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A HISTORY OF COMPUTER COMMUNICATIONS: 1968 -1988

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Gordon Bell

Gordon Bell

C. Gordon Bell is a legendary computer designer and architect. He received his B.S.E.E. (1956) and M.S.E.E. (1957) from M.I.T. In 1960, Kenneth Olsen and Harlan Anderson the co-founders of Digital Equipment Corporation (D.E.C.), recruited Bell to join their start-up. For the next six years (1960-1966), Bell made major contributions to the PDP-1, including designing the first UART chip. He was also the principal architect of the PDP-4 and PDP-6 computers. He then left D.E.C. to join the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University to teach computer science (1966-1972). In 1973, Bell rejoined D.E.C. where he became vice-president of engineering in charge of developing the VAX computer, D.E.C.’s most successful computer. Through out this period, Bell was also a member of the ARPA community. Tragically, Bell suffered a heart attack in 1983, and shortly thereafter resigned from D.E.C. Not content ‘taking it easy,’ he founded Encore Computer that advanced a state of computer design. Unsuccessful yet not discouraged, Bell next became one of the founders of Ardent Computers in 1986. In 1988 he became vice-president of R&D, the position he held when he agreed to sit for this interview.

Bell also gave me a valuable introduction to Stu Wecker, the creator of DECnet, who I would also interview. As I left his Ardent Computer office, I realized I had triggered his joy of teaching and his justifiable pride in his accomplishments with D.E.C. It had been a valuable use of my time as well as a lot of fun, to say nothing of how much I had learned.

Keywords: Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), PDP-1, UART chip, PDP-4, PDP-6, VAX

Gordon Bell Interviewed by James Pelkey 6/17/88