Guide to the John C. McPherson collection

Finding aid prepared by Bo Doub, Kim Hayden and Sara Chabino Lott
Processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant.
Computer History Museum
1401 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA, 94043
(650) 810-1010
September 2015

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

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


APL, Series 1, Bulk, 1967-1983 1952-1991, bulk 1967-1983

Language of Material: English

Series Scope and Content

This series contains manuals, technical papers and reports, administrative records, conference proceedings, correspondence, and promotional material relating to the programming language, APL. The majority of this series is comprised of manuals instructing users on how to use APL, APL2, and tools and functions written in APL. This series also contains a large amount of technical papers about APL written by Kenneth E. Iverson, Adin D. Falkoff, Harwood G. Kolsky, McPherson, and others. The administrative records in this series were mostly written at IBM and primarily concern market development reports for APL. This series contains proceedings from committee meetings and conferences as well as APL newsletters published within IBM. Also of interest are personal narratives written about APL, including parts of an unpublished manuscript and an essay titled "A Personal View of APL" by Dave Macklin. Smaller amounts of APL promotional material and program listings are included as well. This series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

102734231 A personal view of APL 1983-01


102734230 APL manuscript ca. 1970s


102734221 APL Quote-Quad, APL News, and SHARE APL\360 newsletters 1969; 1967-1978; 1985-1990


102734224 Conference talks and programs 1970-1983


102734219 Correspondence and memos 1952-1991; bulk 1970-1971


102734229 IBM 5100 portable computer APL computer aided instruction 1976


102734216 Internal IBM-APL newsletters 1968-1971


102734220 Manuals 1968-1979; 1991


102734217 Planning, progress, and market development reports 1967-1974


102734223 Proceedings and materials from APL as a Tool of Thought seminars 1983-1987


102734222 Proceedings and materials from APL ITL Committee meetings 1976; 1985-1987


102734225 Proceedings of the APL Users Conference 1969


102734226 Programming materials 1970-1983


102734228 Promotional materials ca. 1969-1984


102734218 Technical papers 1967-1978


102734215 Technical reports 1969-1972; 1991


Conference proceedings, Series 2, Bulk, 1952-1986 1946-1991, bulk 1952-1956

Language of Material: English

Series Scope and Content

This series contains conference proceedings from computer, calculator, and electrical engineering conferences from 1946 through 1991, with the bulk of materials from 1952 to 1956. Also included are a small amount of printed talks and conference programs. The majority of the materials are proceedings from the Joint Computer Conference and the Institution of Electrical Engineers. Also represented are conferences sponsored by Harvard University Computation Lab, the U.S. Department of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, WESCON, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the Institute of Radio Engineers, and the Association of Computing Machinery. This series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

102734183 Computing bit by bit, or digital computers made easy 1953


102734214 Conference talks and programs 1946; 1961; 1969-1971; 1991


102709682 Proceedings of a second symposium on large-scale digital calculating machinery 1949


102709684 Proceedings of a symposium on large-scale digital calculating machinery 1947


102709676 Proceedings of an international symposium on the theory of switching, Part I 1959


102709677 Proceedings of an international symposium on the theory of switching, Part II 1959


102684005 Proceedings of the Eastern Joint Computer Conference 1953-12


102684006 Proceedings of the Eastern Joint Computer Conference 1956-12


102684007 Proceedings of the Eastern Joint Computer Conference 1959-07


102648849 Proceedings of the Eastern Joint Computer Conference 1960-12-13


102734180 Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering 1963; 1968


102683996 Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 1952-04


102683998 Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 1953-07


102683997 Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 1953-10


102683999 Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 1954-05


102684000 Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 1955-07


102684001 Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 1956-07


102684002 Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers 1956-11


102684003 Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers : convention on digital-computer techniques 1956-04


102684004 Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers : convention on digital-computer techniques 1956-04


102683986 Proceedings of the WESCON Computer Sessions 1954-08


102683991 Proceedings of the Western Computer Conference 1953-02


102683989 Proceedings of the Western Joint Computer Conference 1955-03


102683987 Proceedings of the Western Joint Computer Conference 1956-02


102683988 Proceedings of the Western Joint Computer Conference 1957-02


102683993 Review of electronic digital computers 1952-02


102683994 Review of input and output equipment used in computing systems 1953-03


102734181 Symposium on commercially available general-purpose electronic digital computers of moderate price 1952


102683990 Trends in computers : automatic control and data processing 1954-04


102683992 Western Joint Computer Conference : new computers, a report from the manufacturers 1957-03


Technical papers and articles, Series 3, Bulk, 1952-1962 1921-1989, bulk 1952-1962

Language of Material: English

Series Scope and Content

This series contains technical papers, reports, and articles on such topics as processing, programming, punched card machines, and teleprocessing from 1921 through 1989, with the bulk of material from 1952 to 1962. The majority of this series consists of IBM technical reports and research papers, with a large focus of the series on programming. Included is a manuscript for Kenneth E. Iverson's book Automatic Data Processing, McPherson's manuscript on the SSEC and the correspondence that goes along with its publication in the Annals of the History of Computing, correspondence and papers about the history of the IBM NORC scientific computer, a large report on IBM's Harvard Mark 1 machine, and a folder on punched card machines used by the railroad industry. This series is arranged chronologically.

102734227 Railroad tabulating machines ca. 1921-1932


102734204 Punched card machines 1937-1950


102734211 Programming and processing 1937; 1951-1977; bulk 1954-1962


102734195 IBM Harvard Mark 1 1941-1949


102734209 NORC history 1946-1989; bulk 1979-1989


102734199 U.S. Navy reports 1953-1956


102734200 IBM research reports and working papers 1956-1968


102734202 IBM technical reports and memos 1956-1980; bulk 1960


102734206 Teleprocessing 1958-1972


102734194 Automatic data processing manuscript 1959


102734210 SSEC paper publication records 1948; 1962-1965; 1982


102734198 Braille translation programming 1969-1973


IBM administrative records, Series 4, Bulk, 1942-1965 1938-1993, bulk 1942-1965

Series Scope and Content

This series contains correspondence, memoranda, legal documents, and photographs documenting work at IBM primarily during the middle years of McPherson's career there from the 1940s through the 1960s. The largest part of this series is comprised of administrative records regarding IBM products and project development. Projects covered in this series include the IBM 7030 ("Stretch") computer, computers designed to write Braille, and various notes and improvements proposed for punched card collator and tabulator machines. Another significant portion of this series relates to programming languages being used and developed at IBM. Fortran, Scamp, BASIC, and ALGOL are all featured in these records. Materials relating to IBM policies and personnel regarding topics such as efficiency, business policies, service and security clearances with the National Security Agency (NSA), and personal appearance guidelines for IBM employees are all covered, along with records about IBM's research and education programs — specifically its industrial research and engineering program. And lastly, this series includes records from IBM events, including photographs from "a special meeting in Europe" held in Rome from June 26-30, 1962. This series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

102653975 FORTRAN experience at the New York data processing center 1957-07


102734201 International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) events 1940-1961


102734197 International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) policies and personnel 1938-1972


102734182 International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) programming 1956-1971


102734191 International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) projects and products 1940-1993; bulk 1942-1962


102734193 International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) recruitment, training, research, and education 1950-1983


102734203 Legal documents 1960


102679230 Matrix inversion order 5 ca. 1958


102653980 Memorandum to Mr. J.C. McPherson: FORTRAN II 1957-11-05


102653978 Memorandum to Mr. J.W. Backus 1957-09-23


102653979 Memorandum: FORTRAN II 1957-11-01


102722321 Memory array module 1972-04-12


102653976 Preliminary report: proposed specifications for FORTRAN II for the 704 1957-08-28


102653977 Present status of FORTRAN: memorandum to Mr. J.C. McPherson 1957-09-01


Personal papers, Series 5, Bulk, 1960-1980 1933-1993, bulk 1960-1980

Language of Material: English

Series Scope and Content

This series contains personal correspondence, materials relating to oral histories, notes, memorabilia, and a personal collection of articles. Of particular note within the correspondence are personal letters between McPherson and Thomas J. Watson, Jr. and materials concerning a critical review written by Herbert Grosch about one of McPherson's articles. Also included is McPherson's personal collection of articles with stories featuring his promotions and accomplishments at IBM and writings about his personal interests. This series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

102734207 Notes and memorabilia 1971-1993


102734205 Oral histories 1972-1980


102734208 Personal collection of articles 1933-1972


102734212 Personal correspondence 1966-1991


Manuals and books, Series 6, Bulk, 1956-1966 1924-1983, bulk 1956-1966

Language of Material: English

Series Scope and Content

This series contains books about computing and programming, and manuals for computer systems, programming languages, and punched card machines from 1924 to 1983, with the bulk of materials from 1956 to 1966. The majority of the materials are IBM programming and processing manuals. A smaller portion of manuals are from companies and institutions other than IBM, such as MIT and the Harvard University Computation Laboratory. Among the punched card manuals is one from the Tabulating Machine Company, one of the companies that merged to form IBM. The earliest manual in this series is McPherson's locomotive maintenance manual from the Pennsylvania Railroad, where he apprenticed while he was in college in the 1920s. A notable book in this series is The Transistor, a reference book put out by Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1951. This series is arranged alphabetically by folder and book title.

102676635 Electronic accumulators ca. 1947


102676889 Encyclopedia of computer science and engineering 1983


102734184 IBM 1620 and 700/7000 series manuals 1959-1964


102734186 IBM 5100 manuals 1976-1979


102734185 IBM 650 manuals 1955


102734187 IBM Harvard Mark 1 manual 1953


102734189 IBM programming manual 1966


102734188 Non-IBM manuals 1956-1968


102676794 Programming for digital computers 1959


102701123 Programming the IBM System/360 1970


102734190 Punched card machine manuals 1934-1949


102734213 Railroad manual 1924-10-09


102709681 Synthesis of electronic computing and control circuits 1951


102709686 Tables of the Bessel functions of the first kind of orders 79 through 135 1947


102676509 The human side of engineering : tales of General Electric engineering over 80 years 1972


102711714 The transistor : selected reference material on characteristics and applications 1951