Skip to main content

Margaret R. Fox papers

 Collection
Identifier: CBI 45

Scope and Content Note

The records in this collection were collected by Margaret Fox in an effort to document some of the early computer development activities of the National Bureau of Standards. Fox worked under Samuel N. Alexander and preserved some of his files, as well as those of Samuel B. Williams, a consultant to the Bureau.

The collection contains reports, including the original report on the ENIAC, UNIVAC, and many early in-house National Bureau of Standards (NBS) activity reports; memoranda on SEAC, SWAC, and DYSEAC; seminar and conference materials -- including Samuel Alexander's notes from the Moore School of Engineering course, "Theory and techniques for design of electronic digital computers" (known as the "Moore School Lectures") -- a history of SEAC, DYSEAC, and SWAC; programming instructions for the UNIVAC, LARC, and MIDAC; patent evaluations and disclosures relevant to computers; system descriptions; speeches and articles written by Margaret Fox's colleagues; and correspondence of Samuel Alexander, Margaret Fox, and Samuel Williams, as well as that of several NBS offices.

The correspondence of Williams includes some Association for Computing Machinery and American Federation of Information Processing Societies correspondence. The collection also contains a scrapbook of snapshots of personnel from the Electronic Computer Laboratory in 1950, and photographs of Alexander and Harry H. Goode. Also included are Naval Ordnance Laboratory records such as memoranda, contract proposals, and a 1954 report from the Office of Naval Research Computing Machine Components Program.

Some reports and publications have been removed to more appropriate collections. In numbering folders in box 8, the number 4 was inadvertently skipped.

Dates

  • 1935-1976

Creator

Language of Materials

English

Access to materials:

Access to the collection is unrestricted.

Copyright:

The Charles Babbage Institute holds the copyright to all materials in the collection, except for items covered by a prior copyright (such as published materials). Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provisions of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code).

Biography of Margaret R. Fox

Margaret R. Fox graduated from Wisconsin State College in 1940. She joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1943 and was stationed at the Naval Research Station in Washington. She continued to work there as an electronics engineer in radar after her discharge in 1946. In 1951 she joined the National Bureau of Standards as a member of the technical staff of the Electronic Computer Laboratory. Later, she joined the Research Information Center and Advisory Service on Information Processing (RICASIP) where she was involved in producing reviews and bibliographies. From 1966 to 1975 Fox was chief of the Office of Computer Information in the NBS Institute for Computer Science and Technology.

Fox was involved in several professional groups, especially the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the American Federation for Information Processing Societies (AFIPS). She was the first secretary of AFIPS.

Biography of Samuel N. Alexander

Samuel N. Alexander received his A.B. and B.S. from the University of Oklahoma in 1931, and earned his M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1933. He was a laboratory engineer for Simplex Wire & Cable Company, a physicist in electronic instrumentation for the Navy, and senior project engineer for Bendix Aviation Corporation, before coming to the National Bureau of Standards in 1946. There he was chief of the Electronic Computer Laboratory, 1946-1954; head of Data Processing Systems Division, 1954-1964; and head of the Information Technology Division, 1964 until his death in 1967.

He worked on development of input-output devices for use with electronic computers and wrote specifications for and supervised the procurement of the UNIVAC computer. When delivery of this computer was delayed by design problems, he was assigned to direct the design and assembly of the NBS Interim Computer, later named SEAC. He also directed the development and design of DYSEAC.

Alexander was a member of several advisory groups and acted as special consultant to many U.S. government agencies. He also acted as consultant to the government of Sweden, in 1956, and India, in 1957. He was a member of numerous professional societies, including the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the American Documentation Institute, the Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), and the Washington Academy of Sciences.

Biography of Samuel B. Williams

Samuel B. Williams helped develop a complex number computer for Bell Laboratories in 1938. In 1946, he retired from Bell Laboratories to become a consultant in computing. He was a consultant to NBS from 1952 to 1959 and reviewed the BIZMAC system, advised the Bureau on costs, accuracy, and other aspects of various systems, and recruited other consultants for the government. He also was loaned as consultant to several other government agencies during this time.

Williams was an early president of the Association for Computing Machinery (1952-1954).

History of the National Bureau of Standards

In 1946 the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) became involved in research on the basic components of computers to assist the federal government in the development of computer projects. In 1947 NBS was asked to provide the specifications and negotiate with manufacturers for the purchase of computers by other government agencies. The Electronic Computers Section was the group within NBS that was responsible for the planning, design, and fabrication of prototype digital computing devices. In 1948 the Air Force requested that NBS embark on a crash development program for a modest computer system, designated the NBS Interim Computer. This Interim Computer, renamed SEAC (Standards Eastern Automatic Computer), went into operation in April 1950. It was the fastest, general purpose, internally sequenced, electronic computer in operation at the time. Later, NBS designed the DYSEAC, one of the first full-scale transportable digital computers.

The Office of Technical Services was established in 1950 to collect, publicize, and disseminate technical information. By mid-1954, numerical data were being processed on a large scale in federal agencies, and NBS responded by establishing the Data Processing Systems Division, formed from the Electronic Computers Section. One of its purposes was to provide an information center for the government on electronic computing and data processing techniques. Many studies were undertaken on the application of computers to agencies' problems, including patent indexing, mail processing, and radioactive fallout prediction.

In 1958, the Research Information Center and Advisory Service on Information Processing (RICASIP) was established at NBS, to be operated jointly by NBS and the National Science Foundation. In addition to providing advisory services on information processing and research, it also published reviews of programs as state-of-the-art reports and specialized bibliographies on selected subjects.

The Information Technology Division was established in 1964. This Division was responsible for the planning, development, and assembly of a large scale data processor for investigating problems unique to government. In 1965 the Center for Computer Sciences and Technology was formally established within the Institute for Applied Technology, by combining the staffs of the former Information Technology Division and the Computation Laboratory. The Center was the organizational unit responsible for providing technical assistance to other government agencies, supporting establishment of voluntary commercial standards, and recommending uniform federal standards for automatic data processing equipment and computer languages. It was divided into two divisions in 1966, one of which was the Office of Computer Information headed by Margaret Fox.

Extent

9 boxes (8.25 cubic feet)

Abstract

Collection contains records collected by Margaret Fox in an effort to document some of the early computer development activities of NBS. The collection contains reports, including the original report on the ENIAC, UNIVAC, and many early in-house National Bureau of Standards (NBS) activity reports, memoranda on SEAC, SWAC, and DYSEAC, seminar and conference materials -- including Samuel Alexander's notes from the Moore School of Engineering course, "Theory and techniques for design of electronic digital computers" (known as the "Moore School Lectures") -- a history of SEAC, DYSEAC, and SWAC, programming instructions for the UNIVAC, LARC, and MIDAC, patent evaluations and disclosures relevant to computers, system descriptions, speeches and articles written by Margaret Fox's colleagues, and correspondence of Alexander, Fox, and Williams, as well as that of several NBS offices.

Arrangement of Collection

The files appeared to have been originally arranged by subject, but this order was impossible to restore because they were received in disarray. The collection is arranged into the following twelve artificially created series:

  1. Boards, Committees, and Councils, 1950-1966
  2. Classes, Conferences, Seminars, and Symposia, 1944-1969
  3. Correspondence, 1935-1976
  4. National Bureau of Standards (NBS), 1946-1967
  5. Photographs, 1947-1958
  6. Projects, 1939-1976
  7. Proposals, 1948-1963
  8. Reports, 1944-1976
  9. Speeches and Articles, 1946-1969.
  10. Systems Descriptions and Manuals, 1942-1965.
  11. Patent Evaluations and Disclosures, 1937-1959.
  12. Naval Ordnance Laboratory Records, 1947-1958.

Acquisition:

The records were given to the Charles Babbage Institute by Margaret Fox in 1988, 1991 and 1993.

Title
Margaret R. Fox Papers, 1935-1976. Finding Aid.
Author
Prepared by Pat Hennessy, Kevin D. Corbitt, and John L. Jackson, August 1993.
Date
March 2004
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Charles Babbage Institute Archives Collecting Area

Contact:

612-624-5050