Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Dad and NCR

My father was a geek. He was an engineer by trade and math was his hobby. By day he worked in Research and Development at NCR (for forty years). At night he taught math at the University of Dayton. For fun, he would sit at his computer in the basement and make up math games. He had a computer that ran on DOS. This was before either Microsoft or Apple existed.

He taught my sister and me math by teaching us Black Jack and a game called 3-5-7. He taught us to play chess, and he read to us every day. He was a strict disciplinarian. We had to sit at the table until we finished our vegetables. Some nights we would still be sitting there when he came home from teaching his math class.

I was inspired to write this last Saturday, when we visited the Carillon Park in Dayton. There were many exhibits featuring NCR (the National Cash Register Company). It was a major industry in the city, and a big part of my childhood. NCR had a grand, sprawling, beautifully appointed park for use by its employees, where we went to swim and where we had picnics to celebrate birthdays. Every year they held a grand Christmas party for all the children of employees in their auditorium. My high school graduation was held at the NCR auditorium.

NCR was founded by John Henry Patterson in 1884. My father spoke often of John Henry Patterson. His mother, Julia Johnston Patterson, was a distant relative of ours. The prolific inventors, Colonel Edward A. Deeds and Charles F. Kettering, were involved with NCR in the early days. My father worked with the group that developed "NCR paper" which took the place of carbon paper. The process involves the "encapsulation" of ink; the same process that gave birth to the development of "time-release" medicines.

This is a photo of one of the original NCR machines on display at the park.

I learned something fascinating about NCR last Saturday. The story was told in a book called The Secret in Building 26

This is Building 26 at NCR.

This story began during World War II. The Germans had invented a code called "The Enigma Code". The British developed a code-breaking machine to decode it. Then the Germans complicated the code by adding a fourth rotor to their machine, making it once more impossible to decode. A group at NCR, working in Building 26 and led by a man named Joseph Desch developed a 5,000 pound electromechanical machine called the "Desch Bombe" that was able to decode the new German code. My sister told me she has seen a documentary about this on PBS, but I had not heard of it before.

This is a photo of the "Desch Bombe".

By the way, Joseph Desch attended the University of Dayton, where my dad attended and later taught. I am proud that I was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. Not many people know much about it, but it does have an interesting history. Some very smart people came from there, including my father.


Garden of Weeden said...

How cool is that, being such a part of history? I guess we all are in small and large ways and it's interesting, the people and places that make us what we are Dee

Garden of Weeden said...

Hey, where did the period goat the end of my sentence?? Dee

judy in ky said...

I know what you mean. When I was in school I didn't appreciate history, but now I find it fascinating.

Majid Ali said...
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