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CED in the History of Media Technology


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Whirlwind Computer

1951: Whirlwind Computer - The First to Display Real Time Video

Development of the Whirlwind computer began in 1945, and the system was first demonstrated on April 20th, 1951. This was the first digital computer capable of displaying real time text and graphics on a video terminal, which at this time was a large oscilloscope screen. The Whirlwind was also the first computer to use Core Memory for RAM, a storage method that flourished until the 1970's. Core memory permanently stores binary data on tiny donut shaped magnets strung together by a wire grid.

The Whirlwind computer was ultimately adopted by the U.S. Air Force for use in the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) air defense system, which became operational in 1958 with more advanced display capabilities. RCA applied for the contract to manufacture SAGE but it ultimately was awarded to IBM. The last of the Whirlwind-based SAGE computers was shut down in 1983, giving the Whirlwind a record for practical operational longevity among digital computers.


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