Computer History Museum - Restoring the DEC PDP-1 Computer Exhibit

Peter Samson


“When you see Orion coming around for the second time, you know you’ve been playing too long”
- Peter Samson on the realistic star display he wrote for Spacewar!

Born: 1941, Fitchburg, Massachusetts

While a student at MIT, Peter Samson joined The Model Railroad Club (TMRC) and was introduced to the interactive wonders of the TX-0 and PDP-1 computers. Samson developed pioneering software for real-time digital music synthesis for both of these computers, and helped write Spacewar!, including "expensive planetarium,” the star display for Spacewar!

Samson joined DEC in 1964 and contributed key architectural concepts to the PDP-6 computer and wrote the first FORTRAN compiler for that machine. In 1967, he programmed the PDP-6 with the complete schedules of the New York subway system, and used it interactively on-line to win a competition for traveling through the entire system in minimum time.

Samson joined Systems Concepts, Inc. in San Francisco in 1970 and became Director of Marketing and Director of Program Development. Here, he programmed the first Chinese-character digital communication system and designed the Systems Concepts Digital Synthesizer, then the world's largest and most capable music synthesizer, which served for more than a decade as principal synthesis engine for the computer music group at Stanford University (CCRMA).

He was in charge of manufacturing engineering for many hardware products, including the Central Memory subsystem for the ILLIAC IV supercomputer complex at the NASA/Ames Research Center. Later he worked for Autodesk, Inc. and contributed significant modules for rendering, animation, Web
browsing, and scripting languages.

Samson is a member of the Computer History Museum PDP-1 restoration team and a docent at the Museum.


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