Dr. An Wang (Chinese: 王安; pinyin: Wáng Ān; February 7, 1920 – March 24, 1990) was a Chinese American computer engineer and inventor, and co-founder of computer company Wang Laboratories, which was known primarily for its dedicated word processing machines. An Wang was an important contributor to the development of magnetic core memory.
Early life and career
A native of Kunshan County in Suzhou Prefecture, he was born in Shanghai, China, and graduated from Chiao Tung University with a degree in electrical engineering in 1940. He immigrated to the United States in June 1945 to attend Harvard University for graduate school, earning a PhD in applied physics in 1948. After graduation, he worked at Harvard with Dr Howard Aiken on the design of the Mark IV, Aiken's first fully electronic computer. Wang co-invented the pulse transfer controlling device with Way-Dong Woo, a schoolmate from China who fell ill before their patent was issued. The new device implemented write-after-read which made magnetic core memory possible. Harvard reduced its commitment to computer research in 1951, prompting Wang to start his own engineering business.
Wang founded Wang Laboratories in June 1951 as a sole proprietorship. The first years were lean and Wang raised $50,000 working capital by selling one third of the company to a machine tools manufacturer Warner & Swasey Company. In 1955 when the core memory patent was issued, Wang sold it to IBM for $500,000 and incorporated Wang Laboratories with Dr. Ge-Yao Chu, a schoolmate. The company grew slowly and in 1964 sales reached $1,000,000. Wang began making desktop electronic calculators with digital displays, including a centralised calculator with remote terminals for group use.
By 1970 the company had sales of $27 million and 1,400 employees. They began manufacturing word processors in 1974, copying the already popular Xerox Redactron word processor, a single-user, cassette-based product. In 1976 they started marketing a multi-user, display-based product, based on the Zilog Z80 processor. Typical installations had a master unit (supplying disk storage) connected to intelligent diskless slaves which the operators used. Connections were via dual coax using differential signaling in an 11-bit asynchronous ASCII format clocked at 4.275 MHz. This product became the market leader in the word processing industry. In addition to calculators and word processors, Wang's company diversified into minicomputers in the early 1970s. The Wang 2200 was one of the first desktop computers with a large CRT display and ran a fast hardwired BASIC interpreter. The Wang VS system was a multiuser minicomputer whose instruction set was very close to the design of IBM's System/370. It was not binary-compatible because register usage conventions and system call interfaces were different. The Wang VS serial terminals could be used in data processing mode and word processing mode. They were user-programmable in data-processing mode and used the same word processing software as the earlier dedicated word processing systems.
Wang Laboratories, which in 1989 once employed over 30,000 people, was headquartered in Tewksbury, Massachusetts and later Lowell, Massachusetts. When Wang looked to retire from actively running his company in 1986, he insisted upon handing over the corporate reins to his son Fred Wang. Hard times ensued for the company and the elder Wang was eventually forced to remove his son in 1989.
An Wang also founded the Wang Institute of Graduate Studies in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts which offered a graduate program in software engineering. He made substantial donations to this organization, including the proceeds of his autobiography, Lessons. However, enrollment remained low, and in 1987, after nearly a decade of operation, Dr. Wang decided to discontinue funding the institution and transferred ownership of the campus to Boston University.
An Wang also made a substantial contribution for the restoration of a Boston landmark, which was then called the Metropolitan Theatre. The "Met" was renamed in 1983 as The Wang Theatre, and the Metropolitan Center became known as the Wang Center for the Performing Arts.
When An Wang died of cancer in 1990, he left behind an impressive technical and philanthropic legacy. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1988. The Dr. An Wang Middle School in Lowell, Massachusetts, is named in his honor, as is the An Wang Professorship of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Harvard University, held by Professor Roger W. Brockett.
He and his wife Loraine lived in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where she still lives. Their three children are:
- Frederick Wang - oldest son and now a mentor and founder of Wang and Associates; he lives in Cambridge, MA
- Courtney S. Wang - younger son, President of a Dallas-area regional ISP Online Today OnLine Today
- Juliet Wang - a paramedic ambulance technician EMT
"Success is more a function of consistent common sense than it is of genius."
"We must not contradict, but instruct him that contradicts us; for a madman is not cured by another running mad also."
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- U.S. Patent 2,708,722 "Pulse transfer controlling device", filed October 21, 1949, issued May 17, 1955
- U.S. Patent 3,402,285 "Calculating Apparatus" (using logarithms for calculation), filed September 22, 1964, issued September 17, 1968
- U.S. Patent 4,145,739 "Distributed data processing system", filed June 20, 1977, issued March 20, 1979.
- U.S. Patent 4,294,550 Ideographic typewriter. October 13, 1981
- U.S. Patent 4,297,042 Helical print head mechanism. October 27, 1981
- U.S. Patent 4,386,864 Selective paper insertion and feeding means for individual sheet printing apparatus. June 7, 1983
- U.S. Patent 4,489,419 Data communication system. December 18, 1984
- U.S. Patent 4,508,463 High density dot matrix printer. April 2, 1985
- U.S. Patent 4,514,063 Scanner document positioning device. April 30, 1985
- U.S. Patent 4,587,633 Management communication terminal system. May 6, 1986
- U.S. Patent 4,595,921 Method of polling to ascertain service needs. June 17, 1986
- U.S. Patent 4,638,118 Writing pad. January 20, 1987
- U.S. Patent 4,712,795 Game racket. December 15, 1987
- U.S. Patent 5,129,061 Composite document accessing and processing terminal with graphic and text data buffers. July 7, 1992
- U.S. Patent 5,334,976 Keyboard with finger-actuable and stylus-actuable keys. August 2, 1994