In Memoriam: Ken Olsen ’50, SM ’52

by Nancy DuVergne Smith on February 10, 2011 · 1 comment

in In the News

Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was an icon of computing innovation from the 1960s through the 1980s. DEC products were interactive—a revolutionary concept then—and they led to affordable, distributed computing in the form of minicomputers and contributed to the development of the Internet and UNIX. The longtime chairman of DEC, Ken Olsen ’50, SM ’52, was widely praised for his creative leadership and technical insights in articles about his Feb. 6 death.

After earning degrees at MIT in electrical engineering, Olsen worked at Lincoln Laboratory in the 1950s, then he and colleague Harlan Anderson PhD ’53 started Digital in an old mill building in Maynard, Mass. Olsen, who served as company chairman from its founding until 1992, saw annual sales peak at $14 billion in the 1980s.

Olsen was a life member emeritus of the MIT Corporation and contributed his expertise on several visiting committees. He was instrumental in the creation of Project Athena, a pioneering effort in the 1980s to provide computer access to all students, and he supported the creation  of the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories.

In the 1980s, DEC was the second largest computer company in the world and Olsen appeared on the cover of Fortune as “arguably the most successful entrepreneur in the history of American business.’’

For an appreciation of working for DEC and its technical advances, read ZDNet’s “Saying Good bye to Ken Olsen.”

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