Maynard, MA, USA: Beacon-Villager newspaper column on local history, observations on nature and recreational activities, plus an occasional health-related article. Columns from 2009-11 collected into book "MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors." Columns from 2012-14 collected into book "Hidden History of Maynard." - David A. Mark
October 10, 1957: A short item on the third page of The
Maynard News mentioned that Kenneth H. Olsen and Harlan E. Anderson had formed
a new electronics company named Digital Equipment Corporation. Both of them had
been employees at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory before striking out on their own.
Ken was 31, Harlan 28. They started with 8,680 square feet of space, rented for
For the first three years they were producing electronic
test modules for engineering laboratories, meantime working on Phase II of
their plan: Digital's first computer, to be named the PDP-1. By October 1961
the company had grown to 265 employees. In time, DEC made Maynard "The
mini-computer capital of the world."
Olsen was a big believer in numbers. Employees were assigned
consecutive numbers based on order of hire, later becoming their badge numbers.
Ken was #1 Harlan was #2. The first two women hired were Alma
E. Pontz, #5 and Gloria Porrazzo, #6.
Women were not rare at Digital. From perusing a list of the
first 100 full-time employees, 36 were women. Years later, the main reasons
Olsen gave for locating in Maynard were low rent and a local work force with
lots of factory experience. Many of the women were walk-to-work Maynardites who
had worked in the same buildings in the woolen mill era, 10 to 20 years back.
The newly refurbished work area was clean, quiet and well lit, although hot
during the summers, as no air conditioning installed until around 1970.
Throughout the buildings, summer weather meant lanolin from the old
wool-processing days dripping down the walls or from the ceilings above.
Alma E. Pontz was the first woman hired. According to her
2013 obituary she had already put in 24 years in the wool business before being
hired by Olsen as the first administrative assistant, and thus was more than a
decade older than her bosses. She stayed with DEC until she retired 21 years
Gloria Porrazzo was the first woman hired to work in
assembling Laboratory Modules and Systems Modules. These products allowed
Digital to be profitable from its first year onward. According to Peter Koch,
plant manager, Porrazzo stayed with the company for 25 years, rising to the
level of production manager. The 50 to 60 women who worked for her in Assembly
were informally known as "Gloria's Girls." They were responsible for
inserting electronic components into circuit boards, welds and quality control.
Ken Olsen was known to drop in for coffee and a chat with Gloria to keep
abreast of any production problems.
In time, Digital was not averse to hiring women with
technical expertise, but some of the customers had a hard time adapting. Barbara
Stephenson, MIT graduate, employee #71, was hired the second year. As posted at
www.computerhistory.org: "I was the first woman engineer at DEC. Customers
would call for an applications engineer. They would say 'I want to speak with
an engineer,' and I would reply 'I'm an engineer,' and they would say, 'No, I
want to speak with a real engineer.' I developed this patter: 'Well, tell me
about the application you have in mind. We have three lines of modules ranging
from five to ten megacycles and …' The line would go dead for a moment and then
I’d hear, 'Hey Joe, guess what, I’ve got a…woman…engineer on the phone!'"
Women were promoted from within. Maynard resident Angela
Cossette was hired as an administrative assistant in 1963 in support for DEC
User's Society. DECUS provided a pre-internet forum for computer users to
exchange technical information and user-developed software. Cossette moved up
to becoming the company's first woman manager, in time with as many as 100
people reporting to her. In her own words "...Digital became very
aggressive about giving women the opportunity to grow in their careers and making
it possible for them to move into key positions." [Quote from company
newsletter Digital This Week.]
Cossette retired in 1992.
Her comment reflected Digital's self-realization that it had
a problem with its history of male dominated culture. A Core Groups program was
started in 1977, evolving into the Valuing Differences philosophy in 1984. The
stated goal was for the company and its employees to pay attention to
differences of individuals and groups, to be comfortable with those
differences, and to utilize those differences as assets to the company's
Modest monument to Ken Olsen, corner of Main and Walnut Streets.
Digital Equipment Company, for those too young to remember,
grew to be the second-largest computer company in the United States, peaking in late 1989
or early 1990 with more than 120,000 employees and ambitions to overtake IBM.
Instead, overly-fast growth combined with a series of missteps led to a
precipitous decline that finally resulted in a sale to Compaq, which in turn
was bought by Hewlett-Packard. All Digital left behind as a name-bearer was the
Digital Federal Credit Union, better known as DCU.
Interesting sources about Digital Equipment Corporation: