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Mss: 6592 1948-1992 W246

Wang Laboratories, Inc. Wang Laboratories, Inc. Records, 1948-1992: A Finding Aid

Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University

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Harvard Business School, Boston MA 02163.

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: Mss: 6592 1948-1992 W246
Repository: Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
Creator: Wang Laboratories, Inc.
Title: Wang Laboratories, Inc. records
Date(s): 1948-1992
Quantity: 155 linear feet (58 volumes, 267 boxes, 4 cartons)
Quantity: 321.12 gigabytes* (109 audio files, 10 video files, and content from 31 disks)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: The Wang Laboratories, Inc. records consist of corporate records of the Lowell, Massachusetts, based computer company; personal papers of founder Dr. An Wang (1920-1990); and administrative records of the Wang Institute for Graduate Studies, the independent educational institution founded by Dr. Wang.

Provenance:

Gift of Mrs. Lorraine C. Wang and The Wang Foundation, 2012

Processing Information:

Processed: December 2012
By: Benjamin Johnson
Digital content on physical storage media has been reformatted when possible. Files were surveyed, screened for privacy and confidentiality concerns, and transferred to secure storage. Content open for research is described at the series and folder levels below.
Audiovisual content on physical storage media has been reformatted when possible. Files were surveyed, screened for privacy and confidentiality concerns, and transferred to secure storage. Content open for research is described at the series and folder levels below. The physical carriers are located in Cartons 1 and 2 and Box 267.

Conditions Governing Access:

Materials stored onsite. Please contact histcollref@hbs.edu for more information. Restricted material has been identified and separated. Note that box and folder lists of restricted material have been redacted.
Digital use copies can be accessed only onsite in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room. To request access please contact histcollref@hbs.edu prior to visiting the library.

Preferred Citation:

Cite as: Wang Laboratories Inc. Records. Baker Library Historical Collections. Harvard Business School.

Biographical Note:

Wang Laboratories, Inc. or Wang Labs, was an early computer company founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1951 by An Wang, an immigrant from China who was educated at Harvard University. Dr. Wang was born in Shanghai, China on February 7, 1920. Wang entered Chiao Tung University in Shanghai at the age of sixteen, graduating in 1940. He was employed as a teaching assistant at his alma mater after graduation and later worked for the Chinese government building transmitters and radios for the Central Radio Corporation. In 1945, Wang and several fellow engineers were selected to travel to the United States to apprentice at American companies, in preparation for the reconstruction of China following World War II. Wang arrived in Washington, D.C., and initially began looking for an apprenticeship. However, he soon reconsidered, and decided to apply to the applied physics graduate program at Harvard University instead. After completing his degree, Wang applied and was accepted into the Harvard PhD program in applied physics, graduating in 1948. After graduation, Wang worked at the Harvard University Computation Lab under the direction of Dr. Howard Aiken.
While working at the Harvard Computation Lab, Wang invented the concept of magnetic core memory. This process of rewriting information on a magnetic tape, after reading it, was a technological breakthrough. Core memory is the basis for all computer memory. With the help of young patent attorney Martin Kirkpatrick, Wang applied for a patent on his "pulse transfer controlling device" in 1949. The patent was finally issued in 1955. In 1951, Wang left Harvard to establish Wang Laboratories as a sole proprietorship. The first offices were located on Columbus Avenue in Boston. Wang initially focused on manufacturing and supplying magnetic core memory to companies and government agencies that needed a means of storing information.
While Wang's patent was being processed by the patent office, IBM became interested in buying a license to the patent. Wang's negotiations with IBM proceeded slowly. In 1953, the parties reached an agreement: Wang serve as a consultant, and grant IBM a three-year option to purchase a nonexclusive license for magnetic memory core. Wang's consulting contract paid him a thousand dollars a month, an influx of much needed cash that kept Wang Labs functioning. Before Wang received the patent for his pulse transfer controlling device, an interference was put on his patent claims. A public works employee for the city of Los Angeles named Frederick Viehe, had a year earlier invented and applied for a patent for an electronic relay circuit, which broadly included some of the same claims that Wang's invention included. This reduced the value of Wang's patent, and IBM purchased Wang's patent for $500,000 in 1955.
In 1954, Wang Laboratories expanded and moved its operations to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The staff of ten employees worked mainly on government defense contracts. In 1955, Dr. Wang incorporated Wang Laboratories; he was the sole owner of all stock in the company. Needing another infusion of money for further expansion, in 1959 Wang sold a 25% stake of his company for $150,000 to Warner & Swasey, a Cleveland, Ohio, machine tool manufacturer. The investment by Warner & Swasey enabled Wang Labs in the early 1960s to invest in the development of phototypesetting technology. Wang Labs was engaged by Compugraphic of Cambridge, Mass., to design and build a phototypesetting device. Wang's efforts resulted in a highly successful device called Linasec, which it initially manufactured for Compugraphic. Wang enjoyed sales topping million dollars in 1964, but Compugraphic eventually decided to manufacture the device on its own.
The loss of revenue from Linasec sales was a major concern, but Wang soon had another product ready to be marketed. LOCI, a logarithmic calculating instrument, or desktop calculator, was introduced in 1965. After LOCI made a successful splash on the market, Wang Labs introduced the Model 300 calculator, which was easier to use. Company sales rose to $3.8 million in 1966 and the Wang Labs workforce expanded from 35 employees to roughly 400 employees. Wang Labs continued to manufacture and produce calculators for engineers and scientists during the late 1960s. The company explored new markets for calculators, including financial services and automobile sales. Banks used specialized Wang calculators for mortgage calculations and automobile dealerships for car loans. Dr. Wang became interested in building a computer in the late 1960s, but the Wang Labs staff lacked the necessary programming expertise. In 1968, Wang Labs purchased Philip Hankins, Inc (PHI), a data processing services supplier company. The purchase of PHI provided Wang Labs with expertise in the development of the programmable devices. The first computer produced by Wang Labs was the series 4000 followed by the 3300 BASIC. Both computers were programmable calculators, and they made relatively little impact on the market. The next calculator developed by Wang labs, the series 700, became one of the most successful. Subsequent models included the 600 and 400 desktop programmable calculators. Despite the success of Wang's calculator line, Dr. Wang decided to cease the development and manufacture of calculators in the early 1970s. He correctly predicted the waning of the market for the high-volume, specialized devices that Wang then produced.
By 1970, Wang Labs employed over 1400 people and sales topped $27 million. The company entered the word processing market in 1972 with the debut of the Wang 1200. Harold Koplow, a Wang employee responsible for writing code for many of the successful programmable calculators, reworked the code for the word processor. The Wang 1200 system used a keyboard for data entry. The text was saved on a cassette tape, which could be later be edited and printed. The word processor changed the nature of office work, as multiple copies of a standard letter or memo template could be retrieved from memory storage and printed for distribution. In 1975, Dr. Wang assigned Koplow and former PHI employee Dave Moros the task of designing another more powerful word processing machine. In 1976, Wang Labs introduced the Wang 1200 WPS and in 1977, the Wang OIS (Office Information System). The Wang OIS was a multi-user system and simple to operate. Users at multiple terminals were connected to a central unit, which allowed for file sharing among office workers.
In 1973, Wang Labs developed and marketed its first data processing minicomputer. The series 2200 was a single-user desktop computer marketed to small and medium-sized businesses. It was programmable, and could be used for a variety of applications. The Wang OIS, the next system released by Wang Labs, included a word processing glossary with shortcuts for frequently used words. In 1977, Wang released the first Wang VS (virtual storage) computer. The VS computer was designed for business data processing and included Wang OFFICE, a software package that supported email, calendars, scheduling and bulletin boards. Prior to the VS system, Wang calculators and word processing equipment were marketed at the department level within client companies. Individual office managers were targeted a potential customers. With the development of the VS system, Wang Labs began to market to management information system executives, who were responsible for the overall direction of a company's office information systems. Wang Labs began to hire sales people with strong data processing backgrounds, who were experienced in MIS concepts. The VS system represented Wang Labs' major effort to challenge IBM as a computer manufacturer. As sales of the VS computer increased in the late 1970s, Wang Labs phased out its line of stand-alone word processors.
Wang Labs continued to expand throughout the 1970s with the development of new systems and technologies. However, Dr. Wang found that his company and his stake in the company was at a critical point. In 1975, Wang Labs was ready to introduce a new CRT based word processing system that utilized cathode ray tube (CRT) technology. However, the company was addled with debt and had little cash to fund the manufacturing of the new system. With just over a 50% stake in Wang Labs stock, the Wang family still maintained voting control. Dr. Wang considered issuing more stock to fund expansion, but decided against diluting the family's holdings and control. Against the advice of many of his trusted advisors, Dr. Wang chose to delist Wang Labs stock from the New York Stock Exchange, moving it to the American Stock Exchange, with two classes of stock. The move proved successful, as the different classes of stock steadily appreciated in value. The influx of cash allowed Wang Labs to expand rapidly, and by 1978, the company relocated to a three tower office complex that it constructed in Lowell, Massachusetts. The operations staff moved to the new facility, while manufacturing continued at the Tewksbury plant. Wang Laboratories became a true global company with over $2 billion in sales and 35,000 employees.
During the early to mid 1980s, Dr. An Wang began to reduce his day-to-day involvement in Wang Labs. Wang's transition to a more limited role coincidentally occurred during a period of relative stagnation throughout the entire computer industry. The industry was moving away from minicomputers and mainframes and towards PCs and desktop workstations. Wang Labs did not manufacture these devices. Turnover and change occurred at the top of Wang Labs' during the 1980s. Visionary marketing leader and CEO John Cunningham stepped down in 1985 to run a smaller company, forcing Dr. Wang to resume control of the Wang Labs. Dr. Wang then turned over control to his son, Fred Wang. Fred served as President and CEO from 1986 to 1989 until he was fired by his father. During Fred Wang's tenure are CEO, many research and development products failed to gain traction, debt ballooned and sales declined. Dr. Wang tapped in house executive Rick Miller, who came to the company from RCA in 1988, to be CEO. After Dr. Wang's death in 1990, Miller guided Wang Labs through a massive restructuring and sold off many of its assets and subsidiaries. The company had a heavy debt burden, but Miller was able to balance the budget toward the end of 1990. Unfortunately, Miller was not able to save the company and the Wang Laboratories filed for bankruptcy protection in August 1992. The company emerged from bankruptcy in the mid 1990s and was acquired by the Netherlands based network services company Getronics in 1999.
Dr. An Wang amassed a tremendous fortune and became a renowned philanthropist. He donated money to fund the Wang Ambulatory Care Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital, renovated the Wang Center for Performing Arts and endowed professorships in computer science at Brown University and Harvard University. In 1979 Dr. Wang founded the Wang Institute of Graduate Studies, an educational institution that initially offered a master's degree in software engineering and later expanded to include a degree in East Asian studies and a fellowship in Sinology. The Institute welcomed its first class in 1981 and continued through the 1980s until it closed in 1988 due to the financial troubles at Wang Labs. The Institute campus and buildings were transferred to Boston University. Many of the Institute's graduates worked for prominent computer and engineering companies including DEC, Raytheon and Wang Laboratories. He married Lorraine Chiu in 1949 and they had three children, Fred, Courtney and Juliette. Dr. Wang died in 1990 at the age of 70 from esophageal cancer.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

Scope and Content Note:

The Wang Laboratories, Inc. records contain a wide array of material that documents the founding and evolution of the Lowell, Massachusetts, based computer company from 1948 to 1992. Also included are the personal papers of Wang Labs founder Dr. An Wang, and the records of the Wang Institute for Graduate Studies, an independent educational institution founded by Dr. Wang in 1981. The collection consists of four series: Wang Laboratories corporate records, An Wang personal papers, Wang Institute for Graduate Studies records, and audiovisual materials. The Wang Laboratories corporate records include the records of Wang Labs founder Dr. An Wang and senior executives, administrative records, financial material, subject files, correspondence, marketing and communications records, research and development records, and computer system user manuals. Records kept by company founder Dr. An Wang make up the bulk of the collection. An Wang's personal papers consist of subject files and correspondence related to his philanthropic pursuits, personal financial records relating to family investments and research and material gathered for his autobiography, published in 1986. The Wang Institute for Graduate Studies records consist of correspondence, administrative material, subject files, financial records, outreach and external relations materials, research files and records of the Advisory Committee established to formulate strategy and create policy. The earliest material in the Wang Institute records relates to the founding and establishment of the Institute and the program in software engineering. The later material details the creation of the program for East Asian studies and the eventual closing of the Institute and transfer to Boston University.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Calculators.
Computer industry--United States.
Computers--History.
Electronics industry--United States.
Microcomputers
Minicomputers
Word processing equipment industry.
Audiocassettes.
Floppy disks.
Photographs.
Videocassettes.
Chu, Dodge.
Cranch, Edmund T. (Edmund Titus), 1922
Cunningham, John.
Fung, Margaret Chang, 1934
Spanjaard, Joop
Tsiang, Horace
Wang, An, 1920-1990.
Wang, Fred
International Business Machines Corporation.
Philip Hankins, Inc.
Wang Center for the Performing Arts (Boston, Mass.).
Wang Institute for Graduate Studies.

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