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Philco 212

Manufacturer Philco
Identification,ID Philco 212
Date of first manufacture-
Number produced -
Estimated price or cost-
location in museum -
donor -

Contents of this page:

Philco 212


from Ray Gollub, February 14, 2006 via Inforoots
The first machine was the model 210, using surface-barrier transistors, and designated "the transac s-2000". It had a 48-bit word, two instructions per word. Since the gold standard scientific computer at that time was the IBM 709, a 36-bit vacuum tube machine, Philco's management expected to have a substantial technical advantage. Other features of the system eventually developed included an eight-microsecond core storage, tape transports using one-inch tape width, a high speed drum printer, and a peripheral subsytem for card-to-tape and tape-to-printer operations.

Special features

Historical Notes
Robert Garner mentioned an article - Sept 2011
Philco: Some Recollections of the Philco Transic S-2000 Saul Rosen - Purdue University - CSD-TR-91-051
A story of an underfunded computer development - like ship the prototype ;-))
Which includes remarks about a following product, the Philco 212

from James Maddox, April 8, 2008

Philco 212 of February 14, 2006 from Ray Gollub [below] stirs excitement in me to remember a world of so long ago where we worked together—especially when he referred to me as the father of the main frame design. I did experience the birth of Philco’s computer entry into this exciting pioneering activity and the joy of working with such dedicated and capable people.

I joined Philco in the spring of 1953 and was assigned to their Government and Industrial Division in Philadelphia, Pa. Shortly after accomplishing some minor assignments I was asked to evaluate the Norden Bomb and Navigation System as used by the US in World War II, and suggest some possible improvements. The Norden system used equipment that had evolved over a period of time from 1940 to 1945. It was last implemented with an electro mechanical computer with major use of ball-disk integrators. Its major limitation was finding sufficient highly skilled machinists to handle the volume of units that might be needed in case of another large scale war and also the reliability and ability to withstand stress with a vacuum tube implementation would prove to be not acceptable.

Soon after I started at Philco a threesome from Bell Laboratories, William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Braittan gave a talk at the Engineers Club in Philadelphia describing their development of the transistor. I was greatly impressed with the possibilities. So was Bob Noyse of the Lansdale Division of Philco who started a program to start producing some. My officemate Ralph Brown began experimenting with them and invented the Direct Coupled circuit which was ideal for implementing logic circuits. I decided on a parallel and asynchronous structure based on the Institute for Advanced Study design. The project went ahead with the proper interface with the airplane and a small magnetic disk to store the programming and temporary results. The equipment was stored in a metal container that was the same size as the mechanical model we had received. The system was delivered to the Navy, installed and flight tested.

Representatives from National Security Agency visited us and expressed interest in our transistor computer, and provided a specification of each of the functions they required. I studied their specifications and met with them to review precisely each of the functions required, some of which were unique to NSA’s needs. They invited me to their facility to meet John Eakus who asked me to program a number of examples on their current computer to further test my understanding. I made a perfect score and they were ready to go ahead with the project. We named it the Transac S-1000 (SOLO), and delivered it along with a Programmer’s manual in November of 1957.

Our next venture was to supply a computer to the Bureau of Ships which we referred to as the Transac S-2000. This is the one that Ray Gollub said had experienced a financial problem. The financial problem was resolved and the computer was delivered and moved to the Navy department that made use of it.

During this same period we bid and won the contract to build a super rugged computer for the US Army to be mounted on the back of a truck that could withstand the rigors of excessive bouncing in the field.


The Transac nomenclature was replaced with numbers such as Philco 210, 211, and 212. By 1960 we were designing the Philco 211 and our small group of cubicles moved from the old Atwater Kent building on Wissahickon avenue in Philadelphia to a large modern Building in Willow Grove and we became the Computer Division of Philco. We provided Philco 211s to a number of users which included Westinghouse, General Electric, US facility under the Cheyenne Mountain that kept account of satellites, and the government of Israel.

While installing a Philco 211 computer at the Bettis division of Westinghouse we realized that the computer required about eight hours to come to a possible iterative solution to a three dimensional partial differential equations. Computer speed was of the essence when running iterative programs. Bettis was developing nuclear power capability for US submarines. I had a session with Dr. Wolf to review the mathematics. It became clear that adding a single combination ‘multiply-add’ instruction would help. We also found a faster add by operating on four bits at a time rather than one. The pre fetching mentioned by Ray Gollub also helped.

The designers of the 212 enjoyed the use of an automated logic design language rather drawings on mountains of paper needed to describe the many interconnections between/among registers. This was beneficial not only to the designers but also any trouble shooting needed. The software for this was designed by Kathe Jacoby.

Ray Gollub’s team finished the design, implementation and testing of the Philco 212 ahead of schedule. The urgency of the customer however was such that they started using it on Philco’s premises.

from Ray Gollub, February 14, 2006 via Inforoots
When I joined Philco in late 1957, their "computer lab" was working on a navy contract to provide a transistorized mainframe designated the "CXPQ". While this machine was delivered, I believe that it was never made operational, as the funding ran out. However, Philco used this design to go into the scientific computer business.

The developers included many dedicated and brilliant people, a few of whom I'd like to mention. The "father" of the mainframe design was James L. Maddox. The tape transport development was led by George Cogar, who later founded Mohawk Data Systems, the seminal key-to-tape system. The tape subsystem controller design was led by "Neil" Eldert. The printer subsystem design was led by Monroe Postman and Harriet Bien.

Only a few model 210 systems were built, as faster transistors became available, and, at the suggestion of Professor Morris Rubinoff (Ruby) of the University of Pennsylvania, the model 211 replaced the 210. The 211 was the same mainframe with MADT (micro-alloy, diffused-base) transistor circuits substituted for the SBTs. I think the improvement in speed was about fifty percent.

As for the claims of being asynchronous: It's true that these mainframes had no system clock, but, except for the adder, were not truly asynchronous. The timings for other mainframe operations were determined by the propagation time from one control state to the next. If that period proved insufficient, pairs of inverters were inserted into the path.

These mainframes initially found good acceptance in the nuclear reactor design industry and at least one aircraft manufacturer. The users group was known as "TUG" (Transac User's Group), which refused to change the acronym when Philco stopped using "Transac" in favor of "Philco 2000" systems.

The basic programming tool was ALTAC, Philco's Fortran compiler. The initial version of ALTAC, of course, had its share of bugs. The revision, ALTAC II, was well accepted. (Professor Saul Rosen consulted on programming matters, and Dr. Louis R. Lavine led the elite programming team.)

The competition, of course, was the IBM 7090, which seemed to have been rushed into existence on an accelerated schedule when the Philco machines appeared. When the CDC 1604 showed up, that didn't help Philco either.

Early on, the need for faster core storage was evident. A project was initiated to develop a two microsend memory. Unfortunately, this project was badly mismanaged and eventually outsourced.

I think it was about 1960 when we started to work on the next model, the 212. While I was nominally in charge of that effort, and contributed some of the key decisions, the guiding mind clearly was that of a gentleman named Richard P. Brown, a recent hire. IBM had announced the STRETCH system, in which the system was using look-ahead techniques to improve performance. Dick Brown borrowed from that idea and proposed a simplified architecture, using pre-fetch of instructions and a separate register to hold operands being stored, permitting the earlier execution of the next instruction. The specifications on speed, using 8k modules of two microsecond memory, was 4x that of the 211. This specification was met.

The three models, of course, were upward program-compatible. I recall that the 212 incorporated some hardware enhancements affecting the programming which, if reflected in the code generated by ALTAC, would not, of course, run on the earlier machines. I don't recall that this was ever an issue, since a simple specification in the compiler would generate appropriate code for the target system.

The competition for the 212 was the CDC 3600. While the two machines, I think, were of comparable performance, and most of the pricing was comparable, CDC's memory was far cheaper, contributing to Philco's marketing problems.

After Ford bought Philco, and while the prototype 212s were being debugged, the computer division was put into the hands of Dean Wanlass, formerly, I believe, of Packard-Bell. I left Philco in 1962 or 1963, after seeing the initial 212 accepted. By that time, as may have been expected, Wanlass had filled many of the key positions, including those in engineering, with relatives and acquaintances.

In a post-departure interview at Philco corporate hq, I was told in plain language that the computer division did not figure in Philco's long-term plans. Although work at the computer division continued for another year or so, it was indeed closed out.

I would welcome any comments or corrections to this little piece of computer history.

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From Sam Mayberry, Washington, pa. - July 20, 2020
When I arrived atPhilco, I was hired by Lloyd Gainey, head of field service. I was terribly ignorant, but avidly interested in computers. I was given a book on the system and expected to understand it. The work was scheduled 12 hour a day and if you wanted more, take it.

My assignment until the systems shipped was Ampex FR300 handlers. The system I was on was sent to Bettis Power Labs in McKeesport, pa. A suburb Of Pittsburgh. We were a carbon copy of the system, Knolls lab in Schenectady, NY.

I worked at Bettis for Gilbert Slaw, whom I communicate with often today. Gil later went toDEC and I wound up with day to day headaches. When Ford Brought the Tech Reps in, I decided to exit Bettis and returned to, by then, Willow Grove I the tape lab working for Harold Small.

GE had an ad in the papers for computer men and I called. I reached a fellow whom I had introduced to the I-O processor and I was essentially hired on the spot. From there, went to Phoenix and then with the machine to Oshawa, Ontario To the GM plant there on loan til the locals got trained. Back to the US and then into oblivion.

I remember George Cogar, and some of the named in the article. That was looong ago...

Sam Mayberry, Washington, pa.

Neal Laurance, spotted by Paul Kyzivat -Feb 2013, in inforoots
I'm new to this list, and in scanning over back issues, I found that February is the month to offer up memories of the Philco computers. Since I have some, and since this is February let me contribute a few.

I hired into Ford in 1960, in the Scientific Research Laboratory, working in material science. By early mid 1961 I was spending a good deal of time trying to analyze data using our IBM 650. So when Ford bought Philco in 1961, there were several of us very interested in the new acquisition. Many of my colleagues started interacting with the semi conductor operations, especially at Lansdale. I gravitated to the computer operations and made regular visits to Willow Grove.

Reading the previous posts, one might get the impression that Ford shut down the computer operations right after they acquired Philco. Not so. It took almost a decade. Some time in 1962 or early 63, Ford acquired a Philco computer for finance staff operation. It was housed in the office complex at the Rouge plant. It ran mostly CPM type applications, but they developed other programs for it. Philco had a decent COBOL compiler available, and as I recall, the computer processed stockholder records. 

I set out to create a MAD compiler and environment for the machine. I don?t remember the exact time frame, but by 1965, we had a fully functional MAD system running and serving many engineers in the company. Subsequently, I extended MAD with some ideas from L6 and from JOVIAL, to make it a fully capable system language. That work was presented at an ACM conference in 1968.

By 1965, time sharing became available within Ford via the purchase of a GE 265 running Dartmouth Basic. It quickly became obvious that Ford wanted to have time sharing, but with significantly more capability than the 265's could supply; something more like the Project MAC equipment. When things didn?t move fast enough in the public market (and if you recall, IBM dragged its feet on time sharing at that time), Ford decided to create its own. Chuck Missler, then the manager of Engineering computer operations, hired Ken Lochner and several other graduates/programmers from Dartmouth to create such a system. They took the Philco 212 that they were presently operating in batch mode, added a Bryant disc, and had Philco design special circuitry so that the computer could use 65K memory. The Bryant disc was brand new on the market, and it was huge. The disc heads were hydraulically activated, and when it did a disk seek, the false floor shook.

The programming team looked at the situation and decided to develop the time sharing system (almost) entirely in MAD. After it was completed and operational, they told me that about 98% of the code was MAD, only about 2 % machine code. That system supplied most of the time sharing computing to Ford Engineering until the installation of the GE Multics.

After some time, the Bryant disk died, the company went out of business, and Ford had a problem. So, someone in Philco or in Ford (I don?t know which) designed a custom interface between the Philco and a DEC RP06. The Philco 212 ran the rest of its life (many years) on that RP06.

Some time after the startup of this system, Ford acquired a Philco 102 to be the communications processor for the 212. The MAD compiler was modular enough that it required only small changes to make it generate code for the 102, running on the 212. So, it too was coded in MAD.

After the system had been running for a while, Missler and many of his staff left Ford to form Cyphernetics in Ann Arbor. There they sold computer services on an array DEC -10s. Meanwhile, Ford turned its attention back to GE Multics. But the Philco 212 continued to operate at Ford for many years after the Multics system was installed.

About 1964 (my memory for these dates is not good) Philco was awarded the prime contract for operation of the Houston space center. As part of that proposal, Philco competed for the actual hardware contract. There were many bidders but  IBM wound up supplying the hardware. As part of that proposal, Philco designed and proposed a follow on machine to the 212, designated the Philco 213. Although the machine was never built, it was fully described in a paper by Herb Bright at FJCC computer conference in 1964.

Besides Ford, Philco computers were used in many nuclear reactor development sites; these are the customers that CDC competed with Philco for. Philco computers were used by Israeli military as their principal computers. Philco actually developed a line printer that could print English left to right or Hebrew right to left, a real novelty in that day.

Philco was the prime contractor to NORAD for the Cheyenne Mountain installation outside Colorado Springs. I had an opportunity to tour the site just before it went secure, but some personal conflicts prevented me from doing it.

About 1968 or 69, Philco was still trying to get a share of the computer market. A new computer design was developed, called the Philco 214. I was one of the members of the review team for the project, along with Jim Ambrose, then vp of Philco. The design was really quite exciting, and I wish that the computer could have been built. But both Jim and I felt that the window of opportunity for Philco had passed; the sales and marketing to support it was no longer available, the competitive environment was severe, and so we closed the door on Philco computer operations. Unfortunately, I never kept my copy of the specification.

Neal Laurance

from Michael Jarosz - October 31, 2011
I was a student at Pratt Institute 1967-72, a small but well known art school. They had a not so well known engineering school. Somehow, a Philco 2000 found its way to the engineering school and was installed and functioning.

As a computer science 101 student, I did so well on the IBM 1620 Fortran II course, I was allowed to move up to the Philco. I got bored with Fortran, and discovered it had Cobol also! But it got really exciting (I was 19 years old) when I discovered TAC (translator/assembler/compiler) --- 48 bit word, two instructions per word.

I bought all the manuals and wrote a front end to the Linear Program application. I could stand outside the lab and predict the tape drive movements. Unfortunately I dumped all the manuals in that twilight between obsolete and history. When it’s obsolete you drop it, when is’s history you save it.

I have no idea what happen to that machine. There were never very many of them.

from Gus @ April 2009
In the early 1960s, I was at White Sands Missile Range, NM as an operator on the subject machine. I still have possession of my user's manuals. The write up that I run into while scanning online was very interesting as it came from the originators/designers. I have some memories of a few projects we used the machine on. I remember one of the old issues from the mainframes that carried over into the PCs. The need to occasionally RESET the computer. The logic cards under the console would eventually work loose from the heat expansion and contraction when repeated power on and off over time. The solution used by the Tech Reps was "don't power off". Then, when they had to, after a power off, open the left end of the console and with a hammer, tap the end of the heavy metal frame that the cards were seated into. Theoretically, this would "reseat" the logic cards. I used this same theory on my first PCs too. Experience tells me that it works. Until I got my first laptop.

The 2000 - 212 at WSMR was replaced by an IBM 7044. At that time, one of the first installs of that model.

Now I'm retired and loafing after staying in the DP - MIS - IT for so many years. From Operator, to Programmer (18 different languages), forgotten most through obsolescence, to systems analysis and design, and management.

from Aime Vanderbusse, Ret USAF, aimeardelle @ frontier . com Oct 2-11
It was so nice to read your article about the Philco 2000. I worked on it in Cheyenne Mt Colorado from 1968 to 71 and again from 74 to 76, it was a great experience and one thing I found you always learned something new about the machine. After retirement from the USAF I went to work for Ford Aero Space for a while until I got a better offer from TRW, I worked for them as MIS Manager for 5 years and 7 years as Satellite Communications engineer. At the Consolidated Space Operations Center (CSOC). Aime Vanderbusse Ret USAF

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Updated Feb 13, 2013