The story behind the Gasporters.
- "Lou that was a fascinating read but I someone missed the correlation to the Gasporter...is there one?
Regards, Robert Kirk"
=The CROSLEY CAR OWNERS CLUB=
It's mentioned in there but it's more about the secrecy and intrigue regarding the company that built them, Robert.
The Gasporters were built at 1902 Minnehaha Avenue in Saint Paul. In the St. Paul Pioneer Press of August 20, 1986 there's an article about the 40th anniversary of ERA with a photo of Bill Geiger, Bob MacDonald and Jack Nichols unveiling a plaque reading:
"Engineering Research Associates, the forerunner of Sperry's Minnesota presence, is the acknowledged parent of some 100 Twin Cities computer firms. In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of ERA's founding, this plaque is placed on the company's original manufacturing site this 19th day of August 1986." It was mounted atop a 36"-tall stone and concrete monument. At some unknown time, the next resident/owner removed this structure and the plaque.
A recollection by Harry Wise: "When I first came to Remington Rand Univac in 1956 there were still Crosley parts tucked into corners around the old plant."
The building went up as a radiator foundry in 1938. ERA took over the foundry during WW II and built gliders there. In 1956 you could see the overhead tracks still in place that were used to move glider parts around the plant. Even then a significant part of the building still had dirt floors.
Engineering Research Associates, which developed and built the Gasporters, was part of a secret WW-II Navy Lab in Indianapolis that developed analog computers to break the enemies' codes during WW-II and later pioneered computers. Some of ERA's projects are still classified Top Secret to this day.
We have three new Gasporter brochure photos
and an accessory/price list.
More to come ...
The story behind the Gasporters.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011, 6:35 PM
At the end of World War II, an elite group of Navy code breakers created Engineering Research Associates, Inc. (ERA) in St. Paul MN, a company whose top-secret work helped to launch the world's computer industry. Few people knew its secrets. Most still don't. Yet in the 1940s and early 1950s, its engineers were quietly making history and turning the Twin Cities into a high-tech power.
UNIVAC, Control Data, Cray Research and scores more can trace their roots to that original ERA site at the corner of Prior and Minnehaha avenues. William Norris, famed for leading Control Data, was a founder of ERA; he died in 2006.
During the war, the Navy had assembled in Washington an elite group of engineers, mathematicians, physicists and cryptologists. Their job: to crack the enemy's secret codes, which required creating the world's most sophisticated analytical machines. They succeeded.
One of those key code breakers was Navy Lieutenant Bill Norris, who proposed that after the war ended, preserve the group in a private company where they could continue top-secret work on a contract basis. The Navy brass liked the idea, but corporate America did not.
Major corporations rejected it, being eager to resume civilian work. Finally, the code breakers pitched the plan to John Parker, a Washington investment banker. Parker had run a factory in St. Paul that made wooden gliders during the war and was searching for a postwar venture.
Parker met with Adm. Chester Nimitz, former commander of the Pacific Fleet. "All Admiral Nimitz said to me, as he tapped me on the chest, was, 'I've looked into your background, and there's a job that I would like to have you do.' And he said, 'It may be more important in peacetime than it is in wartime.' And I said, 'Aye-aye, sir.' I had no idea what I was going to do."
With Parker's financial support, the core group of code breakers and engineers was kept intact. The new private company was launched in January 1946, and one by one, 40 world-class scientists moved from Washington to St. Paul and to the drafty old government glider factory at 1902 Minnehaha Avenue, freezing in wintertime, sweltering in summer and a haven for birds.
"We had to come in and sweep off our desks in the morning, because the birds left their calling cards."
From that beginning, the world's computer industry started.
The young engineers and mathematicians got shares of ERA's closely held stock, and joined the workers who'd built 1,500 wooden gliders during the war, as well as Navy personnel who provided security. The Navy began to issue top-secret contracts.
"It was a felony to disclose at the time, back there, that you were in this business of code-breaking and the development of the computer business for doing this code work," Parker said. People assigned to classified projects worked in tight-knit teams; those outside that circle knew nothing about them.
Although it functioned as a high-level job shop for Naval intelligence, ERA also hoped to develop profitable businesses on the outside, including the development of the Crosley-powered Gasporter, a scale to weigh iron-ore cars; airline early-reservations systems, and how to make Pearson Candy's complicated Seven-Up candy bar.
Back when punch cards and paper tape were the cutting edge of data storage, ERA introduced a digital storage system that was revolutionary in every sense.
At the same time the Gasporter was being marketed, ERA invented a top-secret digital data storage system code-named Goldberg. "It's no different than the standard hard drive that's in your computer, a hard drive that spins," Misa said. "There are a zillion neat engineering tricks between the Goldberg scheme and today, but it's the same principle - to store data in the binary, the zeroes and ones."
The question of who built the first computer is controversial. Huge patent wars have been fought over the claim, and even today, clear answers are hard to come by. But some ERA veterans believe St. Paul was the birthplace of the first general-purpose computer, code-named Atlas.
ERA President John Parker sold the company for $1.7 million (about $14 million today) to Remington-Rand in Connecticut. By then, ERA had grown to 850 employees, most in St. Paul.
In the end, it didn't lead to Minnesota becoming Silicon Valley. But from that first drafty factory in St. Paul, ERA spawned a rich legacy of innovation and jobs and wealth. And to a degree, it still does.