sources, is a tremendous gift. I was fortunate and privileged to be able to put together what I did; I hope to be able to return to the story someday.

My thanks go to the staff of the Rubenstein who assisted me in the reading room in March. I’ve also always believed that the work libraries do is a kind of care. It’s not the kind of care that we need most in the world right now, but it is essential, and we’ll need it if we’re ever truly to recover from these days of darkness and despair.

Sources

 

From the Duke Chronicle:

“Dr. Gallie Works With IBM Computer, Raises Terriers,” February 25, 1958. https://dukelibraries.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15957coll13/id/67346

“Gergen Should Tell Of Free Cut Study,” September 19, 1958. https://dukelibraries.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15957coll13/id/67556/rec/44

“Upperclassmen Lose Free Cut Privilege,” November 25, 1958. https://dukelibraries.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15957coll13/id/67738

“Science Foundation Awards $72,300 Grant For Digital Research Program,” December 5, 1958. https://dukelibraries.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15957coll13/id/67782

“University Installs Million-Dollar Computer; IBM 7070 Aids Research, Lab, Class Work,” Duke Chronicle, September 19, 1961. https://dukelibraries.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15957coll13/id/8967

From the Thomas M. Gallie Papers, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University:

University Committee on Digital Computers, Meeting of September 4, 1962. Box 4, Computing Laboratory, July 1, 1962-July 1, 1964.

Summary of the Discussion at the University Committee on Digital Computers, November 29, 1963. Box 4, Computing Laboratory, July 1, 1962-July 1, 1964.

Committee on Digital Computers. (ca. January 1965), Box 4, Computing Laboratory, July 1, 1964-July 1966.

From the Triangle Universities Computation Center (TUCC) Records, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University:

Tom Gallie Letter to Bill Hanson, January 14, 1964. Box 1, Anniversary Celebration (10th & 20th) Information, 1975, 1986.

Dr. Knight’s Luncheon with Drs. Friday, Caldwell, and Sharp, Chapel Hill, February 2, 1965. Box 1, Board of Directors Minutes, 1965.

Meeting of the Board of Directors of Triangle University Computation Center, January 3, 1966. Box 1, Board of Directors Minutes, 1966.

Invitation to announcement of NSF grant, February 10, 1966. Box 5, Correspondence, 1966.

NCSU Press Release, March 24, 1966. Box 1, Anniversary Celebration (10th & 20th) Information, 1975, 1986.

Tom Gallie Letter to Morris Davis, March 25, 1966. Box 5, Correspondence, 1966.

Employees 9/1/65 to 8/31/66. Box 1, Anniversary Celebration (10th & 20th) Information, 1975, 1986.

Triangle Universities Computation Center Tenth Anniversary Celebration (brochure), November 21, 1975. Box 1, Anniversary Celebration (10th & 20th) Information, 1975, 1986.

Other sources:

Cotton, Ira W. (1974). Network Management Survey. United States Department of Commerce. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED092162.pdf

Dr. D. D. Mason Faculty Award | Department of Statistics | NC State University

Duke University Libraries [serial] (Fall 1987). Vol. 1 No. 1. https://archive.org/details/dukeuniversityli01ezze/mode/2up

Gallie, Thomas (1990). An interview with Thomas Gallie/Interviewer: William Aspray. Charles Babbage Institute (OH 222), Center for the History of Information Processing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/107305

The IBM 026 Printing Key Punch

John J. Gergen Memorial Lectures | Department of Mathematics.

UC Davis Emeriti Association (2017, August 24). Gary J. Kurowski [Video file]. Retrieved from https://video.ucdavis.edu/media/Gary+J.+Kurowski/0_vw2rfb7h/25823862

 

 

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