Dear Old Dad
Bill Long 8/18/07
An Unexpected Family Memory
While visiting my mother and brothers in the San Francisco Bay Area this past week for a family reunion, I unexpectedly ran into a family memento I had never previously seen, a memento that brought thoughts of the past rushing forward to meet me as I left the present. It was a copy of the June 1961 issue of Home Office magazine--an in-house publication of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. My father worked for the "Met" for over two decades, first in New York City and then in CA, where we moved in 1967. The lead article for the month was entited "Another Step into the Electronic Age: Metropolitan Adds New High-Speed Computers to Help Handle Six Times More Work." Featured in the picture that heads the article are three men: the manager of electronic data processing ("EDP") Richard Conlan, and his two assistant managers, Edward Honan and my father, Frederick H. Long. Because of the increased emphasis on computerization of data bases in 1961, the company would now add more than 91 employees to the EDP--giving it a total of about 175 employees. Certainly this division was the quickest-growing in the company.
So, why was there an article on this subject in the publication from June 1961? Well, the company was just about to purchase an H-800 (Honeywell Corporation) computer to replace the earlier Univac II's which were already, by the early 1960s, becoming out of date. I managed to find an online description of what services the Univac II (developed in the mid-1950s) had offered to the company. Here is the description:
"Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Located at 1 Madison Avenue, NYC (3 Univac II's) and 315 Park Avenue So., NYC (across the street - 1 Univac II), the four systems are used for actuarial (classification valuation, mortality studies and special studies), for debit accounting (preparation of life and lapse registers), for payroll, for city mortgage accounting, and for ordinary policy service (billing, dividend calculation, premium, dividend and commission accounting)."
Well, the time had come to leave the old Univac II. Univac was having a problem coming out with the next generation of computer, and IBM, never a company to pass up a challenge or opportunity, sneaked in there and developed its Business 7080 computer in the late 1950s. Its earlier 700 series was replaced by the 7000 series when the transistor became commercially available, and IBM quickly added large numbers of corporate clients. The 7000 series, as well as the 1401 (developed in 1959) would make IBM a household word over the next decade, until the development of the 360 in the mid-1960s. By the way, the developer of that system, Gene Amdahl, left IBM shortly after the 360 came out, formed his own company (appropriatetly named Amdahl, Inc.) in the late 1960s with financial backing from Fujitsu. It was that company (Amdahl) which my older brother, named after my father, joined in the late 1970s. Though my dad was a computer programmer and manager in a large division in Metropolitan Life, my brother was involved in the leasing and selling of large mainframe computers just before the advent of the personal computer.
With all this "hype" on the IBM models, I am not sure why Met Life chose to go with Honeywell in the early 1960s. Perhaps it had to do with Honeywell's ability to calculate or arrange data. I will have to learn that. But the article talked about the virtues of the Honeywell, and how it was a quantum leap in quality over the UNIVAC II.
Family Memories of the Early 1960s
Even though the story was about Met Life's adoption of the Honeywell H-800, the memories it provoked in me had little to do with Honeywell or the technicalities of computer language. I remembered several things. I recall my father telling me in the early 1960s, as he described the huge space occupied by these computers (they weighted up to 75,000 pounds), that some day people would have individual computers. No one was speaking in those terms then. I was astonished, also, at the picture I saw. My father was 36 years-old at the time, and his features looked almost precisely like today's features of my younger brother Chris, born in 1960. My father is trim, bald, and serious-looking. Indeed, very few of the 10 or so men (no women) photographed throughout the article were smiling. I wonder when the obligatory smile became a staple of photographs.
Then, I found myself looking at the names of the others in the article, and I smiled in remembrance. Richard Conlan, dad's "manager," was probably a year or two older than my father. Our families used to get together for dinner on occasion and Conlan, ever the Irishman, used to serenade us to "Londonderry Air." I recall playing ball with his two sons, even though I haven't seen them in 40 years.
Then, there was the "roll call" of higher-ups in the company who were engaged for 18 months in a search for the latest computer for the company. The names mean nothing to anyone else, but here they are:
"Second Vice-President William S. York;
Third Vice-President Finelli;
Assistant Vice-President Henry Kinzler;
Assistant Vice-President Normal L. McClintock;
Programming Consultant Bert L. Neff;
Manager of EDP Richard J. Conlan, Jr.;
Manager of Elec. Proc. Herman Seltzer."
Often around the dinner table at night, when my father was telling of his day, he would recount the names of those in seniority above him. I don't know if he was trying to "plan" his rise in the company or not, but these names were as familiar to me in the early 1960s as Boyer, Kubek, Richardson and Skowron. They meant nothing to me, however, though I could recite them with the accuracy as a priest could the Mass.
We continued to live in the CT/NY area for six years after the photograph was taken. Then, we moved to the SF Bay Area in 1967. My father soon left Met Life, launching out on ventures that were quite far ahead of his time--such as his attempt to develop a computer-based program to do income tax. Whatever abilities I have in originality and generative thought I attribute to my father's ability to "see" things far before they took place. I have the additional advantage of a great education (he was able only to get a B.A. from St. Lawrence Univ. in Canton, NY) and lots of experience in several lines of work.
So, in a funny sort of way, as I was viewing his picture from 1961, I was able to hear his "voice" again, and I knew he would be telling me to continue to push back the frontiers of knowledge, to dream about things that aren't yet, and then to work with all my energy to bring them to fruition. For, after all, he wasn't able to do the latter. He died at age 56 in 1981, before his ideas had taken off. Maybe that is one reason that I, at age 55, am working so energetically...