Introduction

Welcome to the website about the unsung heroes in Dutch computing history. This website has been created for the IEEE Computer Society's Web Programming Competition (CHC61).

The main theme of CHC61 is Unsung Heroes. Many text books and websites provide a short coverage of mainstream computer history. This history is often very condensed and omits the contribution of many pioneers in computing. The subject of this site are the Dutch pioneers in computer science. More specifically, this site concentrates on the years after the second world war, until the seventies. During this period, right after the war, not a lot of money was available for research and engineering in western European countries, which had suffered from the German occupation. Nevertheless more projects, industries and scientists asked for solutions on problems which required advanced computational and scientific work. The "Delta Works" and the design of the Fokker F27 Friendship airliner are two typical examples of computation intensive Dutch projects. A lot of numerical computation methods were already known, but calculations made by human computers, using desk calculators, could take a very long time. In the fifties, a social debate was started about the "electronic brains", because people wanted to know what influences these computing machines might have in the society.

Historical Context

Furthermore, scientists wanted to connect to the scientists in other countries, where during the second world war technological knowledge did not stagnate. In the United States companies and research centers involved in building computing machines were heavily sponsored by the United States Army. In several places in the Netherlands, scientists started building computing machines, for example at the Mathematical Center in Amsterdam, founded in 1946. Van Wijngaarden was contracted as the first director of the computing department. Things weren't too professional yet though, considering the first machines built there used relays from Dutch military dumping ground.

CWI Logo

Today's CWI Logo

Later, the construction of computing machines became a commercial activity and the Electrologica company was founded as spin-off from the Mathematical Center. Nowadays the Mathematical Center is called Centrum voor Wiskunde en Informatica or CWI (translated: Center for Mathematics and Computer Science).

PTT logo on telephone box

Logo of PTT on an old telephone box

The laboratory of the Dutch national mail delivery service and phone company, named PTT in Rijswijk, nearby The Hague, was another place of research in building computing machines. At this research laboratory, lead by Kosten, computing machines were built for internal usage, like telephone routing calculations.

Philips Logo

Logo of the Philips company

Surprisingly, the Dutch multi-national electronics firm Philips has only played a minor role in Dutch computer pioneering. Although Philips built some experimental machines, these activities did not develop into commercial production of computers, mainly because of contracts with IBM which prevented Philips entering the commercial computer market in exchange for a role as a component supplier.

Some Final Words

Plenty of people were involved in the early days of computing history in the Netherlands. They built machines at a couple of institutions. Some of them have become well-known computer scientists, others might rightly be called "Unsung Heroes". It is to them that we dedicate this site.

To learn more about computer pioneering in The Netherlands, we invite you to visit the following categories:

  • Unsung Heroes, about the people that did all the work.
  • Early Computers, about the early days computing machines developed in the Netherlands.
  • Places, about the companies and institutions where the interesting things happened.

Thank you for visiting this website,

The authors