Shanghai Jiaotong University (West Gate)
An Wang was a Chinese-American computer engineer and inventor, who did formidable work in the field of magnetic core memory. He was a Chinese immigrant and a who became an important figure in the electronics industry. His successful journey began when he created a pulse transfer device, together with a colleague, which is an important part of the development of magnetic core memory. He followed this invention with the development of write-after-read cycle thus solving the destructive read out problem, inherent to magnetic core memory. This was a key breakthrough in making magnetic core memory devices a viable option for storing data. He obtained a large sum of money from many organizations that used his patented design for construction of the memory pattern in manufacturing of computers. He used this money to establish his own company and thus founded Wang Laboratories. The company became a market leader in desktop calculators and also achieved success with word processors. He was an inventor with the sharp business acumen and incorporated his ideas to expand his company successfully. He was one of the most celebrated engineers and entrepreneurs of the 20th century, who contributed significantly to the development of computers.
- He was born on February 7, 1920 in Shanghai, China to Zen Wan Wang, an English teacher and his wife, Yin Lu.He was the oldest son of his family. He had an older sister, Hsu; a younger sister, Yu; and two younger brothers, Ping and Ge.His formal education began at the age of six, when he was admitted to the third grade. He had a keen interest in science and mathematics and learned English from his father.He completed his high school from Shanghai Provincial High School, one of the best schools in China. In 1940, he graduated from Chiao Tung University with a degree in electrical engineering.He designed radio transmitters and receivers for China during World War II.After the war ended, he applied for a training program and got enrolled at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and earned his master’s degree in 1946.He received his doctorate degree in Applied Physics from Harvard University in 1948.Career
- After his PhD, he started his work under Howard H. Aiken at the Harvard Computation Laboratory. He co-invented the pulse transfer controlling device which made magnetic core memory possible and filed the patent for it.Through his patent, he earned substantial royalties from various computer manufacturers including IBM who used magnetic core memories.In 1951, he founded his own electronic company ‘Wang Laboratories’ as a sole proprietorship. The first years were lean and company grew slowly by selling custom-built magnetic shift registers and the machines used for magnetic tape control.He was awarded a core memory patent for his write-after-read cycle invention. He sold this patent to IBM for $500,000 and used the money to expand his company with a partner.In mid 1960s, he invented a digital logarithmic converter that made it possible to perform routine arithmetic electronically at high speeds and relatively low cost. The company made huge profits selling the calculators designed with the help of his invention.In later years, he directed his firm toward the manufacture of word processors and small business computers. The first Wang word processing systems were sold in 1976.In addition to calculators and word processors, Wang's company diversified into minicomputers in the early 1970s.The company which started from one room expanded over the years and was headquartered in Tewksbury, Massachusetts and later Lowell, Massachusetts with 30,000 working employees.In 1986, he took retirement to devote more time in educational activities and bestowed leadership of his company on his eldest son, Frederick. But, he returned to his post in 1989 when the company faced a hard time in the computer industry.Major Works
- He was the co-creator of a pulse transfer control device. This used the magnetic field of the core to control the switching of the current in a magnetic core memory device.He invented the write-after-read cycle. The process of reading the data stored in a magnetic core memory device destroys the data in what is called a destructive read out. The write-after-read cycle rewrote the data to the core making it more practical to use.He founded Wang Laboratories which became a multi-billion dollar electronic company with 30,000 employees at one point.Awards & Achievements
- He was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom in 1986.He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1988.He was named a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.Harvard University has a professorship in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering named in his honor.He received an honorary doctoral degree from the Lowell Technological Institute.Personal Life & Legacy
- He met Lorraine Chiu at a party and they got married in 1949. They were blessed with three children; Frederick, Courtney and Juliet.He founded the Wang Institute of Graduate Studies in 1979.He also helped in restoration of the Metropolitan Theater in Boston which was renamed as the ‘Wang Theater’ in 1983.He died on March 24, 1990 in Boston, U.S. due to cancer.
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