Wang Laboratories: The Foundation of Modern Computing

By Phin Upham

Computers require RAM to function, and An Wang is one of the most important contributors in the field of magnetic core memory. This was the dominant form of ram throughout the 60s and early 70s, which helped to fuel much of the development of modern computing and infrastructure.

Wang developed Wang Laboratories in 1951, a company he began as a sole proprietorship. In order to start the company, he sold a third of it to a machine tools manufacturer for $50,000. He began his work on core memory, winning a patent in 1955. He sold the property to IBM for $500,000 and used the capital to finally incorporate.

They grew slowly, but had $1 million in sales by 1964. The company made its money selling calculators with digital displays, and also pioneered a centralized calculator with remote terminals. Similar to the cloud technology of today with a much smaller range of uses. The business began scaling very quickly with the manufacture of dedicated word processing machines. They brought the idea they had already created of a central work station to word processing. It used an 11-bit asynchronous ASCII format, an incredible feat for its time.

Wang retired in 1986, having built his company from a two man operation to one that employed 30,000 employees nation-wide. He passed the reins on to his son Frederick, but Frederick was unable to keep up with the changing computer industry. An Wang took his seat back in 1989, but would die a year later. The company would remain, but had to file for bankruptcy in 1992.

Wang is also known for his aphorisms, small truths he’d pick up through his life. One of the more famous ones being “Success is more a function of consistent common sense than it is of genius.”

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Twitter page.