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

Ben Gurley


“When he put his pencil on the paper to design something, it worked when it was built. He was one of the finest designers the world has ever seen.”
- Ed Fredkin about Ben Gurley

Born: December 23, 1926, Pipestone, MN
Died: 1963

Two years after DEC was formed in 1957, Ben Gurley was brought on board to work on the PDP-1 with fellow engineers—and former Lincoln Laboratory employees—Ken Olsen, Dick Best, Bob Savell, Harlan Anderson, and Stan Olsen. Their computer design work at MIT greatly influenced the development of the PDP-1, which has been described as a “direct descendant” of the TX-0 and TX-2 computers created at MIT.

Amazingly, Gurley designed the PDP-1 in just three-and-a-half months. He once joked that his assignment was “to make [the PDP-1] from inventory.” The truth, however, is that Gurley designed roughly half of the modules used in the PDP-1 from scratch and was being modest.

In addition to logic and computer design, he specialized in complex analog circuitry, including the circuits for core memories and displays. These displays (including high precision and color point plotting) were pivotal to DEC's success, and many of the display circuits that he designed remained unchanged until the 1970s.

Gurley headed computer engineering until he left in 1962 to serve as vice president of Information International, Incorporated (III) a consulting firm which created PDP-1 applications and was founded by Ed Fredkin. His death in 1963 at the hands of a deranged former DEC employee was a tragic loss to computer engineering and to the industry.


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