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Guide to the John C. McPherson collection
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access Restrictions
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Processing Information
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Scope and Content of the Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Separated Material
  • Related Collections at CHM
  • Related Collections at Other Repositories

  • Title: John C. McPherson collection
    Identifier/Call Number: X3853.2007
    Contributing Institution: Computer History Museum
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 9.17 Linear feet, 7 record cartons and 1 manuscript box
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1950-1971
    Date (inclusive): 1921-1993, Bulk 1950-1971
    Abstract: The John C. McPherson collection contains materials from McPherson's career at IBM, which lasted from 1930 to 1971. During his time at IBM, McPherson witnessed and participated in IBM's shift from punched card machines to electronic computers and, at the end of his career, became a key supporter of the programming language APL (A Programming Language). Materials include manuals, papers, and administrative records relating to APL; conference proceedings — including materials from the Joint Computer Conference, of which McPherson served as chairman in 1951; technical papers and articles written by McPherson, Kenneth E. Iverson, and others; IBM administrative records reflecting policies and projects spanning four decades; personal papers and correspondence, including letters between McPherson and Thomas J. Watson, Jr.; and manuals and books published by IBM, MIT, and the Harvard University Computation Laboratory. The records span 1921 through 1993, with the bulk of the collection being from 1950 to 1971.
    creator: McPherson, John C., 1908-1999

    Access Restrictions

    The collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    The Computer History Museum (CHM) can only claim physical ownership of the collection. 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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of Item], [Date], John McPherson Collection, Lot X3853.2007, Box [#], Folder [#], Catalog [#], Computer History Museum.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Ray Polivka, 2001.

    Processing Information

    Shortly after this collection was donated, a small amount of material was processed and cataloged at the item level. The majority of this collection, however, was processed and cataloged at the folder level by Bo Doub and Kim Hayden in 2015.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    John C. McPherson was born in Short Hills, New Jersey, on October 16, 1908. He graduated from Princeton University in 1929, receiving a BS in electrical engineering. In 1930, McPherson started his long career at IBM, initially working as a trainee in its Railroad Department. McPherson worked in this department for seven years developing systems to provide statistics about the movement of freight and passengers, including a widely-used set of charts called Machine Methods for Railroad Accounting. In 1940, McPherson was promoted to Manager of Future Demands and from 1943 to 1946 he worked as IBM's Director of Engineering. During these years McPherson was instrumental in the establishment of a punched card computing facility at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds Ballistic Research Laboratory and also in planning the development of the IBM Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator (SSEC).
    In 1948, McPherson was elected an IBM vice president. Other milestones in McPherson's career include acting as chairman of the 1951 Joint Computer Conference and becoming the first director of IBM's graduate-level Systems Research Institute (SRI) from 1960-1965. In his later years at IBM, McPherson focused on the business, marketing, and advancement of APL, the programming language developed by Kenneth E. Iverson in the 1960s. McPherson retired in 1971, but stayed in contact with many IBM projects and colleagues until his death in 1999.

    Scope and Content of the Collection

    The John C. McPherson collection is made up of technical papers and reports, conference proceedings, manuals, books, personal papers, and IBM administrative records from 1921 to 1993, with the bulk of the material from 1950 to 1971. A large part of this collection focuses on McPherson's interest in and support of the programming language APL, and includes APL and APL2 manuals and technical papers about the language.


    The collection is arranged into 6 series:
    Series 1, APL, 1952-1991, bulk 1967-1983
    Series 2, Conference proceedings, 1946-1991, bulk 1952-1956
    Series 3, Technical papers and articles, 1921-1989, bulk 1952-1962
    Series 4, IBM administrative records, 1938-1993, bulk 1942-1965
    Series 5, Personal papers, 1933-1993, bulk 1960-1980
    Series 6, Books and manuals, 1924-1983, bulk 1956-1966

    Separated Material

    Electronics components, the bulk of the donated photographs, and an APL data cartridge were separated from the main collection. To view catalog records for the separated items please search CHM's online catalog at http://www.computerhistory.org/collections/search.

    Related Collections at CHM

    Cuthbert C. Hurd papers, Lot X2772.2004, 102733944, Computer History Museum.
    Harwood G. Kolsky papers, Lot X3021.2005, 102658131, Computer History Museum.

    Related Collections at Other Repositories

    John McPherson, an oral history conducted in 1992 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Iverson, Kenneth E.
    McPherson, John C.
    Watson, Thomas J., 1914-1993
    APL (Computer program language)
    Computer Industry
    International Business Machines Corporation
    Punched card systems