Ken Olsen

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Kenneth Harry "Ken" Olsen (born February 20, 1926 in Stratford , Connecticut , † February 6, 2011 ) was an American engineer who founded the computer company Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1957 . Until 1992 he was president of the company.


After serving in the US Navy from 1944, Olsen began studying electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1946 , which he also graduated from this university in 1950 with a bachelor's degree and in 1952 with a master's degree . While still at MIT's Lincoln Lab, he developed the memory test computer and essential parts of the TX-0 and its successor, the TX-2 . In 1957, Olsen and fellow student Harlan Anderson founded Digital Equipment Corporation with initial capital of $ 70,000 from General Georges F. Doriot (of the venture capital firm American Research and Development Corporation). DEC first manufactured logic components for testing electronics and later manufactured minicomputers (starting with the PDP-1 in 1960), which in 1970 also included the PDP-11 series, the most successful minicomputer ever.

Olsen was awarded for his work different awards, including the MCI Communications Information Technology Leadership Award and the Founders Medal of the IEEE . The American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him a member in 1976. In 1986, Fortune magazine named Olsen the Most Successful Businessman in American History. Since 1999 he was a member of the American Philosophical Society .

Together with the DEC development manager Gordon Bell , Olsen founded the world's first computer museum - initially in the "Mill" at the company's headquarters in Maynard . Later, the DEC collection in which was Computer History Museum in Mountain View ( California ) resettled.

Olsen was with the native Finnish Eeva-Liisa Aulikki Olsen, b. Valve (1924-2009), married; the couple had three children. After the death of his wife, he became shy of publicity. The technology pioneer bequeathed his fortune to the Christian Gordon College , which used it to build the Ken Olsen Science Center in Wenham , Massachusetts.


Olsen's statement from 1977: “There is no reason for someone to want a computer at home” is mentioned again and again as a prime example of how difficult it was to be wrong about computer technology in the second half of the 20th century. In fact, he owned home computers himself at home and when he said “computer” he was referring to central computers that run the household, not what later became known as personal computers .


  • Glenn Rifkin; George Harrar: The Ultimate Entrepreneur: The Story of Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation. Contemporary Books, 1990, ISBN 1-55958-022-4 .
  • Edgar H. Schein: Rise and Fall of Digital Equipment Corporation , EHP Organization, 2006, ISBN 3-89797-027-9 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Digital Equipment Corp. Co-founder Ken Olsen Dies at Age 84 , IDG News Service,, as of February 8, 2011
  2. Member History: Kenneth H. Olsen. American Philosophical Society, accessed November 2, 2018 .
  3. a b Heise News from February 8th, 2011: Software falls from the sky when you have good hardware - to the death of Ken Olsen
  4. ^ Gordon College, About Ken Olsen (English)
  5. ^ Ken Olsen Computer Quote. In: September 21, 2004, accessed October 2, 2010 .