Guide to the Edmund C. Berkeley papers

Finding aid prepared by Sara Chabino Lott and Sydney Gulbronson
Computer History Museum
1401 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA, 94043
(650) 810-1010
2007, revised 2015

Title: Edmund C. Berkeley papers
Identifier/Call Number: 102671925
Contributing Institution: Computer History Museum
Language of Material: English
Physical Description: 1.65 Linear feet, 2 manuscript boxes, 1 small flat box
Date (bulk): Bulk, 1951-1953
Date (inclusive): 1947-1966
Abstract: The Edmund C. Berkeley papers consist of records related to Simon the mechanical brain. There is also a small amount of material related to robots, including Squee: the Robot Squirrel. Types of materials in the collection include technical notes, specifications, correspondence, wiring diagrams, drawings, receipts, parts lists, clippings, catalogs, and a small number of photographs. The collection covers the years 1947 to 1966.
creator: Berkeley, Edmund Callis, 1909-1988

Processed by

Sara Chabino Lott 2007, Sydney Gulbronson 2015

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

The Computer History Museum (CHM) can only claim physical ownership of the collection. Copyright restrictions may apply and users are responsible for satisfying any claims of the copyright holder. Requests for copying and permission to publish, quote, or reproduce any portion of the Computer History Museum's collection must be obtained jointly from both the copyright holder (if applicable) and the Computer History Museum as owner of the material.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of Item], [Date], Edmund C. Berkeley papers, Lot B1514.01, Box [#], Folder [#], Computer History Museum.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Edmund C. Berkeley papers were donated to the Computer History Museum by Gordon Bell sometime between 1979 and 1999.

Biographical Note

Edmund Callis Berkeley was an American computer scientist and social activist. Berkeley was born on March 20, 1909. Berkeley earned a BA in mathematics and logic from Harvard University in 1930 and went to work for Mutual Life Insurance of New York as an actuarial clerk. In 1934 he joined Prudential Insurance of America, where he eventually became chief research consultant. In 1941 Berkeley passed his last professional actuarial examinations. Berkeley joined the Navy in 1942 and worked at Dahlgren Laboratory as a mathematician. There, he was assigned to the Harvard Computation Laboratory, where he worked on the sequential calculator project (MARK II).
Berkeley returned to Prudential after leaving the Navy in 1946. In 1947 he helped found the Eastern Association for Computing Machinery and served as its first secretary. In 1948 the association was renamed the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
Berkeley left Prudential in 1948 and established Edmund C. Berkeley & Associates, actuarial consultants. In 1954 Berkeley & Associates incorporated as Berkeley Enterprises, Inc.
In 1947 Berkeley presented the idea for a very simple model mechanical brain to the Association for Symbolic Logic in New York. That idea was the focus of the third chapter of Berkeley's book Giant Brains, or Machines That Think (1949). The purpose of the chapter was to introduce a general audience to the fundamentals of computing circuits used in very large mechanical brains. Berkeley named his teaching model Simon in honor of the Mother Goose character Simple Simon. Simon as an actual machine was begun in 1949, and finished in April, 1950. Simon was constructed by the combined efforts of three men: William A. Porter, a skilled mechanic, and two Columbia University electrical engineering graduate students, Robert A. Jensen and Andrew Vall.
Berkeley supplemented his income by consulting on the applications, marketing, and uses of automatic machinery for handling information and computing. He published a quarterly computer magazine, which eventually expanded into the monthly journal Computers and Automation. Additionally, he became involved in public education in Massachusetts, and set up correspondence courses in general knowledge, mathematics, computers, and logic systems. He continued to write books on computers, logic, and learning and reviewed books for the Library of Science series. Berkeley marketed his own books, robots, and teaching machines through self-published mail order catalogs. Berkeley sometimes wrote and published under the pseudonym Neil D. MacDonald.
Berkeley was active in the peace movement and in 1958 became involved with the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE). Berkeley had worked against the threat of nuclear war ever since he had been part of a "hazards project" at Prudential. The "hazards project" was charged with identifying the greatest modern hazards. Berkeley came to the conclusion that nuclear war was the greatest hazard facing mankind. When Prudential abandoned the project and forbade Berkeley from working on it, even on his own time, he quit.
Edmund Berkeley died on March 7, 1988 at the age of 79.

Scope and Content of the Collection

The Edmund C. Berkeley papers primarily consist of records related to Simon the mechanical, or electric, brain. Included are numerous working copies of construction plans for Simon, and two final versions that were for sale to the public. There is also a folder of material related to Simon V, designed by John P. Marchant. The collection contains numerous articles and press releases about Simon, as well as a technical report by Andrew Vall. It also includes drafts of articles that appeared in Radio-Electronics magazine, materials related to an exhibition of robots sponsored by the Associated Merchandising Corporation, and a member roster of the Association for Computing Machinery from 1950. There is a small amount of material related to the robots Squee: the Robot Squirrel, Rudy, and Franken. Correspondents of note include Robert A. Jensen, and Robert Sutherland. The collection covers the years 1947 to 1966, with the bulk of the material being from 1951 to 1953. The collection has one series "Robots," which is arranged chronologically.

Separated Material

Physical objects were separated from the collection. These include a Simon 1 relay logic machine. To view catalog records for the physical objects go to the CHM website at 

Related Collections at Other Repositories

Edmund C. Berkeley Papers, 1923-1988 (CBI 50), Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Electronic data processing
Simon mechanical brain


Robots, Series 1, Bulk, 1951-1953 1947-1966

Language of Material: English

102671914 Old construction plans 1947-1951


102671913 Circuits and instructions 1949-1951


102671910 Problems, coding, and tapes 1949-1951


102726109 Small robot machine articles 1949-1951


102726120 Miscellaneous Simon materials 1949-1952


102671922 Radio-Electronics 1950-10


102726113 Exhibit of robot machines 1950


102671919 Fact sheets, press releases, and lecture abstracts 1950


102671921 Publicity clippings 1950


102726122 Simon clippings and exhibition proposal 1950


102671912 Wiring diagrams 1950


102726118 Scientific American magazine 1950-11


102671916 Construction plans, 2nd edition, working copy 1950-1951


102726119 Correspondence and financials related to Simon 1950-1951


102726114 Inquiries about Simon 1950-1951


102726116 Radio-Electronics articles series outlines 1950-1951


102714256 Simon and Squee publicity 1950-1951


102726111 Simon articles and notes 1950-1951


102726121 Simon exhibit correspondence 1950-1951


102671915 Construction plans, 2nd edition, revised, working copy 1950-1952


102726112 Simon presentation charts and articles 1950-1952


102726117 Correspondence and notes about drafts of Radio-Electronics articles 1951


102726115 Radio-Electronics articles 1951


102671917 Construction plans, 2nd edition, final version 1952-03


102714255 Robot squirrel hunts his own food 1952-07


102671920 Robots Squee, Rudy, and Franken 1952-1953


102726110 Press releases, reports, and robot plans 1953-1956


102671918 Construction plans, 3rd edition, working copy 1955


102671911 Construction plans, 3rd edition, final version 1955-08


102671923 Kits and publications for sale 1960-1961


102671924 Simon V 1966