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I have a Web Page that outlines the history of the Burroughs Datatron 205. Please visit that page and return here for any comments.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

On the Origins of the B-register

Dik Leatherdale, the editor of "Resurrection" the journal of the (British) Computer Conservation Society sent me an e-mail linking to additional details about the development and naming of the B-Register.

On my Datatron Homepage, I refer to Harry Huskey bringing this innovation to Pasadena from Manchester, England. In actuality the story is a bit more complicated.

Huskey spent the entire year of 1947 in England working at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) located in Teddington. He was to work on Alan Turing's ACE(Automatic Computing Engine) along with James Hardy (Wilkie) Wilkinson and Michael Woodger. John R. Womersley was Superintendent. Womersley arranged for Huskey to visit other computer projects during January of 1947.

The locations visited included Maurice Wilkes who was building the EDSAC at Cambridge and Fred Williams at Manchester. (This information comes from Huskey's autobiography, Harry D. Huskey, His Story)

Tom Kilburn picks up the story here as he describes a conversation between himself, Fred Williams, Ted Newman and Geoff Tootill at Manchester.
Now out of one conversation between the four people I've mentioned came the index register as being the best new suggestion for the machine; and so we put in the B-tube. It's called the B-tube because we had an accumulator and a control - A and C - and so we called it "B".
Kilburn also mentions a visit from Wilkie Wilkinson from NPL who had in fact been a tutor of his at Cambridge.

Dik Leatherdale notes:
In point of fact, Manchester always referred to "B-lines" as the register contents were stored as lines of dots on the face of a CRT storage device (the Williams Tube). This name persisted long after the demise of CRT storage.
Many thanks to Dik for bringing this additional documentation to my attention.