The Story of An Wang: Developer of the Desktop Computer

On February 7 in the year 1920, one of the pioneers in the computer industry was born in Shanghai, China. His name was An Wang, the founder of Wang Laboratories, the developer of the desktop computer.

An Wang
An Wang Biography (Credit:

An Wang was the son of an English teacher. In 1940, he finished electrical engineering from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He proceeded to earned MS in applied physics in 1946 and PhD in applied physics, both from Harvard University. After graduation, he worked in the Harvard Laboratory under Howard Aiken, the developer of Mark I computer. In his first day, he was given a problem to solve: how to record and read magnetically stored information without mechanical motion. Within a month, the answer came to him in a flash.

In 1949, An Wang applied and received a patent for his invention of core magnetic storage. Two years later, he founded Wang Laboratories with $600 as initial capital before financial help came from machine tools manufacturer Warner & Swasey Company who took one-third stake in the company. After selling the core memory patent to IBM for $500,000, the company went full blast in its research and development of new products. Subsequently, Wang Laboratories developed and marketed desktop electronic calculators with digital displays. This was followed by word processors in 1970s for which the company became a market leader. At the same time, it diversified in the manufacture of minicomputers in a head to head competition with IBM. By the year 1989, it had over 30,000 employees.

An Wang died of cancer in 1990. He had three children with wife Lorraine. He held 40 patents and in 1988, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. After years of successive losses, Wang Laboratories filed for bankruptcy in 1992. His net worth peaked in 1984 at $1.6 billion which landed him as the fifth richest American at that time.


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