Little Bitz: Computer Pioneer Dr. An Wang
Born in Shanghai in 1920, An Wang came to the United States in 1945 to attend Harvard University. In 1951, he founded the computer company Wang Laboratories in Cambridge along with his friend, Dr. G.Y. Chu. The inventors of a pulse transfer device that made magnetic core memory (the main memory component of a computer before the use of semiconductors) possible, Wang sold the technology to IBM in 1955 for $500,000. He moved the business to Tewksbury in 1963 and then to Lowell in 1976.
One of the first producers of minicomputers, word processors, PCs and microcomputers, Wang also invented the first desktop calculators capable of computing algorithms, which became wildly popular with scientists. By the 1980s, Wang Laboratories was one of the Merrimack Valley’s largest companies, with more than 30,000 employees and annual revenue of nearly $3 billion. Wang was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1988.
Famous for his aggressive marketing campaigns and the hands-on role he played in directing Wang’s business strategies, Dr. Wang also founded the Wang Institute of Graduate Studies in Tyngsborough, today a campus of Boston University. A lover of the arts, Wang financed the restoration of Boston’s Metropolitan Theatre in the early 1980s, and today it’s known as The Wang Theatre.
An Wang died of cancer in 1990, and in 1992, facing stiff competition from the growing technology industry, Wang Laboratories filed for bankruptcy. Wang was acquired by a Dutch company in 1999.
Wang Towers, the company’s massive former headquarters, still stands on Chelmsford Street in Lowell. The building is known today as Cross Point Towers and houses the offices of dozens of businesses.