Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Maynard at YouTube

In July 2020 a column discussed many of the Maynard-related Wikipedia articles. A recent presentation about Digital Equipment Corporation, which was headquartered in Maynard, 1957-1998, showed that just counting articles about DEC came to more than 40 Wikipedia articles. Others are about the town, the high school, the river, etc. So, the next obvious question is: How many YouTube videos feature Maynard? 

The newest entries are the Maynard Public Library series of Zoomed talks presented by the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee as part of the celebrations of Maynard’s 150th anniversary.

   Slavery in Massachusetts                                  2/25

   Before the Europeans Arrived… and After      3/25

   How Maynard Became Maynard                      4/19

   Assabet River Floods and Droughts                  5/24

   Digital Equipment Corporation                         6/14

   The Bands Played On                                        7/22

   Thoreau Walked Thru                                        8/26

SEPTEMBER  Schools Through the Centuries      tbd

OCTOBER      The Maynard Family                      tbd

NOVEMBER   Food Cooperatives                         tbd

DECEMBER   Trains, Trolleys, Buses and Cars    tbd

These can be accessed through the library’s website under Events. By year’s end there will be a total of eleven talks.

A much larger collection of talks were posted on a channel created by the Maynard Historical Society in 2014. The symbol for the channel is a blue dot with a white, lower-case letter “m” in the center. These 22 videos, each about an hour long, represent MHS talks filmed by WAVM, the high school’s, student-run, cable TV station. Here is an alphabetized list of those videos, with the year given:

Artists in Maynard (2002)

Aviation (1999)

Congregational Church (2002)

Cooperative Societies

Fowler Funeral Home (2004)

Glenwood Cemetery (1998)

Growing up in Maynard (1998)

Gunpowder Mill (2005)

Henry Ford’s Boys (2002)

Ken Olsen (1998)

Knights/Ladies of Kaleva (1999)

Mill Clock (1992)

Movie Theaters (2000)

Mullen Family (2006)

Post Office (2000)

Powell Flutes (2006)

Rod & Gun Club (2001)

Sarvela Farm (1991)

Soldiers’ Stories (2004)

Trolleys (2000)

West End (2006)

Whitney Family (1999)

All of these deliver interesting stories about Maynard. In one, Ken Olsen, the co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, explains that he chose to locate this new company in Maynard because the rent was cheap at 25 cents a square foot, and secondly, because Maynard having been until recently a factory town, there were people to hire that had no problem with working eight hour shifts at manual labor.

In addition to the taped talks, there is a short clip of silent footage of “Leapin’ Lena”, a tricked-out Ford Model-T that appeared in local parades 1927 thru 1962. This was an American Legion Post #235 project. The modified car would pop its front end up, drive a short distance nose in the air, before a touch of the brakes brought it slamming down on the front wheels again. When nose-up, there was no ability to steer. There are other “Leapin Lena” parade cars out there, some of which have independent brakes on the rear wheels, so steering, and even pirouettes, are possible.   

Beyond the hour-long presentations, there is a large smattering of YouTube clips that involve Maynard, from car-camera drive-throughs, to kayaking on the Assabet River, to a lot of real estate displays. Special though, are videos on the Chromatophone Creatures channel, created by Chriss Renna to display his short nature videos. He has posted hundreds of videos, has thousands of followers, and a few of his clips have gone viral, each garnering hundreds of thousands of views.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

DEC - The Prequel

DEC Board of Directors: Seated left to right at an early board
meeting are: Harry Hoagland, Jack Barnard, Jay Forrester, Bill
Congleton, Harlan Anderson, Ken Olsen, Dorothy Rowe,
Vernon Alden, Arnaud de Vitry, and Wayne Brobeck.
Rowe (the only woman) was a VP at the venture capital firm
that had funded DEC, and Treasurer for DEC’s Board. 
This column is about what led up to the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) meeting Maynard, Massachusetts, in 1957. It involves Kenneth ‘Ken’ Olsen, Harlan Anderson, Georges Doriot and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory.

The intertwining of DEC and Maynard starts with a visit by Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson to Maynard on July 9, 1957, followed by signing of a lease at $300/month for 8,680 square feet of rental space in mill building #12 on August 27th. Start-up funding for the new company came from $70,000 from the American Research and Development Corporation (AR&D), a venture capital firm, headed by Georges Doriot. DEC first began producing printed circuit logic modules used by engineers to test electronic equipment. Based on these modules, the company developed the world's first small interactive computer – a ‘mini-computer’ – with first delivered product in November 1960. It was named PDP-1 for Programmed Data Processor. DEC’s end came with the announced sale of the company to Compaq on January 26, 1998, followed by the completion of the deal on June 11, 1998.

Kenneth ‘Ken” Olsen was born February 20, 1926 in Bridgeport, Connecticut (died February 6, 2011, age 84). His grandparents were immigrants from Norway and Sweden. His father designed machine tools. While in high school, Ken working summers in a machine shop and also fixed radios for neighbors. In 1944, age 18, he either enlisted or was drafted into the U.S. Navy. He attended radar school for a year and served in the fleet for a year, but did not see military action. Upon discharge, he enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he earned a BS (1950) and an MS (1952) in electrical engineering, a major that included computer sciences as those existed at that time. He had married Aulikki Valve, a native of Finland, in 1950. After graduation, he worked on military-related projects at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, located in Lexington, MA. This included a 13-month stint in residence at an IBM research site, where he observed (and came to dislike) the hierarchal organizational structure of that large company. The matrix management structure developed at DEC was in part a reaction to IBM’s way of doing things.

Harlan Anderson was born on October 15, 1929, in Freeport, IL. (died January 30, 2019, age 89.) He married his high school sweetheart, Lois Jean Kahl in 1950. At the University of Illinois, he earned a BS in 1951 and an MS in 1952, both degrees in physics. While in college, Anderson became interested in computers while taking programming courses for use of a large custom-built mainframe computer being built for UI. In June of 1952, Anderson and his wife were both hired by Olsen. There, he became a member of the Lincoln Lab systems office, which was responsible for specifications for the IBM production of the SAGE computer.

Georges Doriot and Ken Olsen (date unknown)
Georges Doriot (September 1899 РJune 1987) was an émigré from France. He became a professor at Harvard Business School in 1926, and then director of the U.S. Army's Military Planning Division, Quartermaster General, during World War II, eventually being promoted to brigadier general. In 1946, he founded American Research and Development Corporation, to encourage private sector investments in businesses run by soldiers who were returning from World War II. AR&D is regarded as one of the world's first venture capital firms, earning him the sobriquet "father of venture capitalism". In addition to the $70,000 investment in DEC ($670,000 in inflation-adjusted 2021 dollars), AR&D made approximately two million in loans to DEC in those early years. Doriot remained a friend and advisor to Ken Olsen until his death in 1987.

It was at Lincoln Laboratory that Olsen and Anderson worked on the TX (for Transistor eXperimental) projects that were substituting novel transistor technology for the glass vacuum tubes that were standard for computers at the time. Transistors date to a successful demonstration on December 23, 1947 at Bell Laboratories, at that time the research arm of American Telephone and Telegraph. Within a few years, transistors were commercially, albeit expensively, available. By the late 1950s the technology had improved to allow for ‘pocket-sized’ transistor radios. Meanwhile, at Lincoln Lab, the high-speed operation and interactive features of the TX-0 and TX-2 computers greatly influenced early minicomputer design at Digital.

In 1957, Olsen and Anderson decide to start a company. They submitted a proposal to AR&D in May. They got an investment of $70,000 for a 70 percent share in the company. There was pushback from the investors about “computer” being in the company’s name, because at the time computers were large, expensive, mostly unprofitable machines – think IBM and UNIVAC – hence the name became “Digital Equipment Corporation.” By August they had rented space, and they – and Stan Olsen, Ken’s younger brother – spent weekends painting the space themselves. DEC was launched.

Olsen and Anderson went to Gruber Bros. Furniture and bought $69 worth of office furniture – on 30 days credit.



Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Digital Equipment Corporation

The blue logo
 On June 14, at 7:00 p.m., the Maynard Public Library will present a Zoomed talk titled: “Digital Equipment Corporation.” Register at This is the fifth in a monthly series of history lectures produced by the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee as part of Maynard’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of its creation on April 19, 1871. The July talk will be “The Bands Played On (Musical Maynard).” A new history book “MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS: A Brief History”, with an entire chapter about Digital, is for sale for $21.99 at 6 Bridges Gallery, 63 Nason Street, WED-SAT, 12-5.  

The rise and fall of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was a 41-year arc that started with a bit of rented space in the mill buildings in 1957, then peaked in size and sales in 1990 with the mill complex being the world headquarters of a 125,000 employee empire that reached $14 billion in annual sales. Then, as a result of management and technology missteps, the company repeatedly downsized, had a fire sale of assets, and was finally sold to Compaq Corporation in 1998.

Anderson's badge
August 1957, Kenneth ‘Ken’ Olsen and Harlan Anderson, colleagues at MIT’s Lincoln Labs, signed a three-year lease for 8,680 square feet in building #12 of Maynard’s mill complex at $300/month. They spent days painting the space themselves. They also went to Gruber Bros. Furniture and bought $69 worth of office furniture – on 30 days credit. Money remained tight. Weekends, spring and fall, there was no heat in the building unless Raytheon, the larger tenant, chose to pay extra. Raytheon would call noon on Friday to specify which buildings it wanted heated. Olsen would call at 1:00 to see if he was going to get his part of the building heated for free.

In the early years, many of the employees were women, some who had worked in the same buildings in the woolen mill era, which had ended in 1950. Why women? A DEC job openings advertisement from 1959 specified a preference for women with good eyesight and nimble fingers. Some women worked the “Mother Shift,” meaning their day ended in time for them to be home when their kids got out of school.

DEC came to dominate the minicomputer niche. In 1971, Massachusetts Governor Francis William Sargent declared Maynard “Minicomputer Capital of the World.” By then, DEC had expanded to renting most of the mill. A year later it bought the 60-acre Parker Street industrial complex. In 1974 it bought the entire mill complex, and in time a few other buildings in town, bringing the total to more than two million square feet of office and factory space. A town-wide celebration of DEC’s 25th anniversary, and DEC’s restoration of the 90-year old clock tower took place in 1983.

Exact numbers are not available, but estimates are that Digital employed between one-third and one-half of the adults living in Maynard. Students were hired right out of high school. Other employees commuted – Routes 117 and 27 had twice daily traffic jams – and the mill pond was partially filled in to create more parking space. Evenings, restaurants and bars were flooded with employees. There were no empty storefronts. Was there a downside? Yes, in that Maynard was once again a one-company town.  

Kenneth 'Ken' Olsen working
while donating blood
Olsen was correctly quoted but misunderstood when in a talk given to a 1977 World Future Society meeting in Boston he said “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” This statement was repeated in TIME magazine and elsewhere. Keep in mind that the first non-hobbyist ‘personal computers’ were reaching the market that year. Olsen knew that computers were evolving so rapidly that any purchased home computer would soon become obsolete (true!). In his mind the proper solution was to have video screens, keyboards and printers in homes, all linked electronically to company-owned computers that would provide the software and memory storage.

Stumbles in the end that contributed to DEC’s decline and fall were many. Circa 1985, DEC decided to compete in the arena of commercial data centers. This market traditionally belonged to IBM, and to complete would require a massive increase in staff involved in sales and service. Staffing increased 26,800 in two years. Meanwhile, competition gained ground. Sun Microsystems and Data General competed head-to-head in the mini-computer niche. DEC had expensively failed in an attempt to compete with IBM in the mainframe niche. And while DEC was focusing upward at IBM, all the micro-computer companies were approaching from below.

DEC’s crash was fast. The last year of billion-dollar profits was 1989. Total revenue continued to increase, but 1990 was only marginally profitable, and subsequent years saw losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The layoffs began in earnest in January 1991, including in Maynard. All company operations in the mill buildings shut down in 1993, with lay-offs or relocations of 2,100 employees. The Parker Street complex closed soon after. Company headquarters were relocated to a new building on Powdermill Road.

In July 1992, the company’s Board of Directors forced Olsen to resign. For thousands of employees, working for DEC within the empowering management system and mantra of “Do the right thing,” this was a heart-wrenching event. A forum comment from one employee “I used to drive to the office in the morning, and I couldn’t wait to get to work – I love my job and the company environment… The company doesn’t love itself anymore. Now I drive to work in the morning and all I can think about is getting out of this company and doing something else.”

Click to enlarge image
Over the next six years there were plant closings, staff relocations, layoffs of 60,000 employees and sale of many of the major components of the company. Downsizing cost the company close to $5 billion in layoffs and facility closings. Even during the decline, there had been successes. Digital launched the internet search engine AltaVista in 1995. It was the most popular among many competing search engines until Google came to dominate the market after 2000.

After protracted negotiations, Compaq agreed to acquire a downsized Digital Equipment Corporation in January 1998. The deal closed in June. The purchase price was $9.6 billion dollars. Was the sale inevitable? Probably not. With a different senior management, it is possible that Digital could have survived, perhaps prospered, but unlikely that it could have regained its aura as a radically innovative company attracting the best and the brightest. What DEC had not seen coming were changes embodied by a famous quote from Georges Doriot, the venture capitalist who provided the initial funding for DEC: “Someone, somewhere, is making a product that will make your product obsolete."

My thanks to all the DEC people who contributed their comments and memories of DEC for the Maynard Public Library presentation (taped and available) on June 14, 2021.

Digital Equipment Corporation Literature


Websites and publications on Digital Equipment Corporation

Abrams, Reesa E. (1988). A Study in Corporate Cultures, Digital Equipment Corporation, The Myth: A Cultural Operating Manual. DEC Cultural Operations Manual.

Allison, David. (1988). Transcript of an Oral History Interview with Ken Olsen Digital Equipment Corporation. Division of Information Technology & Society, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Coen, Elisabeth (2010). KEN OLSEN: Visionary Scientist, Entrepreneur and Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation. Gordon College Press, Wenham, MA.

Computer History Museum.  website by DEC alumni 

Goodwin, David Thomas (2016). Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC): A case study of indecision, innovation and company failure. University of Amsterdam.

Kotval Z, Mullin J, Karamchandani Z. (2008). Partnerships and the Fiscal Implications of Planning and Development: A Case Study of Maynard, Massachusetts, Planning, Practice & Research, 23;4:461-478.

Pearson, Jamie Parker; Editor (1992). Digital at Work: Snapshots from the First Thirty-five Years. Digital Press, Burlington, MA. ISBN 1-55558-092-0.

  Has extremely detailed timeline

Schein, Edgar H., DeLish, Peter S., Kampas, Paul J., Sonduck, Michael M. (2003). DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation.

Walker, Barbara A; Hanson, WC. “Valuing Differences at Digital Equipment Corporation” in book Diversity in the Workplace, pp. 119-138. Jackson SE (ed.). Guilford Press (1992).



Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Maynard's Founding Day Celebrations (1871)

The Gutteridge book, “A Brief History of MAYNARD MASS.”, published in 1921, included as an appendix a newspaper article about Maynard’s founding-day celebrations, published in The Hudson Pioneer, April 29, 1871. Excerpts:

“On Thursday of this week the new town of Maynard held its first town meeting in Riverside Hall [what later became Gruber Bros. Furniture]… Selectmen choices were made of Asahel Balcom, Henry Fowler, Jonathan P. Bent.”

Iola Lodge, International Order of the Grand Templars (1900)
The meeting was adjourned so there could be a parade, with “…the line of procession in the following order: First division: Escort Henry Wilson, Encampment 86, G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic], Eagle Cornet Band, Iola Lodge, I.O.G.T. [International Order of the Grand Templars], and mill operatives. Second division: Amateur Brass Band, St. Bridget Temperance and Benevolent Society, Public Schools, citizens and visitors in carriages bring up the rear. The procession presented a very fine appearance, and numbered over 1000. At intervals along the line the stars and stripes and the standard of the St. Bridget Society fluttered gaily in the breeze, adding greatly to the liveliness of the scene… the line proceeded down Main St. past the Glendale House [hotel, where Memorial Park is now] down Nason St. and Main St., and passed up to the west end of the village, then returned to Riverside Hall, where it was dismissed by the Marshal, with the request that as many as could would meet at Riverside Hall in the evening for a continuation of the ceremonies, consisting of music by the bands, singing by the Glee Club, and speeches…”

“As one of the attractions of the day, it was proposed to raise a flag staff on Pompositticut Hill [now Summer Hill]. At the appointed time, at the signal discharged from an ancient piece of artillery, a large flag was flung out from the staff welcoming all to the gala scene over which it floated… The cannon procured for the occasion from Concord, a relic of the Revolutionary War, is a six-pounder brass piece, which was placed in position at the west end of the ‘old north bridge,’ and did its share in repelling the regulars on that memorable morning in April 1775. Perhaps from its brazen throat echoed back a hearty “amen” in thunder tones, to the sharp ringing crack of that musket whose voice ‘was heard round the world.’” [The cannon mention is not true. At no point in the battle of April 19, 1775, did the Minuteman militia use cannons. A “six-pounder” would have been a cannon that fired six-pound cannonballs.]

“Assabet has got divorced from Stow, and repudiated even her maiden name. This act is in keeping with modern developments of womankind, showing as it does a natural desire for independence coupled still with a lurking fondness for the masculine gender. The new town takes the name of Maynard. There is probably some pecuniary motive to the christening, though we only know that the outside public is a little discommoded by the change… But the nascent vogue of naming towns by monetary impulse is mischievous by its indifference to verbal taste. [Text mentions that what became Hudson, carved out of Marlborough in 1866, had been long-time known as Feltonville, after a general store operator named Silas Felton, until Congressman Charles Hudson, who had been born there, promised to donate $500 toward a new library. Hence the mention of monetary impulse.] Doubtless Miss Assabet, alias Miss Stow, had a proper reason for her predilection. Mr. Maynard is the chief founder of the community now incorporated in his name. He is a taking man withal, and his personal christening of the new town is a popular acknowledgement of his agency in its birth and breeding.”

According to the centennial history book History of Maynard, 1871-1891, “…the new name was chosen to honor mill-founder Amory Maynard by unanimous vote of the citizens.” There is no record of a vote being taken. The “Fowler Petition” proposing creation of a new town, dated January 26, 1871, has a line drawn under the place for the town’s name, with “Maynard” written in, in a different hand. Presumably, that was completed before the petition was submitted. An 1870 petition, never submitted, had not included a name for the proposed town. Three petitions submitted after the Fowler Petition all had “Maynard” as the proposed name. Interestingly, Amory Maynard was not a signer of any of the petitions, although sons Lorenzo and William signed. All signers were male.   

The Maynard family crypt, where Amory, Mary  
and son Harlan reside. Lorenzo and William 
are elsewhere. Click on photo to enlarge.
The appendix also included an obituary for Amory Maynard (1804-1890), from the Boston Herald. Excerpts: “March 5, 1890 Amory Maynard died in his home in Maynard at 7:10 this morning. He had been incapacitated for any business for about seven years [elsewhere described as a stroke]. While attempting to ascend a flight of stairs in his residence, he lost his footing and fell backward, striking on the side of his head… all places of business in town will be closed. The internment will occur in Glenwood Cemetery, and the body is to be laid in the handsome tomb which he had constructed some time ago [1880]. He had accumulated a large property, estimated at a million dollars, through his own exertions, coupled with the efforts of his two sons, Lorenzo and William, to whom, it is said, the estate is bequeathed.”

Harlan, a third son had predeceased Amory, as had Mary (Priest) Maynard (1805-1886), Amory’s wife of 60 years. Calculating for inflation, a million dollars in 1890 – when a factory worker was paid $2/day for 10-hour days – equates to more than $20 million in today’s dollars. Lorenzo managed the mill until it went bankrupt in 1898. Not his fault. In 1894 the federal government had ended protective tariffs on wool cloth entering the country. The tariff was restored in 1897, but too late for Maynard. The American Woolen Company bought it in 1899 and ran it for another 51 years. William had moved to Pasadena in 1885 for reasons of health (tuberculosis). He was well enough by 1888 to move back east, but chose to settle in Worcester. Lorenzo died 1904; no descendants alive today. William died 1906, many living descendants. Mary Augusta Sanderson (1874-1947), William’s granddaughter, was the last descendant to live in Maynard.