Saturday, February 1, 2014

Happy 50th Birthday to the IBM Cambridge Scientific Center, Kendall Square Pioneer

The IBM Cambridge Scientific Center, CSC, once famous for its pioneering work in virtual machines and internetworking technology, was founded by Norm Rasmussen on Feb. 1, 1964. Less well remembered is the role the CSC played in the development of today’s Kendall Square as an innovation hub.

From The Reinvention of Kendall Square By Jim Miara: "In the early 1960s, Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, looked much like the many old industrial cities across the country of the present that are drawing the curtain on the evocative past and wondering what the next act holds. The 43-acre (17.4-ha) district, once dense with factories that churned out soap, vulcanized rubber, and dozens of other products, had become a collection of forlorn, rickety structures that blighted the landscape.

“Kendall Square was a moribund 19th-century district,” said Robert Simha, director of planning emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which abuts the area. Simha represented MIT’s interests in Kendall Square during planning discussions from the 1960s to the 1990s. 'Companies were sliding away. People were losing jobs. The city was losing income. The few plants that remained, like the vulcanized rubber plant, were smelly and polluted the air.'”

The pioneering modern development was “Technology Square.” On Feb. 1, 1964, when the CSC was founded, the building shown below was known as 545 Technology Square. At the time, Tech Square consisted of three buildings facing a courtyard.  Since then, others have been added.  The building is practically surrounded by a substantial addition, the courtyard has been replaced by the driveway in the foreground, the building has redesigned windows, and its address appears to be  200 Technology Sq.

The building was home to the MIT AI Lab, MULTICS, Project MAC, and the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science.  

Addendum: Today’s Boston Sunday Globe  (2/2/2014) includes a number of items on Kendall Square, including “A Kendall Square Timeline” (here for subscribers), inspiring us to send the following letter to the Editor.

Your article “A Kendall Square Timeline” fails to mention the seminal event leading to the area's current prominence as a research hub.

Technology Square, on Main St.,  was announced in 1963 as a joint development owned by MIT and Cabot, Cabot, and Forbes. “Now, through this unique collaboration we will be able to provide modern facilities directly adjacent to the laboratories, libraries, and other resources of MIT.  Up until now it has been necessary for companies desiring this association to locate as far as eighteen miles away,” said CC&F President George W Blakeley, Jr., at the announcement.

The first building to open was then called 545 Technology Square (since renamed).  Initial tenants (1964) included MIT’s Project MAC and the IBM Cambridge Scientific Center.  It later became the initial home for the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science and the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. Many of the pioneering efforts leading to the internet were performed here.

Technology Square grew to four buildings.  The previous occupant of the location was an odorous rendering plant owned by Lever Brothers.

545 Technology Square is Now 200
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Victor said...

You also forgot to mention the IBM Boston Programming Center which was one floor up from the Scientific Center. BPC was founded by Jean Sammet, and, in effect, was a center of research. After it closed in December of 1970, a number of its alumni went to the IBM TJ Watson Research Center. I worked there from June 1969 through December 1970, and later also at the AI lab upstairs, and at the TJ Watson Research Center.

Also the CIA had an unmarked office on the same floor as the BPC.

Anonymous said...

Very descriptive post, I liked that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

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Unknown said...

Can anyone remind me of the name of the IBM CSC director around 1990?
I started an Internet service for companies in the Prospect Hill Office Park in 1989. We (Prospect Innovation Center), IBM CSC and the Xerox Research Lab were the only commercial members of the NEARnet service managed by BBN. I helped MIT (Jim Bruce) and Harvard(Steve Hall) build service to the other major universities of New England. The IBM fellow was an early member of the user group which I later headed.

Jim Warner