There are times when a current news item reminds you how influential a Chippewa Valley individual was in his or her area of expertise.
Edward Doyle “Pete” Zimmer, one of 13 original employees at Minnesota-based Control Data Corp., died last month at the age of 93, according to a Star Tribune story.
“Under the leadership of William Norris and the technical expertise of Seymour Cray, Control Data grew into one of the largest and most influential companies in Minnesota,” the article reads.
No disrespect to Zimmer, and may he rest in peace, but it’s the influence of Cray that’s most important for our purposes. The Chippewa Falls native and University of Minnesota graduate — known widely as the “father of supercomputing” — helped build the company, which eventually grew to 65,000 employees.
In 1972, Cray started Cray Research in Chippewa Falls, and the company moved supercomputing forward with several innovations. He left to form Cray Computer Corp. in 1989 in Colorado, where seven years later he died from injuries suffered in a car accident.
“Well, Seymour ... was a true genius,” former Cray Research CEO John Rollwagen said in a Minnesota Public Radio story, “and in our field, the computing field, he’s like a Thomas Edison, or an Edwin Land in photography, he’s just a monumental figure.”
Cray also had a sense of humor. According to the company’s website, he would jokingly refer to himself as “an overpaid plumber” and once told a Smithsonian Institution interviewer: “I was one of those nerds before the name was popular. I spent all my time in the electrical engineering laboratory and not enough time socializing.”
But that hard work resulted in a lasting legacy. Cray, the company, is now based in Seattle but much of its production and research and development work remains in Chippewa Falls. He is “the inventor of a number of technologies that were patented by the companies he worked for,” reads the Cray website.
The company’s online homage to its namesake concludes with a comment from Joel Birnbaum, former chief technology officer for Hewlett-Packard.
“Seymour combined modesty, dedication and brilliance with vision and an entrepreneurial spirit in a way that places him high in the pantheon of great invenstors in any field,” he says. “He ranks up there with Edison and Bell of creating an industry.”
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor