September 11, 2008 09:17 ET

The Forgotten Computer

-- IBM Celebrates 50th Anniversary of "Stretch," Honored With the Computer History Museum (CHM) Lecture

-- One of the Most Significant Systems of the Computer Age

-- Pioneered "Multitasking" and Achievements That Shape Modern PCs, Laptops, Smartphones and the World's Most Powerful Supercomputers

-- Helped Create IBM's Culture of Innovation

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA and ARMONK, NY--(Marketwire - September 11, 2008) - IBM (NYSE: IBM) will today celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stretch supercomputer -- a machine that was not a commercial success in its era, but helped revolutionize the computer industry by pioneering technologies that power everything from today's laptops and cellphones to the world's largest supercomputers.

Just as important, it helped establish a culture of innovation at IBM that carries on to this day.

The occasion will be marked by a retrospective lecture as part of the CHM Presents lecture series at the Computer History Museum, featuring three of the system's pioneers: Fran Allen, Fred Brooks, and Harwood Kolsky. IBM's Senior Vice President of Development and Manufacturing, Rod Adkins, will speak on the importance of innovation.

The Stretch computer was IBM's audacious 50s-era gamble to create a monster computer, 100 times faster than an IBM supercomputer of the day called the 704. When introduced, it was considered a failure, only 30 to 40 times faster. Less than 10 were built and the project was shelved.

But the story doesn't end there. Stretch was packed with technology breakthroughs so innovative, they would not die; stuff we take for granted today because it is pervasive throughout the technology landscape. Just a few examples:

  • Multiprogramming, enables a computer to juggle more than one job at a time.

  • Pipelining, or lining up instructions in a queue, so that the computer doesn't have to wait between operations.

  • Memory protection to prevent unauthorized memory access -- absolutely crucial in providing computer security.

  • Memory interleaving, breaking up memory into chunks for much higher bandwidth

  • The eight-bit byte, which can accommodate lower case characters.

These innovations help form the foundation of modern computing. Following the demise of Stretch, they found a home in IBM's next big project -- the super successful System/360 mainframe -- and from there entered the wider world of mainstream computing.

Event Details

The event will be held at 6:00 p.m. PST on September 11 at the Computer History Museum, Hahn Auditorium, 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View, CA 94043. To read more about the event or register to attend, visit or call 650-810-1010.

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