We have a decent collection of materials on the R1 computer but of course I’m always on the lookout for more information about that important project. In all these years it had never occurred to me that the original contract might be in the files somewhere so I was bowled over when I came across a whole thick folder in President Houston’s papers that contain not only that but much more about the genesis of the enterprise. This is legit exciting!
I remember this computer. It occupied an entire small building and, of course, had far less capability than our cell phones! Jim Walzel ’59
Thanks for this Melissa. Marty Graham hired me for the computer lab in 1960 right after I finished my Ph.D in the Bonner Nuclear Lab in 1960, but I never did get the full story on the initiation of the project.
You’re more than welcome to come in and take a look at the stuff with me if you’d like. I could use some help.
When I arrived at Rice, the only “artifact” left from the R1 was the large room in Abercrombie Lab where it had been built. In about 1978, this room was dubbed “The Pit”. There were odd scars in the floor which I never understood until I read about the R1.
This AEC letter had me wondering about the proposal that Rice must have submitted for the creation and Federal funding of this computer. Does the Woodson have a copy of that proposal? I suspect that it would present substantial justification for the importance of the computer. Maybe department files also include accounts of discussions relating the scope, internal politics and the preparation of the proposal?
The proposal is mentioned in passing in the “Chronology” section of Adam Thonton’s “Brief History of the Rice Computer 1959-1971” (https://web.archive.org/web/20080129235709/http://www.princeton.edu:80/~adam/R1/r1rpt_fn.html#fn1); Adam’s history was mentioned prominently in the comments to the RHC post linked in the first sentence of this post. (…”materials on the R1 Computer”…):
“Towards the end of 1956, Zevi Salsburg, John Kilpatrick, and Larry Biedenharn, all Rice professors, decided they needed a computer “like the one at Los Alamos.” The Atomic Energy Commission, to whom they applied for funding, told the three that, if they could procure an engineer, grant money for a computer’s development would be forthcoming. Martin Graham, who had been working at Brookhaven National Laboratory and had done the transformer coupling for Los Alamos’s MANIAC II, was invited down to Houston in February of 1957, and became an associate professor in the electrical engineering department at Rice University.”
(The  citation points to: “Audiocassette of interview with Martin Graham, Berkeley, California, February 19, 1994.”)
Melissa, Thanks for this post. John was a most remarkable man with wide-ranging interests and capabilities of great depth in most directions. My first year of study for a PhD in Quantum Chemistry started his class on the subject. He always had an interest in the progress and success of the graduate students. We had numerous common interests along the way, and he was on my final examination committee along with Neal Lane in Physics. Zevi Salzburg was my initial thesis advisor in irreversible thermodynamics, and had established a plan that I would do half my graduate work with him and a second half in quantum scattering theory with a new faculty member Ed Hayes. Of course, Ed was became my sole advisor after Zevi’s death. So you took another brief journey along a road I was one with these outstanding men. Sure did make my day. Thanks, again.Dwayne
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