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Tech Time Travel: SAGE System Sets the Scene

Using two of world's first large-scale, real-time, digital computers.
Kelsey Brandt
Contributing Writer

In January 1956, the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system was publicly disclosed for the first time. This disclosure was a significant event in the history of military technology and computing, as SAGE was a highly advanced air defense system developed during the Cold War era.

SAGE had its origins in the early 1950s when concerns about the growing threat of nuclear warfare prompted the need for an advanced air defense system to protect North America from potential enemy aircraft and missiles. It was a collaborative effort between MIT and IBM. IBM was responsible for designing and manufacturing the computer hardware for the system.

Design and Use

One of the most notable aspects of SAGE was its use of cutting-edge computer technology, including the AN/FSQ-7 computer, which was one of the world’s first large-scale, real-time, digital computers. Each SAGE installation featured two of these massive computers working in tandem.

SAGE integrated a network of radar stations and data centers across North America, allowing for real-time monitoring and coordination of air defense activities. Radar stations would detect incoming aircraft, and the data would be transmitted to regional data centers for analysis. This system enabled military personnel to track and respond to potential threats quickly.

The Release

The public disclosure of SAGE in 1956 included press releases and media coverage that provided information about the system’s capabilities and its role in safeguarding North American airspace. SAGE became fully operational in the late 1950s and remained a critical component of U.S. air defense throughout much of the Cold War.

The Wrap

Although SAGE is no longer in operation today, its legacy can be seen in the development of modern air defense and surveillance systems, as well as the broader application of computers for both military and civilian purposes.

Go Deeper –> SAGE: Semi-Automatic Ground Environment Air Defense System

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